510 Hudson Street, New York 10014
THE MAGIC OF EMPLOYEES ONLY IS THAT IT IS A QUINTESSENTIALLY NEW YORK PLACE: a local bar that manages to be all things to all people, whether you’re on a first date, grabbing pre-dinner cocktails or indulging in late-night revelry. After 10 years in the business (an eternity in this town), the spell shows no signs of breaking and the team shows no signs of slowing down. Keeping up with demand means the team is slinging nearly 183,000 cocktails per year, but with the finesse of any craft cocktail bar.
It’s those consistently and expertly crafted drinks that get people in the door. The current menu pays homage to 10 years of Employees Only with a Classics section of eight of its signature drinks, while keeping the rest of the menu’s structure in place, divided into Aperitifs, Long Drinks and Fancy Cocktails.
Principal bartender Steve Schneider says all drinks must positively answer the questions: “Is this an Employees Only drink? Does it represent who we are?” One of the best representations is arguably the Amelía, in which medium-dry Aylesbury Duck vodka and St Germain elderflower liqueur are shaken with pureed blackberries and lemon juice. The gorgeous pink-hued libation is so popular that one is sold every 15 minutes, or about 15,000 per year.
Then there’s the Mata Hari, which reads and drinks like the best dessert cocktail you’ve ever had: Rémy Martin 1738 cognac, shaken with chai-infused Martini Rosso and pomegranate juice, served straight up.
Rounding out the classics is one of the best Manhattans in town, whose ratio favours more Italian vermouth than Rittenhouse rye stirred with Grand Marnier, plus bitters for aroma. It also happens to pair exceptionally well with the steak tartare, which is expertly prepared tableside.
That’s another thing contributing to the bar’s total package: the food. Chef Julia Jaksic’s menu mimics the bar’s approach to cocktails with dishes that are three dimensional, well balanced and devoid of pretence. Don’t miss the pastry puffs stuffed with melting scoops of bone marrow.
Besides the cocktails, crowd and food, what keeps people coming back? Schneider sums it up best: “It’s down home hospitality with a night club experience.”
As a customer, it’s the staff’s ability to make you feel like a rock star – you don’t know it, but they’re reading your facial expressions and body language from the moment you walk in to figure out what you want.
You might not pick up on the fact that drinks are mixed at eye-level, allowing the bartenders to establish eye contact with you. What you will observe is the their fluid choreography as they weave past one another; their matching EO tattoos; and the passion and pride they take in their work.
These guys are in it for the long haul – their lauded bar staff programme demands it. You have to work as an apprentice for at least three years before you even get the job. “It boils down to mutual respect, inside and outside of the bar,” says Schneider.
The Employees Only team truly have each other’s backs, as well as the hearts of their customers.