When acclaimed bartender Dave Arnold learned his bar, Booker and Dax, was losing its Momofuku Ssäm Bar space in 2016, he made a phone call. "As soon as I left that the meeting," he recalls, "I called Don Lee [from PDT], who I had known for years. . . . He's one of the few like-minded individuals that I know I could work with." Arnold asked him if he wanted to partner on a bar together. "He was instantly like, 'Hold on,'" Arnold says.
Lee then called Greg Boehm, the owner of high-end barware company Cocktail Kingdom. "We knew right away we were going to do it," Arnold explains. That "it" is a bar called Existing Conditions, which opened in Greenwich Village in early July and serves some of the city's most scientifically minded drinks.
"We're not looking to put you outside of your comfort zone," Arnold says. Take the Strawberry Carborita. At first blush, it's a fizzy strawberry margarita. But it's made using a centrifuge that separates liquids based on density, spitting out the solids and leaving the drinker with a clear cocktail simply infused with strawberry flavor. The fizzy part comes from a custom carbonation system. In other corners of the menu, there's nitro-muddling, a technique that uses liquid nitrogen to infuse drinks with herbs.
Fizz shows up in the nonalcoholic beverages as well, like in the Stingless, made with honey bubbles from the stingless Melipona honeybee, which pollinates vanilla. "I think that is some of our strongest work," Arnold says about the nonalcohlic section. "It's not an afterthought. Alcohol provides structure and framework. So they can be more challenging [to create], so I think more exciting."
The menu and bar have a sense of humor as well. The carrot vodka soda comes with the tagline, "The vodka soda you wish you were drinking instead of that juice cleanse," and there's a vending machine for bottled drinks. To soak everything up, there's a menu of bar snacks that includes peekytoe crab dip and larger plates dubbed Boat Anchors, like steak and latkes.
The space looks like a neighborhood bar, with whitewashed brick walls, unadorned black chairs and a warm mahogany bar. The drink presentations follow suit, arriving simply without flowers, umbrellas or just about anything besides a twist—a rarity in the era of Instagram drink clickbait. Arnold calls his approach to presentation austere. "When you use new techniques, people accuse you of just doing gimmicks. A lot of those are visual. I didn't ever want to be accused of doing gimmicks for gimmick's sake."
He continues, "What we're aiming for is that we just want you to feel like your best self when you're there. Internally, we care a lot about the drinks, but I think the most important thing from the guest perspective is that they feel good."
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