Editor’s note: TLD contributor Jake Safane continues to profile some of the restaurants and food shops dotting the Lower East Side. Today, he visits with the team at Prohibition Bakery, which opened on Clinton Street one year ago.
Whoever said alcohol can’t solve your problems clearly never met Brooke Siem or Leslie Feinberg. At Prohibition Bakery, owner-operators Siem and Feinberg create boozy bite-size cupcakes that can actually make you tipsy; instead of cooking out the alcohol, they add it after baking to create treats with boozy cores adorned with boozy frosting. While the alcohol content varies by cupcake—ones with beer or wine pack less of a punch than those with liquor—three of these concoctions equals roughly one shot. So yes, you have to be 21 to indulge.
Although the cupcakes are for adults, the bakery itself is in its infancy. August 21, tomorrow, marks the shop’s one-year anniversary on Clinton Street, and Siem and Feinberg are celebrating by serving new champagne-based cupcakes this week. But work wasn’t always about popping bottles for these two women. Like many millenials, Siem, 27, and Feinberg, 29, struggled to find their place in the working world.
Well, Feinberg was popping bottles, but not really by choice. Originally from the Gulf Coast of Florida, she moved to New York to work in publishing. When the industry and the economy as a whole began to shrink, however, Feinberg became a bartender. “Neither one of us was very happy with our career tracks at the time,” said Feinberg.
In Siem’s case, she graduated with a history degree from Middlebury College in Vermont, and then found work as a line cook in New York before a back injury took her out of the kitchen. Eventually she moved back home to her parents’ house in Reno, Nevada, to figure things out.
“I was just lost,” said Siem.
With time on her hands, Siem decided to go on what would prove to be a life-changing Birthright trip to Israel in January 2011…not because of what she saw, but because of who she met—Feinberg, who was also on the trip.
In another stroke of convoluted luck, Siem returned to New York after Israel for a job offer that ultimately fell through. Living in the city, Siem tried making car bomb (Guinness-infused chocolate) cupcakes just for fun, and then a friend requested that she make a cosmo-flavored one. Unsure how to do that, Siem turned to her new friend Feinberg for some inspiration.
“She came to my bar and was asking about me it,” said Feinberg. “We got to talking, had a couple of drinks, we got to talking some more…”
Soon, Siem and Feinberg started experimenting with a few recipes to see if their business idea could actually work. Neither was a classically trained pastry chef, but both had a penchant for baking, and within a week, they signed the paperwork to start Prohibition Bakery, which was in June 2011. At first they relied on friends for word-of-mouth catering orders, but very quickly, business expanded with companies like Google and various TV shows placing orders.
With their rapid growth, moonlighting in a kitchen and storing supplies in apartments was no longer an option, so in May 2012, Siem and Feinberg signed the lease at 9 Clinton St. At just 200 square feet, though, space is still limited—a countertop on wooden barrels is the only barrier between customers and the kitchen. More than two-thirds of their business still comes from catering orders, but within half an hour on a Saturday afternoon, a whole host of characters came into the little shop, including a jogger who popped in to grab some cupcakes, convinced he could balance them without ruining them while running back to Prospect Park (He was right).
The cupcakes themselves come in a variety of flavors that don’t just wink at adult beverages but actually carry the taste. Pretzels & Beer is their top seller, and other customer favorites include the Car Bomb and Margarita cupcakes. Feinberg used to bartend at Tortilla Flats, the notorious Mexican bar/restaurant in the West Village, so that’s why the Margarita one is so good, she said.
Walk-ins usually have between five to seven choices per day (except on Mondays when the shop is closed) out of the 16 varieties currently listed on the bakery’s menu ($2 each or 3 for $5). New flavors are also introduced seasonally, such as the current summer offerings of Pimm’s Cup and Sex on the Beach. Upcoming fall creations will include Mulled Wine, Shiny Apple (moonshine, cheddar and apple cider), and Saucy Pumpkin (Oktoberfest beer, pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, chocolate and sage).
“[The flavors] just kind of come to us, honestly,” said Feinberg. “I’ve gotten to the point with this where I can look at a cocktail and very easily see how it can be made into a cupcake. Our more conceptual flavors are very much [from] Brooke.”
The bakery does offer a few virgin varieties such as a bacon cupcake for those who want to stay sober. For everyone else, Prohibition Bakery continues to incorporate the bar while raising it.