On a maddeningly hot afternoon this past August, three men were standing around a ladder in front of Adriaen Block, New York City’s first and only CBD cocktail bar, which occupies a cheery corner in the (relatively) tranquil neighborhood of Astoria, Queens.
When asked where one could find the bar’s owner, George Csonka, one man, dressed in a blue polka dotted shirt and white khakis, detached himself from the group and simply stated, “George isn’t around right now.” When I insisted that I had an appointment, however, he broke into a wide Cheshire Cat grin, revealing himself as the man in question with a dramatic flair that Jay Gatsby would have found impressive, and gleefully ushered me into his air-conditioned oasis.
A Mix of CBD and 17th Century Adventurers
A skeptic would be forgiven for accusing Csonka and his new venture—which opened less than a month prior—of simply capitalizing on the CBD craze taking New York City by storm. Currently, the only recreationally available cannabis in the Empire State is hemp-derived CBD (which contains virtually no THC whatsoever) and the state’s medical program is both narrow in scope and meager in offerings. As a result, canna-hungry New Yorkers have taken to buying up CBD tinctures at acupuncture studios and chugging coffee mixed with CBD powder at Brooklyn cafes.
Yet as I was to discover, Csonka’s cocktails possess a subtlety that celebrates the powers of cannabis—albeit, fully non-psychoactive cannabis—with an unexpected earnestness and tact.
The bar takes its name from the Dutch explorer and entrepreneur Adriaen Block, who, in the 17thcentury, became the first known European to enter Long Island Sound through the narrow strait known as Hell’s Gate and encounter present-day Astoria.
Like Block, Csonka is an entrepreneur, foreigner, and voracious traveler; he grew up in Budapest, Hungary, and spent time in Las Vegas, Spain, and Hawai’i before settling in New York nearly a decade ago.
He has long been involved in the hospitality industry, running various restaurants and clubs. His introduction to CBD came more recently. “It’s mellowed me out,” Csonka explained. “New York City is very stressful…it’s helped me ease up on my day.”
Csonka asked me what I thought about his business; I explained my own skepticism of THC-free CBD. Turning over his shoulder, he called, “Rooster!” and a large guy with piercing black eyes lumbered over to the bar and began making cocktails.
Alcohol, Cannabis, and Stoney Negronis
Soon enough, we had two “Stoney Negronis,” made with fancy ingredients that sound like Star Trek characters—cocchi americano, floc de gascogne & angostura bitters—in front of us. Rooster also set down a small bottle of CBD oil, manufactured by the LA company Every Day Optimal, and two disposable droppers that doubled as stirrers.
Csonka delicately deposited a ring of CBD globules around the inside of my glass, which was filled with a large block of ice and the bright-red cocktail.
The first sip was simply euphoric, and the faint, earthy CBD cut the drink’s sweetness perfectly. I soon felt calmer; my shoulders dropped like I’d just had a massage. Could my state of tranquility be attributed to trading the blistering 104-degree heat for an ice-cold beverage? Well, yeah, at least in part. Were the CBD’s effects simply a placebo? It’s possible. But the drink was an indisputable, soothing pleasure.
Csonka explained that the key is balancing CBD with low alcohol-content liquors and bitters. Beyond the Stoney Negroni, other cocktails on the menu include the Bakin’ & Eggs, made with bacon and Lillet blanc, and the Rolled Fashioned; all priced at $15, or $10 sans CBD.
Furthermore, the restaurant’s steak sauce and whipped cream can also be made with a dash of CBD. Csonka claims that no one has entered the restaurant expecting to get high, but the names feel a bit misleading.
But the drinks’ aspirational names, and Adriaen Block’s existence in general, point to a collective yearning for legal cannabis in New York City. As our conversation came to a close, I asked Csonka if he would consider incorporating THC-infused cocktails into his repertoire if and when cannabis becomes legal in New York (as Governor Cuomo has been forced to consider). “Never say never,” he replied with a characteristic grin.
That day remains to be seen, but for now, Adriaen Block is providing a service that is soothing New Yorkers of all levels of cannabis experience and providing a remarkably unthreatening gateway for the canna-curious to explore a plant whose positive effects extend far beyond getting stoned.