Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is a far cry from Honolulu's Chinatown. Hotel Street, to be exact, the historic district that was once a notoriously debauched area full of cat houses, gin joints and tattoo parlors, the most famous of which would be that of Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins. Known as the "Godfather" of tattooing, Sailor Jerry's flash art is recognized worldwide for its attention to detail and the unique shading and tonal values that came from the artist's infatuation with East Asian art. Sailor Jerry Rum, a brand begun in the artist's honor, threw a bash at a new watering hole on Roebling Street Monday night, for what would have been Collins' 102nd Birthday. The parties are an annual tradition for the company, and this year they decided to give out free anchor tattoos, a Sailor Jerry specialty, to the first 102 people who showed up.
Sailor Jerry Rum was started by guys who were Sailor Jerry fans and wanted to keep alive the legacy of Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins. The company began as a small mom and pop clothing brand in Philadelphia, collaborating with local artists to make leather goods, sneakers, t-shirts, and other products featuring Sailor Jerry's flash. Since Sailor Jerry spent half his life as a sailor (and the other half tattooing sailors) it was a natural move to create a spiced rum in his name. A cult grew around the rum, and it outsold anything else they made.
Rum has always been identified with men and women who go around the sea in ships, and has traditionally been the most prolific of the world's spirits. Although a few other places can lay claim to their own varieties, the Caribbean is generally accepted as the heart of the rum world, and this is where Sailor Jerry Rum is distilled. Adding spices to rum is an old sailor's tradition. The first rums were crude and harsh, so seamen would blend and mix in any spices they had on hand to improve the rum's flavor. Sailor Jerry's Spiced Rum tastes of warm spices of cinnamon and nutmeg, with rich vanilla. A long dry finish is balanced with a subdued sweetness and a hint of burnt toffee. The featured cocktail for Collins' 102nd birthday party was the Sailor Jerry Hot Apple Cider, which perfectly offset the cold rain outside that night.
Williamsburg was a natural choice to celebrate the spirit of Sailor Jerry and the art form he dedicated his life to. Over the last two decades the neighborhood has continued its steady rise as a hip enclave of artists, musicians, designers and refugees from the homogenized and costly neighborhoods of Manhattan. Soho and the East Village once saw a similar trend, in the 70's and 80's, respectively, but a relentless influx of hedge funders, Wall Street traders, and other delegates of huge corporations, who can't seem to settle for anything under a million dollar listing, has transformed Manhattan into an exclusive club for the offshore account set. The grittier scene has long since migrated across the East River, and Williamsburg is the flagship neighborhood of all that is young, cutting edge, fresh and striving.
The New York media covers more new restaurants, bars, clubs and cafes opening in Brooklyn every day, as the more affordable neighborhoods of the borough attract new blood with fresh ideas, and more limited budgets than their Manhattan counterparts. Sailor Jerry Rum chose Passenger, which opened on January 9th, to celebrate and set up a pop up tattoo parlor featuring four artists from Brooklyn's Three Kings Tattoo. Located at 229 Roebling Street, Passenger is right in the heart of the Williamsburg scene. The interior and theme of the bar is loosely based on the 1970 film "Festival Express", a documentary that captures a pivotal moment in music history. "Festival's" footage of legendary musicians who transform a train into a moving rehearsal studio also inspired the innovative multi-level space.
"I wanted to create a similar atmosphere to what you see in "Festival Express", explains Passenger's co-owner Melissa Aubert, who currently manages artists such as The Smith's Andy Rourke and Pucifer's Carina Round, as well as licenses music for film and television. "I really wanted to give artists and musicians a place to create and collaborate with like-minded people, and I've wanted to own a restaurant since I was five years old, drawing up menus in crayon and forcing my brother through fake dinners in my bedroom." In addition to a small bar menu with signature cocktails, Passenger will also feature a limited food menu of fresh, daily fare and snacks sourced from local vendors. Patrons will also be able to sample the bar's signature hot sauces with recipes created by local musicians on a custom Passenger Bloody Mary menu and other seasonal items.
Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins was a renowned hell raiser, practical joker and raconteur, who became world famous for fusing the Japanese technique of water shading with the straight up American tattoo tradition. He learned the pin prick and India ink style of tattooing from a fellow rail rider when he was a teenager, and eventually was taught how to use a machine in Chicago by the legendary "Tatts" Thomas. He practiced on corpses in the morgue and was shocked one night to have one of his stiffs suddenly wake up on him. He joined the navy at age 19 and during his travels at sea he was exposed to the art and imagery of Southeast Asia. This informed his style as a tattoo artist for his entire career, which he carried on until his death in 1973. He combined this profession with work as a licensed skipper of a three-masted schooner, as well as radio host of a show known as "Old Ironsides", where he shared political rants and read poetry. A world traveler, he has been called a pre-beatnik and pre-Kerouac iconoclast. His spirit was alive and well in Williamsburg on Monday night, as the offspring of his legacy inked up the patrons at Passenger.
229 Roebling Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
718 218 7869