The Summer’s Best New Bar Isn’t on a Roof; It's the Office
Two of New York’s most powerful dining rooms line Columbus Circle in Midtown Manhattan: Marea and Porterhouse. But until this summer, there hasn’t been a bar with the potential to bring in that kind of business crowd.
Now, some 30 stories above Porterhouse, part way up the tower that houses the Mandarin Oriental, chef Grant Achatz and his partner Nick Kokonas have opened the Office. It's an East Coast outpost of their Chicago lounge of the same name, which is housed just below the Aviary, a craft cocktail pioneer. In New York, the program by beverage director Micah Melton is simultaneously serious and entirely engaging, especially alongside the classically minded menu from Michelin-star chef Achatz.
The bar isn’t specifically geared toward those doing business (although the name might suggest otherwise), but it is well designed for privacy and conversation. Says Kokonas over the phone: “What we tried to do when we were building the Office was to create different zones within the space. You can see the room and what’s going on, but it’s super private, and the experience is your own. Whether you’re there for business or a date, it’s viable.” Kokonas also extols the otherworldliness of the experience. Because the view from the space wasn't great—instead of towering Central Park views, it overlooks a tower—they created windows with ambient light. “We wanted people to lose a sense of where they are,” he says. “When you walk out and you see the elevator, all of a sudden you remember where you are.” As inspiration, the team looked at old New York bars, copying the wood paneling and leather walls that echoed turn-of-the-century gentlemen’s clubs—where business also, invariably, got done.
The menu, by Achatz and chef Dan Perretta, reflects that old-school classicism. The à la carte menu is a checklist of tweaked, favorites such as prime ribeye tartare with mustard aioli ($40), velvety, fat-laced strips of jamón ibérico ($64 for four ounces), and best of all, a terrine filled with mussels in a creamy smoked bacon broth with bread for dunking ($32). (If those prices register as high, note the location. According to Kokonas, every food delivery to the kitchen commands a $50 charge. “Ingredients cost a lot more for us considering it’s 35 floors up and you have to use the Time Warner Center as your delivery checkpoint with all that security, 30-plus delivery bays, and so on. If the kitchen needs a last-minute flat of strawberries, there’s a $50 surcharge.”)
Separately a $265 Office Experience tasting menu with cocktail pairings is ideal for people seeking a taste of Alinea in Manhattan. Exhibit A: The first course parfait glass of golden Osetra caviar with meyer lemon gelée and egg-yolk pudding that’s paired, shockingly and successfully, with a curried banana Champagne cocktail. Says bar manager Melton: “Chef Achatz has always championed the banana-and-caviar synergy; we knew he’d appreciate it, and it turned out awesome.”
Even more important than the food are cocktails. The actual menu is short, with selections identified by an ingredient or recognizable drink name. The spicy and powerful Tequila is a concoction with grapefruit, ginger, horseradish, and lapsong souchong. The fruity Old Fashioned includes strawberry, multiple fernets, and orange oil, while Melton's highly unconventional take on an Amaretto Sour includes black truffle, 70-proof Cynar, and smoked salt.
Servers will invariably recommend Dealer’s Choice, whereby you tell the server the spirit and flavors you want, and a cocktail will be specially made. For instance, a request for something in the vein of a gin-based Last Word will result in an enticing mix of whiskey, lemon, and green and yellow Chartreuse. That has also helped the team serve old regulars of the bar that formerly occupied the space, MO Bar, where people would routinely order a Grey Goose martini. “The same thing happens in Chicago,” confides Achatz. “We try to politely dissuade them. The bar team will take that as a cue to say, 'Oh, do you like vodka?' and take them to something more stylistically in our repertoire. But if it fails, we give them that martini.”
What’s become a focus of the New York Office is the liquor cabinet, which is stocked with impossible-to-find bottles, including a gallon of Old Fitzgerald 1969, bottled in bond, and what might be the last unopened bottle of pre-phylloxera Cognac in the world. Melton estimates that there are $200,000 worth of spirits at the bar, and that's just on paper; more and more rare bottles are coming in. Achatz says that one big difference between New York and Chicago is the number of people ordering off the menu of rare, and pricey, by-the-ounce spirits in the former. “We’re seeing a much higher percentage of people purchasing super vintage spirits. It happens in Chicago occasionally. Here, every night, people come in and order $500 per-ounce pours of Scotch whiskey, Cognac, and Chartreuse.”
This fall, the Achatz team will also open a New York version of the Aviary, which will provide a futuristic counterpoint to the classically minded Office and feature modernist drinks and dishes. Also on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental tower, the 90-seat space will boast an open kitchen and sweeping views, with reservations available through Tock, the reservation system created by Kokonas and utilized by restaurants like Eleven Madison Park. Guests at the Office will have to walk past said kitchen to the speakeasy’s hidden entrance. Also part of the Aviary will be a kitchen table, located in the window-lined corner, the fulcrum point of Columbus Circle and Central Park. “It’s unbelievable views; it’s why I did the deal,” says Kokonas, half-jokingly.
Meanwhile, Achatz reflects on the future beyond New York. The collaboration with the Mandarin Oriental had been in the works for almost a decade: “Originally, they wanted us to put an Alinea in the Asiate space,” says Achatz, referring to the hotel's dining room. “It didn’t feel right, I would never open another Alinea. But once we opened the Aviary and had a bar in our program, it became more viable. It’s taken six years of waiting and logistically organizing: It’s a hotel group, and there’s a lot of layers. There’s the opportunity to roll out in Singapore, London, Las Vegas. There’s definitely rumblings about another Aviary in a far away city.”