How about a drink with a kick for a night with frost in the air — a touch of pumpkin, honey spiced with ginger and cloves? At Moon Cloud in Great Barrington, mixologist Billy Jack Paul and Josh and Emily Irwin, co-owners of Cantina 229, the awardwinning farm-to-table restaurant in New Marlborough, have plans for the cold season. They want to invite you to share a cocktail in your living room, by the fire.
Running new bar and cocktail lounge is a challenge in a pandemic, they say, and they are evolving to keep the business afloat and the staff and community safe.
They are expanding an online store, crafting drinks with seasonal flavors and cocktails on draft, and pairing themwith local cheeses and cured meats from Rubiner’s cheesemongers around the corner.
As the weather cooled, Josh said, they have had to keep creative. Massachusetts has recently passed a bill allowing cocktails-to-go, he says. And Moon Cloud will serve them. From 1 to 5 p.m. Friday to Sunday, people can bring a carefully blended bottle home.
“The Berkshires will have tasty beverages all winter long.”
The names on the menu blend humor and suggestions of a walk in the winter woods or a night in good company. The Sap Sucker, named for a woodpecker familiar at local birdfeeders, mixes Berkshire Mountain Distillery rye, MoonCloud house punsch, Amaro Lucano, maple and more … The Spoken Romance melds Berkshire Mountain Distillery Bourbon, Amontillado Sherry, Amburana Cachaça …
Restaurants are adapting to safety guidelines and state regulations that can change daily, Josh said.
In the last few days MoonCloud has begun carefully offering limited indoor seating, by reservation, with masks and physical distancing, and for Valentine’s Day they are partnering with Baba Louie’s and Bizen, their neighbors on Railroad Street, and offering a date night for people who would like to order takeout organic pizza or sushi and bring them to MoonCloud to pair with drinks and snacks and chocolate covered strawberries.
Paul, the mixologist, has been enjoying the creative challenge.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said, “to find fresh ideas and cool cocktails, whether it’s a bloody Mary or a refreshing (summer drink).”
In the warm weather, he might offer a Manhattan martini or a tiki-style cocktail with pebble ice. He might invent with agave spirits, citrus, passion fruit, ginger, lime and local honey.
“One of our big passions is mezcal for sure,” he said.
In the fall he looks forward to pumpkin drinks, sweet squash with Masserine honey, ginger and whole cloves. He is excited about lemon verbena infusions, bitters and ginger syrup.
“We’re always playing with seasonality,” he said.
That playful experimenting with flavor has been part of the partnership from the beginning. Paul came to Cantina 229 in September 2017. He and the owners would put their heads together to expand their cocktail menu, he said, creating drinks to accent their food, and vice versa.
He would ask the chef, what’s fresh?
“He would say ‘I’m making this dish, and can you make something (to go with it)?’ On new Years Eve we had a tasting menu with cocktails for each dish, and they worked so well together, we wanted to expand.”
That partnership evolved into plans for a cocktail bar. MoonCloud opened on December 13, 2019 … and three months later, Covid hit.
In the spring, the bar temporarily closed, fllowing the state’s mandate. In the summer, when restaurants re-opened, they explored possibilities outdoors.
“Some Cantina customers who love coming out and talking with Billy own a retro Airstream company,” Josh said. “They convert (the Airstreams) into mobile bars, and they’re beautiful.”
In the warm weather, in high summer, MoonCloud opened a popup space at the backside of the railroad tracks with cocktails and oysters.
In the fall they expanded outdoor seating around the bar at the top of Railroad Street and in the alley alongside.
They now serve sandwiches along with their larder of meats, cheeses and preserves, and they have expanded their online store.
“We’ve been perfecting cocktails on draft,” Paul said, like a punch with rum and milk from Blue Hill Farm and a blend of flavors that comes out clear as a chardonay.
The draft is hooked up with Argon gas, he said, so the punch stays fresh and chill — instead of C02, which will make an effervescent drink fizz like seltzer.
“Everything is fluid,” Josh said. “… We’re trying to think ov everyone around us. We’re making sure people know we are a fluid business, and we look forward to converting back into a cocktail bar when the times allow. Until then, we’ll be skating, and skating veery quickly. We’re changing for you all — not for us — for you.”