Geek Out With The Cocktail Guide to the Galaxy
The owner of the science fiction-themed bar The Way Station has released a cocktail book for those who like a little nerd with their drink.
Andy Heidel opened The Way Station bar in Brooklyn in 2011 after having been downsized from his job as a book publicist who helped make Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Neal Stephenson best-selling authors. The bar, named for a Stephen King novella, boasts a well-blended theme of steampunk and Dr. Who, complete with a TARDIS that conceals the bathroom.
With its literary and sci-fi leanings and Heidel’s own prowess as an author of the short story collection, "Desperate Moon," it’s not surprising that he’s combined his three loves — cocktails, writing and sci-fi — into the just-released book, "The Cocktail Guide to the Galaxy," with cocktails like The Flux Incapacitator, Blade Rummer and more. Heidel sat down with Tales of the Cocktail to talk cocktails, sci-fi and the perils and pleasures of owning a bar.
TOTC: Tell us about the genesis for your book.
Heidel: When we opened the bar, we started to get all these Doctor Who fans, and we realized we had to have a sonic screwdriver for them — in the right light, it glows like the doctor’s screwdriver. When I saw bars like PDT and Death & Co. coming out with their cocktail books, I thought "Oh, why don’t I come out with a cocktail book?" And I threw the idea at my friend, who had kept bugging me about doing a book, and then I ended up with a lead…
To your book deal?
Yes, so then I had about 80 cocktails I had to invent, over the course of three months. There was a lot of drinking involved.
Did you test these drinks on customers?
Yeah, I would go on Facebook saying I’m trying to invent this cocktail, come on by, and whoever was sitting at the bar got to sample. I wasn’t happy with a cocktail being in the book until they were happy drinking it.
Tell us a bit about these cocktails. They all have really fun names and really funny intros.
It was really fun sitting down and coming up with the names for the cocktails and working backwards from there. A couple of them like the Jameson T. Kirk needed swagger, and its combination of Jameson and mezcal shouldn’t work, but it does. I matched the names and the themes. The most complicated cocktail was the one for Ghostbusters. It had to have egg whites, and it had to have marshmallows. It started as a joke, because of the scene in the movie, where (the refrigerator attacks Dana), and I was like, "What was she going to make with all of those eggs and marshmallows?" The drink combines egg white, marshmallow vodka, crème de cacao, and mezcal, and it actually turned out. It tastes like a s’more, with mezcal to give it that smoky flavor.
Tell us a bit about your bar.
Our regulars span between 25 and 65 so we have a really great cross-section, but a lot of people who come to my bar are first-time bar goers so we have to educate them (about tipping and bar etiquette).
I just had a gentleman who just turned 21, and he had been wanting to come to my bar for two years, and it was his mom who took him. We get a lot of tourists from all over the world — they come to see the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and my bar. It’s amazing how a happy accident to hide the bathroom made me a roadside attraction.
Tell us more.
Me and my buddy, Doc, were building out the bar, and the bathroom is right next to the bar, and he whispered, "We should build a TARDIS that disguises the bathroom, and everyone will want to sit next to it." I hadn’t intended to make it a Doctor Who theme. I was more into steampunk, sci-fi, and fantasy and the Victorian era, making it feel like it had been there for a century. With my background in sci-fi and fantasy, steampunk fed into it, and it was a theme in New York City no one was doing, and how do you stand out and be unique in New York City?
My first piece of advice is if you have money to open a bar, don’t. Invest it wisely. But if you are truly passionate and have the background to open a bar and even after everyone tells you don’t do it, you still want to do it, then do it because it’s that passion that will carry you through the dark days.
What kind of challenges did you face?
I had to wait a year and a half to pick up my liquor license, because even though the building I took over had been a restaurant, they never finished converting it from retail to an eating and drinking establishment, and unless your certificate of occupancy says eating and drinking establishment on it, you can’t open. I found out six months into the build-out. On top of it, every single, tiny detail matters, and if you didn’t fill out the same information on the backside of a piece of paper, then you have to resubmit everything, and everything is going to take three times as long and cost twice as much. That’s my other piece of advice, it takes so much longer than you expect, and you’re bleeding out, playing rent on a place that has no income. Those are the dark days, and you’ve just got to chin up and soldier through.
Has your bar changed since it opened?
When we first opened, we had live music five nights a week, but now, while we still have live music, I’ve switched over to doing more event-based programing, including karaoke on Sundays, which is one of my best nights of the week. You also have to know what your bar provides and the price point for your cocktails. There are two bars in my neighborhood, which are mixology-oriented, and you go in, and they have a super classy vibe, and you expect to pay $13 or $16 for a cocktail. We have a TARDIS, and I am not making cocktails where I am hand-carving ice into an R2D2 figurine. But we do have five beer taps, and we make sure we clean our lines twice a month and label the board when we tap the keg so beer lovers know how fresh their keg is, and that way I’m able to compete with the beer bars.
From the Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
Felicia Laundry Day
- 1 part Bitter Truth violet liqueur
- 1 part gin
- ¼ part lemon juice
Directions: Pour all the ingredients into a large glass filled with ice. Stir, then strain into a fancy glass and garnish with a lemon peel. Drink it and feel those feelings you don’t dare to feel.