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[Photos: Lush Life Productions ]

White Star is like the shy and unassuming child in a pack of more boisterous siblings. It sits unobtrusively on Essex Street across from Seward Park, and although the original concept was centered around sipping spirits, most notably Absinthe, it has changed somewhat since it opened in August 2008.

Its original iteration was a departure from Sasha Petraske's other carefully crafted cocktail dens, Milk & Honey and Little Branch. But even before his Long Island City outpost Dutch Kills opened, White Star had shifted, turning away from sipping spirits and towards more traditional cocktail offerings, though the absinthe fountain remained atop the bar. Stopping in earlier this week, we were looking forward to a pleasant cocktail at the sleek, marble bar while gazing at the namesake white star lamps. We got that and then some.

After chatting a bit with T.J. Siegal, in rotation behind the bar that night, we learned that White Star is currently changing its focus to aperitifs and digestifs. The basic theory is that cocktails can sometimes be challenging to pair with food, so they are best enjoyed either before or after dinner. That said, the White Star team realizes that most people tend to enjoy cocktails before, during, and after meals, so they'll be offering customers the best of all possible worlds.

First, a list of cocktails based on apertifs. Next, a small offering of food, including cheeses, meats, and crostini, and a carefully crafted wine list—three white, three red—the first wine and food offered at any Petraske establishment. And, last but not least, a dessert cocktail list, many creamy and luscious, to finish. As always, White Star will continue to have its Bartender's Choice option, and the talented folks behind the bar will make virtually any cocktail available at their sister establishments.

To get a taste of the new direction, we wanted to try an apertif-based cocktail, and, as we'd been obsessed with the Venetian Spritz all summer, The Venetian jumped out—a variation on a Negroni, with Aperol filling in for Campari. These changes will be coming slowly over the next few weeks, but the cocktails are terrific no matter when you go.

The Venetian

1 oz plymouth gin
1 oz aperol
1 oz sweet vermouth

Measure ingredients into a cold mixing glass, then fill to the top with ice. Stir to chill, then strain into a cold cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

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