Cthulhu is a fictional creature described by H.P. Lovecraft in the short story “The Call of Cthulhu” as a terrible monster that simultaneously resembles an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, with “a pulpy, tentacle head” atop “a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings.” It’s also one of the drinks on the menu at Leviathan, the new bar from the Fifty/50 Group on the mezzanine level of the Dana Hotel adjacent to sister restaurant Portsmith. Itself inspired by (and named for) another sea monster, Leviathan aims to plumb the depths of the ocean through cocktails.
Those drinks, created by the talented Benjamin Schiller (Apogee, the Sixth, the Berkshire Room), explore various ways to conjure the sea. Some incorporate ingredients that come from the ocean, like wakame (a type of seaweed), bonito flakes (thin flakes of dried, smoked fish), or squid ink; many involve rum, which has a long history on sailing ships (until 1970, the Royal Navy gave sailors a daily rum ration). One alcove of the bar looks like it belongs belowdecks on a 19th-century ship, and if you settle into a booth with a glass of rum or Dansk Mjød Viking Blod mead, you can almost feel the roll of the waves. Some care has obviously gone into the beer list, which includes the aforementioned mead and both Finnish and Swedish porters alongside Amstel Light and Stella Artois. In fact, every single aspect of the bar feels carefully considered, right down to the menus—thick leather-bound tomes crafted to look like a ship’s logbooks, with a few pages of menu listings followed by many empty ones for recording conditions like ocean currents and wind speed and direction.
Anyone familiar with the Sixth and Apogee will be unsurprised to learn that the serving vessels for the cocktails are varied and often unusual. The Below Deck Sazerac arrives in a metal-clad mate gourd that absorbs the wakame-infused absinthe used to rinse the glass and then slowly releases it, causing the drink to evolve slightly over time. It’s a simple cocktail that adds cognac (which was traditionally used in the Sazerac before whiskey replaced it) to the rye; the only other ingredients are simple syrup and Peychaud’s Bitters, but the result is remarkably complex, with flavors that blend so harmoniously it’s hard to pick out much beyond a tingle of spice from the rye and a whisper of brininess from the wakame.
The other standout drink, the Cthulhu, is served in a stemless conical glass set on top of a small bowl filled with driftwood and seaweed smoke, along with some actual dried seaweed and a small metal octopus. When you lift the glass to take a sip, smoke drifts out (it’s the same concept used for the much-Instagrammed Spaceman Spiff at the Sixth). The cocktail combines rum with single-malt scotch, lemon, and demerara syrup; the tarragon in it is subtle, and so is the peatiness of the scotch (though that may only be in comparison to the actual smoke you’re breathing in while drinking it).
Both the Leviathan and the Kraken are less intense but dangerously drinkable—particularly the latter, which includes three rums, two of them overproof. As you might imagine, it’s a rum drinker’s cocktail, but grapefruit and lime brighten things up, though a crunchy squid-ink tuile has more of a flavor of burnt sugar than ocean. The Leviathan’s combination of rum, ginger, angostura, and mint steer it into tiki territory, but the gin and aquavit add a backbone of herbal anise notes, while the bonito flakes that garnish it add a faintly fishy smokiness.
As I waited at the bar to settle my bill, a hotel guest asked the bartender whether she could order a cocktail to take to her room. The answer was yes, but it had to be in a plastic cup—which the bartender chilled before pouring in the cocktail. It’s the kind of attention to detail that’s abundantly clear in every other aspect of the bar, and makes me look forward even more to my next visit. v