First Look: Existing Conditions, The New Project From Dave Arnold, Don Lee, & Greg Boehm

By Dr. Bill Copen |

Existing Conditions, the much buzzed about new NYC bar, will not open until early July. However, Neat Pour got inside look at the new establishment from the minds of mad scientist Dave Arnold, educator and innovator Don Lee, and Cocktail Kingdom founder Greg Boehm.

Situated in the heart of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village (35 West 8th Street), Existing Conditions  honors the neighborhood’s vibe by mixing tradition and innovations. The large space (110 people) is divided into four small, comfy rooms (one with a fireplace and skylight!) Relics of former residents, like whiskey lockers, still pepper the establishment–and that’s kind of the point.

“The name comes from the challenge that we set for ourselves to find an existing bar space in New York City and mold it with a few aesthetic changes to create the ultimate guest experience,” said Boehm. “Collaborating with two of the most intellectual and creative talents in the business makes this quite a special partnership for me.”

Machinery and nitrogen tanks (lots of nitrogen tanks!) attest to the intellect at play. However, this lab is homey–less Dr. Frankenstein and more Doc Brown.“We want to be a place where you want to be a regular,” Boehm told NP. “You want to come back.”

That is not to say that the techy touches Arnold pioneered at Booker & Dax, his legendary spot behind Saam Bar, are not evident throughout venue. In a spectacular show, glasses are chilled with thermoses of liquid nitrogen before service.

Head Bartender Jack Schramm chills out with a glass. (Dr. Bill Copen)

Some drinks are served pre-bottled from old school vending machines. (If you’re wondering how this works: Guests order the drink from bartenders and are handed a token. The machines, then, accept the tokens and dispense the bottles.)

Ready to serve up a bottled Manhattan. (Dr. Bill Copen)

Arnold believes that a natural balance exists between the science behind the bar and the customer-forward approach on the patron end. “We want people to feel as good as they can when they’re in our space,” he said. “We will focus on how we make the drinks. But not on how you drink them.”

During the press preview that NP attended, a limited (Arnold said about a third of the opening) menu was offered. The vending machines dispensed bottled standards like Classic Manhattans and 50/50 Martinis as well as a butter and popcorn infused rum and Coke dubbed a Cinema Highball.

Always Be Double-straining (Dr. Bill Copen)

Things started to get strange with the Saratoga Paloma. The name is a nod to a historic natural spring in Upstate NY where the team sources the natural mineral water which forms the basis for the beverage. Tequila, clarified grape juice, and clarified lime juice comprise the rest of the specs.

The clarified juice is no outlier. Arnold is a noted proponent of using centrifuges for clarification; he even invented one for bar use called the Spinzall. So, it’s no surprise that EC’s Serendipity pairs clarified tomato and passionfruit with a grapefruit twist. Likewise, the Stingless mixes clarified lemon and vanilla with carbonated Melipona honey. (In case you’re curious, the stinger-less Melipona bee is the only natural pollinator of vanilla orchards.)

Lee’s many past bonafides include the creation of PDT’s bacon-washed Benton’s Old Fashioned, one of the most popular drinks of the contemporary era; fittingly, EC offers their own fat washed libation. The Cinema Highball employs a clarified butter fat wash along with a popcorn infusion.

Elsewhere on the menu, we are treated to a different type of wash. The Helicopter is described as a “bitter-sweetish Norwegian sour.” The recipe calls for milk-washed Linie, Aperol, Cynar, and acid adjusted grapefruit juice.

Steak & Latkes (Dr. Bill Copen)

The food side of things falls under the purview of Chef Josh “Shorty” Eden (August, Jean-George, JoJo and Shorty’s.) .32. The opening menu will be a divided between “Bar Snacks” (self-explanatory) and “Boat Anchors” (larger, entree-sized portions).

The press event featured a shorter menu that included chicken liver mousse on crackers, an asian inspired Peeeketoe crab dip, shrimp sticks, steak & latkes, and pork spring rolls.

Existing Conditions is a mashup, but that’s intentional–and it works. “Rather than creating an escapist facade, Existing Conditions examines and highlights the underlying structure of the cocktail experience,” says Lee. “While it will look like any other contemporary cocktail bar, the goal is not to transport guests to a fantasy, but to ground them in the present through exceptional drinks and engaged service.”

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