You may recognize Kings County Imperial bartender Richard Murphy from a few different New York-centric contexts. There’s his extra work on Sex and the City and hours clocked at improv comedy institution UCB, and then there are the many bars he’s worked behind, including those of Hell’s Kitchen, Suenos, and Buttermilk Channel. But it was his time at Allen & Delancey that he feels most elevated his cocktail know how. “Alex Day's cocktail list was an eye opener for me — I'm a sucker for a great Hemingway daiquiri and have a general affinity for all things aquatic and or tiki,” he says. So when the team behind the recently opened Kings County Imperial, a modern Chinese eatery with tiki-slanted sippers, approached him for the project, he knew his decision immediately: “it was a no brainer.” Here, the Plymouth, Massachusetts native discusses why drinking local is everything, his biggest vice as of late, and the bar trend he wants more of, stat.
BoozeMenus: How do you put your spin on tiki?
Richard Murphy: Early on Tracy, Josh and I developed a short hand for what we wanted to do with the cocktail program at Kings County Imperial. The phrase "a nod to the classics with an eye towards the modern" still rings in my head. It was important for me to make the cocktail list accessible and not pretentious in any way. It was of the utmost importance that the drinks taste great, period. Including fresh ingredients and local spirits whenever possible was also crucial to me. I know a lot of these people distilling booze here in Brooklyn, so anything I can do to support them is a no brainer. It's been a fun ride so far.
BM: Where did you find the inspiration to inform your cocktails for this list?
RM: There is a wealth of information out there. I'd say my bible for this gig was Beachbum Berry's Sippin’ Safari by Jeff Berry. Such a great read. I've also got the Death & Co. cocktail book, the PDT cocktail book, and all the usual suspects. What they're doing at the Dead Rabbit right now is pretty awe-inspiring. I've been going there since day one. Cocktail wise, it's on a whole different level. Sean and Jack are amazing. I hold all those guys in the highest regard.
BM: Which cocktail was the most fun for you to create?
RM: Either the King Kamehameha Club or the Imperial Mai Tai. The former is named after the club where Magnum P.I. hung out on the iconic 80s TV show. Kind of a riff on a tequila gimlet I've been making forever. It's also fun to watch people try to pronounce it correctly, and it tastes absolutely divine. The Mai Tai is fun because we're using rye whiskey and dark rum from the Dominican. Brugal Anejo is the jam. Typically a mai tai calls for two kinds of rum. I'm also getting my orgeat syrup sourced from a guy I know — Adam Kolesar — from Carroll Gardens here in Brooklyn, which is pretty cool. I'd never worked with cocktails on tap before. It makes my life so much easier and you lose nothing in the quality of the drink. Win-win I'd say.
BM: What have you learned about Chinese fare and drink in your time at Kings County Imperial?
RM: SO MUCH. Josh and Tracy are amazing. Early on I was taken by their absolute passion for this cuisine. That was definitely what lured me in. I've been on board since day one so seeing this dream of theirs come to fruition has been pretty exciting. They've travelled extensively throughout China and their knowledge and excitement about Chinese cuisine and culture has been an absolute joy to be around. I've learned so much from them since we began this journey. It's been fun passing this knowledge on to the people who sit at my bar. The food is outstanding and Josh's passion for it truly comes alive in every dish. Seeing people’s eyes light up night after night makes it all worthwhile. I really wish you could get Tsingtao on tap here in NYC. Can somebody reading this make that happen, please?
BM: What's been your favorite food and drink pairing at the restaurant?
RM; There are so many. I tried to make all of the drinks well balanced and complementary towards the amazing food coming out of the kitchen. That's where the real magic is happening. Seeing somebody crush some soup dumplings and an Imperial Mai Tai is pretty cool. Although my personal favorite is watching a macho dude order and consume a Coco Palms. It's a delightful cocktail, but it's blue. It's the little things sometimes.
BM: Which cocktail has proved to be the team favorite so far?
RM: The Soused Pacific is probably the staff favorite. It takes the longest to make, thanks to egg whites and a dry shake. But people really love it, and that's rewarding. The frothy finish on top is visually stimulating and it just tastes so damn good. The Irish Hawaiian is catching up. That drink began with a name. I just thought it sounded cool and original and then when I started tinkering I realized I really had something fun and somewhat original. Tiki drinks are generally real rum heavy, so it's been fun trying to incorporate all the different spirits. Irish whiskey? Sure, why not — my last name is Murphy. The people have spoken, however, and the undisputed crowd favorite is the Shanghai Mule. Folks love Tito's vodka, what are you going to do? Don't mess with Texas, you know?
BM: When's the last time you ordered take-out, and what'd you drink with it?
RM: I live in Sunset Park, and my girlfriend and I are obsessed with Tacos El Bronco. You cannot beat the price or the quality. Their taco truck near Melody Lanes is my true lifeline. Three nights a week, easy. Those tacos and a cold Tecate is all you really need.
BM: If you could choose (or coin) the next cocktail trend, what would it be?
RM: While I love a good cocktail and love creating tasty libations, at heart, I'm a beer and a shot kind of guy. An ice cold Narraganset and a Paddy's Irish Whiskey back — that's the future in my estimation. No pretension. I try to wear a goofy hat as often as possible, too. Our dress code is a t-shirt and jeans at work. No vests or bow ties, thank you.
BM: When's your next day off, and what are you doing?
RM: I had tonight off and I was crushing oysters and steamers at Littleneck in Gowanus with my girlfriend Anna. It feels like a clam shack on Cape Cod, which is where I grew up. It's one of my favorite spots in the city. Palo Santo is another favorite, my buddy Jacques is one of the best chefs in the city.
BM: What's your biggest vice currently?
RM: I'm from New England. I could eat a dozen oysters a day, seven days a week. There are so many happy hour oyster deals in this town that you really can do it affordably, too. I also eat way too much dim sum at work. Thank God I was blessed with a lanky frame or I'd weigh 300 pounds. They feed us well at Kings County Imperial. Soy to the world!
By Nicole Schnitzler
(Photos Courtesy of Kings County Imperial | From Left: Coco Palms cocktail; Interior; Richard Murphy)