Deep in the catacomb basement of the Andaz 5th Avenue hotel, there is a lone, unmarked wooden door that blends seamlessly into the wall that surrounds it. Grab hold of the silver door handle, push, and step into Andaz's un-named, speakeasy-style bar that boasts handcrafted cocktails and locally-sourced, sharing-style dishes from Excecutive Chef Roberto Alicea.
Two, 120-year-old massive cuts of Claro wood act as the bar, jutting along the left of the entranceway, littered with baskets of fresh fruit and crude-wood boxes stuffed with bottles of small-batch liquors. A stainless steel open-kitchen suckles the rear of the bar--chefs clad in white coats with black aprons serving up cast-iron skillet dishes; bartenders in all black preparing intricate, hand-made cocktails--for a rustic, candid, up-scale reinvention of a secret speakeasy without the pretentiousness of underground hot-spots in the East Village.
Split into shaken cocktails and stirred cocktails, the cocktail menu rotates seasonally, with a simple motto said, perhaps unoffically, by a staff member: "If I can make a non-whiskey drinker love one of our whiskey cocktails, I know I'm doing something right." And this rings entirely true. I am, by no means, a tequila drinker, but the stand-out of the night, by far, was the Mexican Firing Squad, a shaken blend of Herradura Blanco Tequila, lime, Pomegranate Molasses and Angostura Bitters; an amazingly refreshing blend of citrus and pomegranate with a uniquely dense texture. Other notable cocktails include the Cellar Door (Pimms #1, lemon, Bergamont Syrup, Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum and St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram), and The Booted Manhattan, a stirred mixture of Sazerac Six Year Rye, Carpano Antica, and Cynar, served in a martini glass sprayed with 16-year-old Lagavulin Scotch, for a smoky, leathery twist.
The food, too, proved to be on the same level as the cocktails. In similar Andaz fashion as Wall & Water, the sister hotel's restaurant on Wall Street, lead by Executive Chef Maximo Lopez May, the bar in the basement at Andaz 5th Avenue utilizes locally-sourced products from farms such as Bo-Bo's Farms, Meili Farms, Niman Ranch, and Steve Connelly's Dayboat, producing some truly impressive dishes that concentrate on the small details: The cheeses are served with dripping, raw honeycomb and soft, warm baguette, laid out on wooden boards. Hot dishes are served in skillets, and thrive in their variety: stuffed peppers with chicken, olive oil and cilantro; Shrimp a la Plancha with garlic, lemon peel, peppers and herbs; and, my favorite, the roasted pork shoulder with black kale, raisins and orange peel.
As I pulled out of focus from my cocktails and appetizers, I began to realize that it was just about seven in the evening, mid-town offices were emptying out, and the bar was filling up. Besides ample seating at the Claro-wood bar, there is an especially cohesive and convivial aura about the space as a whole. The black-walled, Tony Chi designed space is accented with an industrial twist, reminiscent of 19th Century New York, boasting an open, industrial ceiling and a rough-skinned brick wall from a 1790 rural Connecticut farmhouse. Old books, vintage wine bottles, and other artifacts fill nooks and shelves that surround six, centrally located communal dark wood tables, where on any given night, amidst your favorite cocktail or a plate of cheese, the intention of having a one-on-one with a co-worker turns into a unique opportunity to make new friends and try new drinks. And just as eight rolled around, and I sauntered towards the exit, I saw numerous leaning and finger pointing between clusters of people at the communal tables, asking what they were drinking and eating, and, perhaps, if they wouldn't mind sharing.