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A conversation with Karl Franz owner of 67 Orange Street in Harlem

67 Orange Street
67 Orange Street
Francisco Lopez

D’USSÉ Cognac hosted the annual Culture Cocktail Competition at Harlem’s 67 Orange during the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. Guests crowded around the wood paneled bar of the bi-level space and munched on delicious bar snacks as Karl Franz (owner of 67 Orange) and Collin Appiah (Bacardi Brand Master) MC’d the night. Cocktail journalist extraordinaire Camper English was tweeting and Instagraming away, perched on a barstool between his fellow judges, Harlem influencer Paola Mathe and world famous model Diandra Forrest. Camper continued to tweet and spread the word of the competition to his followers as the trio sipped cocktails. Karl passed around shots of D’USSÉ in between tastings and guests listened as bartenders exchanged anecdotes about their cultural backgrounds. Crowds gathered from all around the neighborhood to see what the fuss was about in the packed bar.

67 Orange Street
NY Times

The night finally came to a close when the “Startender,” which balanced the spice of D’USSÉ with the sweetness of mango and blackberries, created by Jacob from Cedric’s Bistro, was declared the winning cocktail. Jacob eagerly accept his prize bottle of D’USSÉ XO, after a great battle between himself and first ever woman to compete in the contest, Naima Williams who previously won the Uptown battle of the Bar and was featured on the NY Daily News. Below is Jacob’s winning cocktail

"The Startender"

Muddle mango in mixing glass and build

2 oz D’USSÉ Cognac

1 oz maple syrup

3/4 oz lemon juice (squeeze half of lemon)

Add ice and shake in highball glass, muddle blackberries (2-3) and top with crushed ice; strain peach-lemon-syrup-cognac in, finish with tonic for dryness and bubbles, and a peach cut in a heart-shape

After the event, Karl Franz and I chopped it up a bit and talked about his influence in the spirit community as well as his impact in Harlem which has seen a swift change aesthetically and in the culture.

How important was it for you to bring 67 Orange Street to Harlem?

As a Harlem resident, it was really the only option in my mind. This is my neighborhood, a neighborhood I love and am passionate about, a neighborhood that truly feels like home. I wanted to bring cocktail culture here so that I could share it with the Uptown community and allow other kindred spirits the opportunity to NOT have to go downtown for a great mixed drink

From when you first opened, what are some of the things that have changed in the community?

I opened my first restaurant Society Coffee a block away from 67 Orange in 2005. It was one of the first “downtown” concepts in the area and led the way for others to come. I opened 67 Orange Street in December of 2008. At the time a lot of the new residential and commercial construction along Frederick Douglass hadn’t begun. So as you can imagine the neighborhood has changed dramatically. Harlem is one of the most diverse (in every sense of the word) neighborhoods in the city. Today there are also a ton of great dining and drinking options.

What are three spots besides 67 Orange Street you would recommend someone visit when they to Harlem?

I recommend Vinateria on 119th and Frederick Douglass, the Cecil on 118th and St. Nicholas, and Lenox Coffee on 129th and Lenox as some of my go to options of places to eat and (in the case of Lenox) get great coffee

I see you everywhere spirits are celebrated, how crucial is it for you to stay up to date on what's new in the cocktail world?

The craft cocktail community is a tight knit community of craftspeople all looking to inspire and learn from each other. There is so much innovation and learning, it’s imperative to stay close to what’s going on

How important is the D’USSE culture Cocktails program to you, Harlem and the overall community of spirits?

D’USSE as a brand has inspired me. The beauty of the bottle is matched only by the quality of the juice. That’s why I’m glad to partner with D’USSE. Culture Cocktails is a concept I developed last year as I was brainstorming on ways to share the culture of Harlem and Uptown with others in the craft cocktail community. I think I’m achieving that, as folks take notice of what’s going on uptown.

Without bias which spirit is best to make Cocktails with?

I am so promiscuous when it comes to spirits. I don’t think any is better than the others; each one is unique and gives me a great playing field to build around. I like my spirits to star in my cocktails and to be a center point on which the rest is built. I guess the only spirit that can be less fun is Vodka due to its limited flavor, but still not impossible.

How does the future look for 67 Orange Street and the landscape of the Harlem bar/lounge scene?

The Harlem bar scene (and overall culinary scene) is on the rapid rise. You don’t really have to leave the neighborhood anymore! It’s a very exciting time and I’m really bullish on the future here. 67 Orange Street has had 29 months straight and 40 of the last 42 months of year over year growth averaging in the double digits (we are 22% YTD). You can’t beat that! And with things like the just announced Harlem Eat Up Food and Drink festival by Marcus Samuelsson, announced today (I am one of the ambassadors to the program), the sky is really the limit.

Karl Franz is a very hands on owner, you can see him behind the bar dishing out jokes, drinks and a good time. He and D’USSÉ will be working together many more times, so make sure you visit 67 Orange next time you’re in NY and follow them on social media as well @67OrangeStreet and @MrKarlFranz.

For more interviews and drinks click on #Drinks. Cheers and Salute!