The NoMad Hotel in New York’s district of the same name houses one of the most celebrated drinking establishments in the world, a veritable magnet for critical acclaim. However, this is not another story about the NoMad. Rather this is the story of Ferris, the bar in the MADE Hotel (44 W 29th St,) across the street from NoMad. Here is some insight into what it takes to create a distinct identity and world class bar program that keeps up with the neighbors–when those neighbors just so happen to have a James Beard Award.
Mind you, Ferris is no stranger to accolades. Even, the Old Grey Lady’s restaurant critic Pete Wells is a fan of Beverage Director Jenny Lakin’s program in the space. “Almost all the drinks that Ferris’s bartenders stir up in about four square feet of space are smarter and more bracing than what typically comes out of a full-size bar, and often they are poured into vintage etched glasses that any neo-speakeasy would envy,” he wrote in a glowing review of Ferris.
Yet, ‘the other place’ is still a factor. “We have across the street one of the best bars on the planet—which I love. When you’re thinking abut being in that sort of company, how do you want to interact with that? How do you want your cocktail list to interact with a cocktail list like that,” asked Lakin. “It’s something that I thought a lot about. And for me, we’re not trying to compete directly with The NoMad at all because we’re not a program like that.”
So, what type of program is Ferris offering? A good place to begin is the backbar. The decor of the space are bright, zen, and minimalist–a west coast aesthetic. But the shelves behind the bar are stacked, the room’s busiest feature.
Lakin described the process of assembling the inventory as her “shot to put together a dream spirits library.” She added, “We wanted to focus on craft spirits, kept it small as far as production levels go.”
Indeed, that philosophy is apparent on the shelves dividing the sevens eat bar from the kitchen. For example, the gin range includes Greenhook, Bar Hill, and Jensen’s, but the likes of Bombay and Beefeater are conspicuously absent.
The key is in the curation though. “I’m a huge fan of brandy, wanted to also focus on craft gins,” Lakin explained. “Japanese whiskeys been having a moment for a while.”
Despite the spirits nerd selection, Ferris does not aim to cater to cocktail pilgrims. Located in a hotel, a large swath of the patrons are travelers staying upstairs. The drinks director described “people coming from all over have different levels of access and knowledge.” Consequently. Ferris’ philosophy is heavy on education.
“Someone that is looking for Captain Morgan or something, they’ll understand pretty quickly that those things aren’t going to pop up,” added Lakin. “That’s where it’s really important in training staff to understand that the barrier between the backbar and the bar seat—that gap is bridged by the bartender’s knowledge. You start piecing together a language.”
Communication is key at Ferris, a relaxed banter with a friend who’s really into drinks. Of course, this repertoire is aided by an arsenal of libations carefully engineered to straddle a line.
The cocktail list is populated by simple, vegetal combos that offer enough nuanced layers to delight a connoisseur, yet remain accessible enough to enchant a novice. For example, The Ninth Petal (Gin, Blanc Vermouth, Jasmine, Mirabelle) or Earthly Delights (Mezcal, Pineau, Amaro, Celery) both deliver play well with recognizable ingredients, but offer something new to guests with all levels of experience.
“We’re offering opportunities for people to experience new products,” noted Lakin. “It’s an opportunity to solidify your place in their memory.”
Those accessible-but-complex drinks also make Ferris a popular destination in the neighborhood, forming a third pillar of the establishment’s identity. The NoMad District is a neighborhood in flux. The surrounding streets are a mix of chic hotels, old school, wholesale goods shops, a spattering of residential gentrifiers, and what Lakin described as “more fast casual restaurants than anywhere I have ever worked.” Combined these seemingly disparate environs form a neighborhood.
As evidenced on a recent visit, the neighbors have taken to the spot which offers the proper ratio of quality to casual demanded by NY’ers. (Chef Greg Proechel, formerly of Le Turtle, aids the case with a New American menu worthy of a visit in its own rite.) “We get a good deal of repeat business,” Lakin remarked. “We have a really great community of neighborhood regulars.”
The regulars weren’t quite calling their preferred Manhattan derivations, but they were listening as the staff turned them onto new spirits. According to Lakin, that’s the point, “As long as you can convert enthusiasm and passion about any product on the backbar, it’s an easy sell–pretty seamless as long as you’re honest with the guest.”