A Floor Above the Usual

by Alex R. Travers and Lily Hoagland

Over the past few years I’ve resolutely set out to find the answer to the question “what’s a great place for drinks?” Yet for all the speakeasy and mixology places we have all visited or read about, you never really know what to expect. After a recommendation from my Executive Editor, Lily Hoagland, we both decided to head over to 2nd Floor on Clinton—one of the Lower East Side’s latest new cocktail lounges. Upon opening the menu I had begun seeing fascinating drinks, although I couldn’t tell you much about them except that they were named after poets and voodoo practitioners or sounded like they’d deliver a punch as strong as Prohibition-era hooch. I was intrigued.

The team behind 2nd Floor on Clinton has some history. Ektoras Binikos began his career as a multi-media artist in Athens before moving to New York where he began concocting cocktails at Aureole, Oceana, and Michael’s—he is still currently the Head Mixologist at Michael’s. According to Mr. Binikos, the perfect drink should please the eye, nose, and palette. His drinks don’t miss any of these targets. Just as illustrious is Tony Powe, whose enterprise on the ground floor, Barramundi Bar, clandestinely houses the entrance to 2nd Floor on Clinton. Powe, the proprietor of 2nd Floor on Clinton, is now in his 15th year of creating dining and drinking experiences in Manhattan, most recently as owner of the award-winning Jarnac Restaurant in the West Village. Binikos and Powe seem to be at their pinnacle with this latest creation; the hidden respite isn’t your typical Edison-style-bulb-hanging, quick-drink-slinging speakeasy. The needs of the customer come first. In fact, besides the many fresh and exotic creations dreamed up by Binikos, you can just as easily order a simple neat scotch or a Coke.

Despite the triumphs of New York’s speakeasy and mixology craze, the presence of over-crowded and over-hyped still hovers above a lot of these places. Not every bar I’ve visited is guilty of this, but when I’m asked about a quiet refuge that makes a spectacular drink I don’t often have an answer. Now I do. The bloggers have embraced the speakeasy movement, creating “Top Mixology” lists that float around the Internet. I suspect 2nd Floor on Clinton will make it onto many of them; they currently make the best drinks in New York.

When we visited 2nd Floor, around 10 p.m. on a Thursday, there was no wait for a table—at 2nd Floor there is table service only and if the room is full they take your number and text you when the table becomes available—and the environment was particularly welcoming. The space feels like someone’s living room: easy chairs, oriental carpets, exotics lamps, and Mr. Powe’s personal selection of art create an exceptional harmony. Lily ordered off the “Brandy” section of the menu. Her choice was called “Black Forest,” a blend of Obstler Thatcher’s Elderflower Liqueur, Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur, Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur, Moscato D’Asti, lemon, and Black Walnut Bitters (you’ve heard of all these, right?). The drink came garnished with a pine tree leaf and a mélange of small mushrooms. It was ethereal. Flavors blissfully blended together to create palate-alternating experience. Lily said it was dreamy!

Mixology and speakeasies appear to be of two worlds: one setting standards for what we drink, the other creating senses of exhilaration. Yet these worlds don’t always co-exist. There’s a thrill about walking past a door marked “Private” and up a non-descript staircase into a world of old-fashioned ingredients and lushly decorated furniture. It’s an experience no one should miss, and you get it at its finest at 2nd Floor on Clinton.

For more information on 2nd Floor On Clinton, visit http://www.2ndflooronclinton.com/.