For holiday entertaining or other festive occasions, here are some special cocktails from Crook’s Corner to make at home
By Moreton Neal | Photography by Beth Mann
Lucky for me, my latest visit to Crook’s Corner happened to coincide with a wine tasting. As new owners Gary Crunkleton and Shannon Healy shared their plans for a new wine list, we tasted some astonishing small vineyard Italian wines. I left with a case of Amarone!
By now, some of you know there’s been a big change at the iconic eatery. Last year, owner Gene Hamer was ready to retire just as Gary and Shannon were dreaming about taking the helm at Crook’s.
Patrons will remember Shannon from his years behind the bar and later as general manager of Crook’s. He left in 2012, with Gene Hamer’s blessing, to open Alley Twenty Six, now a successful bar and restaurant in downtown Durham.
Years ago, Gary mixed drinks at the now-closed Henderson Street Bar & Grill to earn law school tuition, but, unexpectedly, found his niche there. In 2008, Gary opened his own drinking establishment, The Crunkleton, on West Franklin Street. He never looked back.
The seeds of a partnership were planted when Gary and Shannon shared a room at a business seminar in Baltimore. Fast friends, they discovered they both loved Crook’s. For Gary, it was his favorite place to eat. Shannon enjoyed working “in a place where the employees took such pride in what they did.” They wanted to continue the tradition and keep the place from being torn down. When Gary learned Gene was looking for a buyer, he and Shannon jumped at the opportunity.
Gary knew just the right person for the top kitchen job – Asheville chef Justin Burdett. Longtime chef Bill Smith approved, and so he worked with his successor for six months before Justin took the reins in January 2019.
Delighted with Justin’s additions to the menu, Gary and Shannon have turned their attention to improving the wine list and bar offerings. The two have very different tastes, but agree that the wine list should combine familiar “name” wines with unusual boutique choices for more adventurous drinkers. The bar will feature classic Southern cocktails, so next time you crave a Sazerac, you know where to get one!
For holiday entertaining or other festive occasions, here are some of Shannon and Gary’s special cocktails you can make at home.
Crook’s Book Prize Cocktail
Inspired by prizes given by literary cafes in France, Crook’s sponsors a book prize for emerging Southern novelists. Shannon created this cocktail that merges French and Southern flavors for the prize announcement party held in January. Now you can have it at home.
½ oz. bourbon
½ oz. Calvados or applejack
¼ oz. simple syrup
Dash of pastis or Pernod
3 dashes of Angostura bitters
2 oz. sparkling wine
Pour the first five ingredients into a shaker, mix and chill. Pour into a Champagne flute, and add cold sparkling wine. Garnish with a cherry.
This Crunkleton cocktail pays homage to the Arts and Crafts design of Gary’s bar. Roycrofters were a group of artisans and craftsmen in New York at the turn of the 19th century.
1 oz. 100-proof rye whiskey
½ oz. Green Chartreuse
½ oz. Benedictine
½ oz. Cherry Heering liqueur
1 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice, and shake for five seconds, long enough to wake up the liquor. Strain into a coupe or favorite glass with no ice. Garnish with a swath of fresh ginger, smashed enough to release some of its juice, or with a lemon peel spiral.
Shannon calls this drink from Alley Twenty Six “a twist on a dry Manhattan and a celebration of our place in the South, as well as our debt to classic cocktails.”
2 oz. Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
½ oz. dry vermouth
¼ oz. Cynar
¼ oz. maraschino liqueur
1 dash celery bitters
Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour into a martini glass and serve. Alley Twenty Six garnishes with a flamed lemon coin.