There are moments when a bar transforms right before your eyes: that bursting cheer when the underdog trivia team at the pub squeaks out a win; that tsunami of heyyy that washes over couples when all the lights dim at once; or, at Bo Peep, whenever bartender D.J. Ingalls takes the mic to accompany the live piano music. We heard him sing in English, French and Spanish—all love ballads. It was reflective of the midtown basement’s overall triptych: cozy, cultured and curious.
The Moulin Rouge motif of tufted red-velvet banquettes and flirty fringed lampshades, and the performative speakeasy style, have been wildly overdone. Thankfully, Bo Peep’s winking bedroom eyes easily shift their gaze, widening at the liquid riddles of its lavish cocktail list, or playfully eye-rolling when an oldie-but-goodie ballad tickles the ivories, or just smizing at the comfort of being both fancyfree and formal (well, formal-ish).
The cocktail menu is robust—35 strong—and includes a section of $14 highballs that elevates “A & B” cocktails (vodka & soda, scotch & soda, et al.) with smart, surprising sensibility. The whiskey & coke, for example, is transformed by the savvy, sophisticated bite of cardamom and coffee. At Bo Peep, basic cocktails are dressed to the nines, even if the spillover midtown clientele is not. The Rosé Couture’s complexity—brandy, genever, yuzu, pink peppercorn, egg white and cumin-spiced pomegranate—is indeed a moment of Alexander McQueen–like mixology, daring and inspirational and deliciously hypnotic. And the Chinatown Mystery—plum gin, Bénédictine, cardamom, cherry, grapefruit soda and lime—could stand tall at any of the city’s pricier, premier mixology temples. Its enigmatic flavor is solved over and over in the manner of Clue: Each ingredient takes turns being the culprit.
Bo Peep is exactly the kind of cocktail shepherd that Herald Square needs. As Ingalls can attest, its love language is bilingual: laughter and quality time.