Some things seem meant to be. Like the side hustle Matt Levy dreamed up of opening a speakeasy-style lounge in his home called the Covert Cocktail Club. The address? Covert Street.
For five years, until the pandemic forced the mixology enthusiast to pivot in 2020, Levy and his now ex-wife welcomed strangers into their two-story house in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for a hush-hush cocktail experience.
“Hospitality is about sharing your passion and sharing your knowledge with people who are interested in the things that you do,” he says.
Levy describes himself as a cocktail nerd. “I’ve never worked a day in a bar in my life. I kind of fell down the craft cocktail rabbit hole about 15 years ago because making craft cocktails at home was a perfect Venn diagram of all of the things that I’m into.” He’s a full-time New York City tour guide and a one-time performance artist, careers that are all about hospitality, showmanship and engaging with strangers — just like bartending.
While Levy had been crafting cocktails for friends and family, “I never really had any notion of taking it semi-professional. I just figured it was a fun side hobby,” he recalls. “Then one day I got this idea: If I’m good at this — and I am good at this — I should do this for strangers and invite them into my home.” And so the whisper business was born.
He says he’s a “perfect example of taking your passion and turning it into a profession.”
A typical evening kicked off at 9 when an intimate group of strangers would show up for the semi-private cocktail experience, having learned about it through word of mouth or Levy’s Instagram. It was a kind of social experiment. Levy loved the connections made among strangers, how they came together and opened up about their lives. “What surprised me was how passionate people were and how engaged they were,” he says. After a few months, the media got wind of it. Punch Magazine and The New York Times ran stories about the club and Levy’s kitchen island was suddenly booked solid for over a year.
Covid forced Levy to close his doors to the public, but he carries on the role of cocktail evangelist. In the fall of 2020, Levy transitioned the business to an online model, the Virtual Covert Cocktail Club Experience. It’s targeted to consumers and corporate clients. And he’s taken the act on the road with a venture called Have Shaker, Will Travel, in which Levy brings his mobile bar to homes, offices and event spaces. Still, he hasn’t given up on the idea of reviving his original Covert Club. Some things will be different. For one thing, Levy no longer lives in the home on aptly named Covert Street. But wherever it is, Levy’s unsanctioned space will undoubtedly still be a craft cocktail sanctuary.
WHY BARFLY MIXOLOGY GEAR
“A quality cocktail made by a quality mixologist requires quality bar tools. Together they form a social glue that adds a level of engaging professionalism and comfortable hospitality to the experience.”