East of the scenester-ridden Bowery Hotel bar is a haven for those in search of a place where expertly mixed cocktails can be enjoyed without overhearing loud conversations about Jake White’s views on the Internet, or what Team Coco has done this time.
A standalone gem in Alphabet City, The Summit has been pulling discerning and thirsty crowds eastward since landing a coveted spot in New York Magazine’s “2010 Best of New York” issue. But patrons need not worry about navigating through a sea of bodies with drink unsteadily in hand; wise bar protocol limits the capacity to a low 60 to keep comfort levels clinched.
It’s touches like this that give The Summit the bespoke feeling that separates it from the competition. That and a cocktail list that boasts the skills of one of the city’s most inspired mixologists, Greg Seider, whose signature can be found on drink lists from Minetta Tavern to Mercer Kitchen.
Partnering up with former Mercer Kitchen manager, the business-savvy Hamid Rashidzada, the pair has envisioned a bar where the liquid in the glass guides the business. Simplistic as it sounds, there are bars enough to prove the logic unorthodox in practice. But The Summit isn’t your usual bar. It’s a place where fresh lemon grass, cardamom pods, and South African red bush tea are staple ingredients, and where an Old Fashioned is served sans fruit and soda water, i.e. not bastardized.
Given the complexity of flavours in the bulk of drinks off The Summit menu, it’s difficult not to take the time to appreciate the artistry as you would a well-prepared meal, precisely the point according to Seider. “I really want people to think about what the flavours are,” he says.
With all products on the shelves hand selected by Seider, popular notions of “premium” spirits are debunked, and brands like Russian Standard stand in place of Grey Goose. “We want products that really stand on their own as a product without it necessarily being marketed,” says Rashidzada of The Summit’s stock.
Employing a ground-to-glass concept, cocktails are infused with fresh seasonal ingredients harvested from local gardens but a block away, as well as Seider’s own rooftop oasis in Brooklyn. It was, after all, the East Village’s large concentration of gardens — the largest in the city — that initially attracted the owners to the location. “That’s kinda my palette, it has to be fresh,” says Seider.
Recipes start from the kitchen at The Summit, with Seider trading hard-to-get ingredients with the city’s top chefs (think Le Bernardin) over weekly Sunday dinner sessions. “We’ll be cooking and I’ll try it, and in my head I’m thinking how does it play with a spirit,” he says of the experience.
This summer, chef friends (40+ of them) are coming to the bar itself to join The Summit guys on their backyard patio, where tasty bites (fresh kill was a menu possibility when we spoke) are cooked up on a massive double-barrelled grill, and paired with a beer from the bar’s well-curated collection. “It gets a little bit intense because of the people we know,” laughs Rashidzada, as he goes on about the pit master from Texas they have advising them on the grill.
While we can’t promise BBQ sessions will be open to public sampling, summer flavours are amply represented on the cocktail menu. Lemonade fans will fall over in delight (literally, if you have more than two) for the “Say Hello to my Little Friend.” After all, what would a summer’s day be without a sip or ten of Agwa de Bolivia coca leaf liquor? – J.Lee