With 30 years and 13 restaurants under his belt, Danny Meyer has built one of the most recognizable gastro empires in New York. The latest project to join his ranks, a partnership with Blue Smoke lieutenants Mark Maynard-Parisi and Jean-Paul Bourgeois, is a Southern-twanged cocktail lounge that puts the restaurateur onto the drinks scene for the first time in his decades-long career. The sleek Chelsea drinkery is decked out with homey touches (the back game room is filled with retro boards including Life and Yahtzee) and a rustic, reclaimed-wood bar helmed by Nicholas Bennett (Booker and Dax), turning out first-rate down-home sips that don’t mimic the real deal but instead redefine ’em.
ORDER THIS: Stiff drinks ($14) like a house-bottled whiskey-and-cola, cracked open and poured tableside. Kissed with herbal amaro, it’s potent enough to sip slowly throughout the night. Equally hefty are the orange-spiced rye-Cardamaro Flagg Day and the supremely smoky Gun Metal Blue, just barely splashed with curaçao and peach brandy. Bennett’s New York Sour gets a welcome froth from sudsy egg white, while his riff on the Hurricane, dubbed the Storm’s Brewin’, whirls the grenadine-rum pairing with apple, lemon and passion fruit.
GOOD FOR: Laidback Gothamites and homesick down-South transplants. The cozy country vibes come courtesy of lived-in leather booths, vintage ceramic plates scrolled with grandma-style florals and even a “porch” stage for bluegrass and jazz musicians. But the rural touches are balanced by urban elements: The renovated-warehouse space is rigged with concrete floors and exposed brick walls. Bourgeois’s bar-bite menu does the same Mason-Dixon line blurring, turning Louisiana meat pies into crunchy, Cajun-spiced Natchitoches spring rolls with addictive chili-soy sauce ($10) and boiled peanuts into a creamy, lemon-zipped hummus ($15). Crispy waffle-cut gaufrette chips come zipped with equal parts salt and vinegar ($4).
THE CLINCHER: The bar’s impeccable service is chock full of good ol’ Southern hospitality. Despite a standing-room-only crowd on a recent night, the waitstaff did not waver. Friendly without getting overly chatty, attentive without hovering, the team delivered grub and glugs with nary a hiccup. Expect a constant stream of water refills, your booze-sopping bites arriving in steady stages and follow-up rounds promptly premeditated. This may be Meyer’s first stand-alone bar, but he’s already raised it.