The latest buzzword in the bar scene? “Kitchen.” Upscale, innovative bars are going to great lengths to make you feel like you’re a guest in someone’s kitchen or basement bar. According to mixologists, imbibers feel comfortable in these faux “home” environments, and are likely to linger, spend and enjoy their drinks more as a result.
At Hyatt’s New York-based, five-location boutique hotel chain Andaz Hotels, the concept revolves around removing barriers between employees and guests. Under the guidance of designer David Rockwell, check-in desks were removed in favor of walk-about employees to check in guests. And in the bar? Rockwell removed the bar entirely. Among the main design elements in Bar Seven Five in the Wall Street outpost: nine separate, sleek butcher-block stations.
Similarly, in Chicago, the Mercadito chain, which also has outposts in New York and Miami, has set up a speakeasy-style space called “Double A.” It’s a tiny basement space which is faced with the challenge of maximizing the space, so consulting firm Tippling Brothers devised an ingenious “inside-out bar,” with a 15-foot worktable in the center. Bartenders work on either side of the table, facing each other. Guests are seated around the perimeter of the room.
The Bar as Stage
This set-up also allows customers to focus on what Tippling Brothers’ partner Tad Carducci refers to as “the theater of the bar.” For example, extra-long, elegant Japanese bar spoons are housed in the center of the bar, in easy reach of all the bartenders. So they use them to reach for ingredients and, “there’s a dramatic flair to the movement. It lets the bartender shine.”
“Everybody in the room is behind the bar,” explains Carducci. Guests can stand within two feet of the bar. He enthuses that guests “go in thinking it’s a novelty …but after spending time they find it fosters an intimacy that they don’t find at other bars.”
The unusual configuration allows for “efficient, fast and personable service,” because the bartenders become immersed in the flow. “It’s a bar that becomes a lot of fun for the bartenders …. You see them dancing around, moving to the beat of the music as they’re shaking drinks.”
Another speakeasy style bar, Raines Law Room in New York, goes even further, designating a specific room as “The Kitchen,” complete with kitchen fixtures and lighting. Other “rooms” include The Lounge, The Parlor and The Garden and all of them serve classic cocktails.
Boston’s Drink makes the most of space constraints, with a long wooden bar with a modified horseshoe layout that accommodates 37 seats around three bartender workstations, according to general manager John Gertsen. Bottles are hidden from sight. Visuals include an herb garden behind the bar, as well as a block of ice for bartenders to chip away at throughout the evening for Old-Fashioneds and other classic cocktails, priced from $10 to $12.
Some operators also felt inspired to create unusal bar set ups as they seem more in tune with the times when it comes to hotels. For the Andaz, the entire hotel, including the bar, was designed by David Rockwell, who gave specific guidelines to “remove barriers between hotel and guest.”
“We did a lot of research on what guests wanted,” Harrison explains. “They wanted to have those barriers removed and feel like they are in someone’s home.”
At Drink, Gertsen says it was “designed with guests in mind. When the guest is the focus, they are happier.”
For Double A, the main inspiration was trying to make the most of the space. Carducci explains that they wanted a a very intimate, interactive experience. He adds many of the cocktail bars can have a stuffy feeling and at Double A they wanted something playful.
Pods and Pullmans
Some of these bars have created their unique looks and vibe on their own and others make use of consultants. Andaz’s Bar Seven Five, used New York City-based Alchemy Consulting to put together the program and do training. Bartenders start the drinks at one of two bartender stations, or “pods,” then servers take them in portable “Pullman Caddies,” named after bar carts once used on luxury Pullman trains, and finish the drinks for guests at their seats.
Bartenders and servers are trained to interchange roles and servers aren’t merely doing a shake-and-pour job: finishing a drink may involve cutting and flaming an orange peel. The end result of the increased drink turnover is higher sales of quality drinks.
At Chicago’s Double A, the set-up also offers efficiency advantages. “Because the bartender is so close to the guests, I can be at the bar, spin around 180 degrees, and be close to a table with the guests behind me, create the drink for them, spin around again, and be back at the bar,” Carducci says.
Structure Dictates Options
In some cases, the bar set-up even drives drink-buying decisions. For example, guests are often likely to gravitate toward cocktails made with ingredients in plain sight.
Drinks with drama and visual impact also are brisk sellers, such as the “Daisy Lightning,” at Double A, made with Death’s Door white whiskey, orange curaçao and finished with a chili sugar that is browned crème brûlée-style with a blow torch. It is priced at $13.
“Because everybody is in line with the bar, they see the technique, everybody wants that,” Carducci says. “That’s driven by the structure of the bar.” Beacause of the setup, “we have so many ingredients on the bar, we have this playground or palette of different ingredients. People come in and say, ‘make me something with gin…cucumber…lemongrass.’ [Or] whatever they see on the bar.”
Fragrances also have impact in the small space, as in the “Sugar Daddy,” a concoction of Bacardi 8, kumquat, rosemary and Ruinart Champagne. The drink is garnished with burnt rosemary, scorched by a blow torch and is menued at $14. “As soon as the aroma from that rosemary spray goes around the room, some people perk up and order that drink,” Carducci notes.
As the bars are all relatively new, having opened in the last two years, it can be hard to gauge the precise impact of bar set-up on sales. While the novelty of the layout may have been an initial draw for some, both bars continue to report repeat customers and strong ongoing sales.The lay-out also attracts some unexpected clientele: “We are getting requests for private parties for the room,” Carducci says. “Corporations want to do meetings in the room, because there’s a very intimate feel, and they use our bar as a conference table. That’s not something we ever expected.”