35 W 8th St btw 5th and 6th Ave, Greenwich Village
The Place: An experimental, science-heavy cocktail bar that feels like a regular cocktail bar, courtesy of some of the top dogs in mixology.
The Time: Monday July 30, 7pm. I was supposed to go to an event in Manhattan that was cancelled last minute. So instead I took a spin class and afterward, headed straight to Existing Conditions, one of the splashier new bar openings in this city. Apologies to all the personal trainers and exercise instructors out there who are horrified by the fact that I chose to fuel up after my workout with a cocktail. I have no excuse and I am not sorry.
The Vibe: Trendy, minimalist and busy! I ask the hostess for a seat for one at the bar, and she says “great cuz that’s all I have right now” and gives me the corner stool. As I sit, one of the bartenders greets me while pouring a smoking thing into another smoking thing and I’m like yep, this is the science-y cocktail bar I read about. There are bulbous lamps, white brick walls, and a red vending machine that dispenses bottled cocktails! It’s a big open space with tables in the back and booths on the sides, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming or cavernous. Everything is white, gray, black or wood. Everyone in here is in their 30s or older. I keep staring at a dead ringer for JVN but in like, 25 years; he twirls his mustache and flips his hair in the same way and I’m mesmerized. The woman next to me is waiting for her friend for a while. When he comes, and the bartender asks him “still or sparkling,” he hesitates then says “sparkling!” And she says “Let’s. Sparkle. All. Night. Long.” <3
The Bartender: The one taking care of me (and my corner of the bar, and the service station) is named Jack. There are three others down the rest of the bar. They all wear black t-shirts and black jeans. Whenever they have a moment’s peace, they dance with each other. Or near each other, rather. They all seem really happy and really into their jobs. And I’m happy just watching them.
The Drank: So I’d probably drink every drink on this menu, but the one I settle on is the Strawberry Carborita - tequila, clarified strawberry, clarified orange, clarified lime. I thought I knew what clarified* means, but maybe now I don’t? Anyway this drink is like the boozy strawberry limeade of my dreams. Carbonated drinks are kinda the thing here, since they have a custom carbonation system behind the bar, which pressurizes the cocktails and keeps them at negative seven degrees. But when Jack makes my cocktail, it looks totally normal. What?? This is crazy! It’s like, they put so much work into these drinks and are doing such cool shit, but if you didn’t know it, you’d think you were just having a really good cocktail. And they have a selection of non-alcoholic cocktails too, which are just as complex and thought-through as the stiff ones. Unpretentious, considerate, inclusive?? This bar needs a Bumble profile, it’d get swiped right so hard.
Was I Hit On? No, I get to just sit, read, drink and hang, all in blissful solitude. Jack and I eventually introduce ourselves, and I mention I used to work in the industry. When I’m about to leave, he hands me a small libation as a parting gift. I take one sip and I’m like, “yo Jack, what is this, it’s amazing” and Jack says “oh that’s our Banana Justino. We just put a bunch of ripe bananas in with rum, let it infuse for a day, then run it through a centrifuge, that’s it.” Yeah, that’s it.
Should You Drink Here Alone? 100%. Existing Conditions joins the ranks of the better cocktail bars around. I told Jack I would come back soon and I meant it. And so should you. But be warned: they’ve only been open three weeks and it’ll get harder and harder to snag a stool at this exceptional bar, now that the clarified cat’s out of the pressurized bag.
*Here’s an explanation on clarifying fruit juice, which cites a book written by none other than Dave Arnold, one of the co-owners and masterminds behind this bar. Shoulda known.