Here is an unrevealing revelation for anyone who has ever met me: I am not cool. I own this and I am at peace with it. And because I have accepted this fact you will rarely find me trying to do something that is remarkably exclusive like, oh, waiting in line at a new club or trying to talk my way into some hipster party. Because I know that no one running some cooler-than-thou establishment is going to look at the crowd and say “Oh yes. That girl. That one with the preppy purse and no tan who thinks that Deathcab for Cutie is totally overrated. Let’s bring her in.” Not going to happen. And it sure isn’t going to happen in Manhattan, where pretty much everyone works their ass off to be cooler than the person to their left.
Yet there I was just a weekend ago, wandering a back alley of Manhattan’s Chinatown looking for Apotheke, a no-name-on-the-front-gotta-be-on-the-list-to-even-get-in bar. Normally a joint like this sets off my alarm system, but this trip we had an in: our friend Winter had a family connectoin with the owner. Allelujah! But first, we had to find the place. Apotheke is located on a strange alley street where I think I’d be as likely to find tiger penis powder (soothes aching joints!) as a well-made cocktail. We actually passed the entrance twice without realizing it – the bar isn’t unmarked so much as mismarked. Turns out the Gold Flower restaurant is not just a happening Chinese eatery.
While the speakeasy reawakening is certainly familiar to residents of DC, it is so prevalent in Manhattan that locals have begun to refer to them as speakcheesies. I see the issue with themes but I would not call Apotheke cheesy. Like other speakeasy style bars, Apotheke focuses on hand-crafted, fine ingredient cocktails in a chic environment. The atmosphere more frenetic than The Gibson, PX or San Francisco’s Bourbon and Branch. There are scattered couches and tables but the space is built for mingling; even the bar encourages traffic mobility with notably absent barstools. Regardless, the bar is where we set up camp.
Oh and this bar? It glows. I don’t mean it glows because of the delicious cocktails or the handsome, overly flirtatious bartenders. It actually physically glows. It is a single piece of Italian onyx that is somehow backlit, casting off a constant candlelit tone and bringing drinkers to it like a beacon. There were at least 5 bartenders on hand at all times, each donning a white lab coat with a label reading “dispensing chemist,” a throwback to the pharmecutical theme of the drinks available.
The cocktail menu is divided into pharmacy based themes: Health & Beauty, Stress Relievers, Pain Killers, Aphrodisiacs, Stimulants, Pharmecuticals, Euphoric Enhancers and Therapeutic Treatments. My first round, a Sparkling Star from the Health & Beauty category was a light, sweet starter. Made with muddled star fruit, fresh aloe vera, vodka and champagne it was a pink girlie drink that’s freshness kept it from becoming an over the top syrupy concoction (cosmopolitans, I’m looking at you).
The First Sign of Spring – cacacha infused with spring herbs, luxardo, honey liqueur and lime – received mixed reviews. The herb infusion and garnishes were flavorful and fresh. It absolutely tasted like the first sign of spring but that also meant it veered away from “fresh cocktail” into “seasonal salad” territory. The strawberry fennel, on the other hand, was a hit with friends and strangers alike. The drink was sweet and tangy with the fennel-infused vodka and muddled strawberries which complimented eachother nicely without competing for top billing.
Being the bourbon loving girl I am, there was no way I could pass up the Blood Orange Bourbon Sour. I was not disappointed. The blood orange-infused Bourbon was a smooth base to the lime, sugar cane, egg whites and blood orange bitters making for a savory, complex drink.
The favorite drink of the night was the Deal Closer. Vodka-infused with “local Chinatown aphrodisiacs” (uh oh), fresh mint, cucumber, lime and vanilla essence this was a crisp drink just slightly softened around the edges by the vanilla. The drink itself was fresh and clean. The fact that it was named The Deal Closer and was sent to my friend Philly Utzie from the painfully handsome bartender* she’d been flirting with sent us into over the top giggles. Being an insider can definitely have its perks.
*See also: Married bartender. No deal was closed there.