New in NYC: The Handy Liquor Bar Serves Sazerac Cocktails and Rock Photography (Exclusive)

The Handy Liquor Bar Interior - H 2014
Anthony Foti

The Handy Liquor Bar Interior - H 2014

THR peeks inside SoHo's anticipated "throwback" cocktail lounge and piano bar, which recently hosted parties for Padma Lakshmi and Tilda Swinton.

After a special screening of Only Lovers Left Alive on Wednesday night, Tilda Swinton, director Jim Jarmusch and their guests nocturnally celebrated the upcoming release of the vampire romance and film-fest favorite by heading a few blocks south to SoHo's upcoming double-feature: farm-to-table restaurant Chalk Point Kitchen and its downstairs vintage cocktail lounge, The Handy Liquor Bar.

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Located at 527 Broome Street (between Thompson & Sullivan), The Handy Liquor Bar is named after Thomas Handy, known as one of the first expert barmen in the U.S. in the 1800s. He first published the recipe for the rye-whiskey-and-bitters Sazerac cocktail in New Orleans – the oldest American cocktail and a staple of head bartender William Bastian's Handy Liquor drink menu, alongside creative twists on the usual dry martinis, Manhattans and mint juleps.

Though named after a noteworthy bartender, the 150-person venue is more so influenced by the sounds of decades gone by. It wears its musical influences on its walls, as most of the antique-framed photos capture candid moments inside New York City top music venues – Max's Kansas City and CBGB – during the summer of 1977, as they are the originals that appeared in a New York music magazine called Rock Scene (on loan from art enthusiast Hill Harper, who purchased the entire archive and its 630 photos from that summer, and also curated Handy Liquor's wine program). Mostly shot by rock photographer Bob Gruen, portraits of Blondie, Michael Jackson, New York Dolls and Patti Smith (who was at the Only Lovers Left Alive screening, no less) hang on the walls, alongside vintage cocktail leather-bound books and classic jazz memorabilia. The space also spotlights a 1950s Wurltizer baby grand piano and jukebox, equipped with jazz, funk and Motown vinyls.

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"The vision behind The Handy Liquor Bar was to combine an authentic atmosphere of timeless comfort, along with classic cocktails and great music," Matt Levine, the Lower East Side restaurateur who previously owned The Eldridge and Sons of Essex, and created the pop-ups #LESbeat and #HOOKxNAIL, tells The Hollywood Reporter.

While the plant-filled dining room serves dishes made from locally-sourced ingredients on white tables made of slightly-weathered wood, Chien Dao -- who also designed The Crown, The Lion, MoMa Curator Loft, Jade Jagger Building and Levine's past restaurant, Sons of Essex – opted for a contrast with dark mahogany woods and warm burgundy tones for the vintage piano bar downstairs, detailed with classic moldings, custom rosettes and trims among marble tabletops, Persian rugs, leather couches and wingback chairs. The venue was built by Platform International, a construction team known mostly for building international art festivals such as Frieze Art Fair, and made its first foray into hospitality with the SoHo location.

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"It was important to Matt for us to create two identities, where upstairs, the food was to be the focus -- open kitchen, your family farmhouse dining-room atmosphere," Dao tells THR, "and the adjacent cocktail lounge to be designed around authentic NYC. Comfort, classic, a sophisticated vintage living room."

The Handy Liquor Bar will also serve small bites – such as classic oysters rockerfella (with a hint of madras curry) and warm black truffle and gruyere tea sandwich (served with pomme frites) – from the Chalk Point Kitchen menu, created by Michelin Star and Rising Chef Award recipient, executive chef Joe Isidori, along with Chef de Cuisine, Blue Hill and Mas Farmhouse vet, chef Frederick Schoen-Kiewert.

After hosting after parties for both the Padma Lakshmi-hosted Blossom Ball on Friday and the Swinton-starrer Only Lovers Left Alive on Wednesday, both Chalk Point Kitchen and The Handy Liquor Bar are eyeing an early April opening.

527 Broome Street, SoHo, NYC, 212-390-1705,

Twitter: @cashleelee