Jump to content

Recommended Posts

Just across the street from Seward Park is a line of low-rise, rickety buildings, one of those downtown New York blocks where old Jewish heritage meets Chinatown. I have walked up and down it a million times, and even looked at studio flats there with a friend searching for something affordable in Manhattan. I didn't believe it would ever be the location of a squeakily hip bar (at number 21).

 

Now, though, it's just a step from the refurbished Daily Forward condo paradise, and Broadway East flexitarian restaurant, and around the corner from Les Enfants Terribles and that bar with the Poilane sandwiches.

 

The bar room is short and narrow (there's a lounge in the back I didn't explore), the bar itself lovely white marble. Sasha himself was doing occasional bar duty. Mid-evening it wasn't too busy, and rather peaceful until the music came on. I am posting about it mainly because of the fascination of the self-imposed and (currently) strict rules and the amusement of watching customers wrestle with them.

 

There's no drink list. They have, said the bar-tender, "pretty much what you see". In that light, with my eyes, it might as well have been Utah. I guessed at a rye. I had read that cocktails were not the point. Indeed, not only will they not mix drinks - it appears they can't. I believe temptation has been placed out of reach by the simple absence of shakers from the premises. In any case, customer after customer was refused: one guy was so persistent that the bar-tender eventually admitted he could maybe do a Manhattan "on the rocks" (aha, I thought, no shakers).

 

It's not strictly true to say nothing is mixed. You can get a campari and soda, and there is enthusiasm for stirring fresh juices and syrups into champagne. Indeed, outside of specialist champagne spots, I've rarely seen so many punters at a New York bar caressing a flute of the stuff. After all, you can only drink so many fingers of single malts, ryes and bourbons (and yes, there is a vodka) if you wish to walk home. There are many cool bitters too, but how many New Yorkers have a taste for them over ice? By the way, I know strict measures in cocktails are all the rage - but here they use the same scientific little thimbles to pour hooch. Come on, man, bend your elbow!

 

Okay, you can get a Pilsener if you want a beer; but I don't believe there is any wine apart from the champagne - Moet White Star.

 

The other way to go is absinthe. The dinkiest little absinthe tap sits on the bar, a jar full of the special spoons alongside. If you enjoy a kind of pastis with water dripped into it through a sugar cube, you are laughing.

 

And so it goes: people really couldn't figure out what to drink. But it's Sasha, it's the new downtown-downtown, and it's all kind of odd. So it will be a huge success, and that will probably be the last time I get a bar-stool. It's also a surefire way of selling premium liquor: stock nothing else. Every shelf is the top shelf, and drinks are $10 and up.

 

Cheers.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I just didn't get this place.

 

It seems impossible to me that a group of people going out together are all going to want unmixed drinks. A good Serious Cocktail Bar should have a solid selection of the type of stuff you'd drink here, for those who are in the mood (and also of course as cocktail ingredients).

 

And, as Wilfrid said, there's a limit to how many straight drinks you can have.

 

My crowd had the same problem Wilfrid adverted to: nobody really knew what to drink.

 

I love Sasha, but I think he's straining here.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Aaron T

I'm not sure I understand the appeal of a bar where they won't mix you a drink. Only masochistic punters need apply? The talent that Sasha has for creating and mixing cocktails would seem to be wasted in an environment in which they are just pouring liquor out of a bottle and into a glass. His skill and creativity command a price premium - not sure what people are paying for, other than telling themselves they are at Sasha's latest bar and so they must be cool....

Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know. would you say that about Hudson or Lexington or Tyn Square Bar and Books? (yes they also serve incompetently made cocktails but...)

 

it's useful to have a real absinthe bar (I stock Edouard 72 at home but am not going to outlay the cash to also stock Kubler and St. George etc.) to go to....not something like Trummer infusing anisette and calling it "absinthe"

Link to post
Share on other sites

I guess I'd say "why?" I have an absinthe I absolutely love at home. It's not like White Star made it obvious they had a wide range I could try. I had no idea what they had, frankly.

 

You might say that White Star is like Craft: you go there to try very high-quality ingredients that you can't easily get yourself, simply presented. And I could see value to a bar that stocked a wide range of very high-quality sipping liquors that any one person would be unlikely to own themselves.

 

But that isn't how White Star is run. For my model to work, the bar would have to have a menu, so you could see what's there to choose from. But they don't have a menu, and at least when I was there it was almost impossible to see their stock. You were kind of reduced to asking the bartender what was good.

 

Now maybe you'd say that it works if you're knowledgeable enough about liquor to be able to walk in and ask for something obscure, and maybe they have it. But first, I don't in fact know if their stock is wide enough that they usually would have whatever you'd come up with to ask for. And second, that puts an awful lot of responsibility on the customer that I think ought to be borne by the establishment. And third, a business that requires such a high amount of specialized knowledge on the part of its clientele couldn't succeed, IMO.

 

As I said, I don't get it.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I guess I'd say "why?" I have an absinthe I absolutely love at home. It's not like White Star made it obvious they had a wide range I could try. I had no idea what they had, frankly.

 

You might say that White Star is like Craft: you go there to try very high-quality ingredients that you can't easily get yourself, simply presented. And I could see value to a bar that stocked a wide range of very high-quality sipping liquors that any one person would be unlikely to own themselves.

 

But that isn't how White Star is run. For my model to work, it would have to have a menu, so you could see what's there to choose from. But they don't have a menu, and at least when I was there it was almost impossible to see their stock. You were kind of reduced to asking the bartender what was good.

 

As I said, I don't get it.

 

hmm..that's a good point. I happened to just ask Sasha for Kubler and that's what I got. I just sort of assumed he had it.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I wonder how many people want a selection of absinthe, though.

 

Tyn Square? The Bar and Books chainlet has the cigar-bar market, and also serves wine as well as cocktails.

 

Tyn Square is their Prague location (kitty corner from Jan Huss' church). stumbled upon it a few years back.

 

true on the cigar part. but it's definitely known as the Scotch sipper's dream place (along with Keen's)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Exactly. That may be the way White Star settles down too: a fairly exclusive destination for hard liquor connoisseurs, a narrow but surely real market.

 

What I was observing, and I'm sure I'm not alone, was the difficulty faced by couples on dates, where the woman clearly didn't want to drink that way and wanted to move on.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
×
×
  • Create New...