Not only does New York’s new low-key Existing Conditions bar have a cocktail vending machine but a drinks list that sees libations created using highly scientific processes, from fat-washing to custom carbonation. Jenny Southan reports
Opened in summer 2018, Existing Conditions is located in Greenwich Village and is the a result of a collaboration between Dave Arnold, mixologist and author of Liquid Intelligence, and former manager of PDT (one of the world’s top 50 bars) Don Lee, together with Greg Boehm, founder famous bar supplies store Cocktail Kingdom.
Describing itself as marrying “cutting-edge science, classic cocktails and hospitality”, Existing Conditions appears to be an unpretentious speakeasy with no themed decor or password protected entrance. However, its deceptively simple cocktails are created using obscure ingredients (such as Melipona honey from endangered Mexican bees) and highly scientific methods.
The drinks come free of elaborate garnishes and decoration making them fairly uninteresting to Intagrammers, but the effort that goes into them is formidable. For example, the Saratoga Palomar is made with spring water sourced from the Saratoga State Park in upstate New York, which happens to be naturally salty – and carbonated – thanks to a unique geological quirk. This is paired with clarified grapefruit and lime juice, which sees juice served clear and without particles.
Other methods employed by Existing Conditions include centrifuging (a way of separating particles that doesn’t involve filtering); pressure cooking, whereby condensed coconut milk, for instance, is turned into sweet dulce de leche, and fat-washing (a way of adding savoury flavours to spirits by adding butter, for example, chilling and then removing it as a layer from the top of the liquid).
A custom-made carbonation system is used to add fizz and a pump filled with an ethanol solution keeps the liquid at minus seven degrees so the drink is always icy cold and undiluted when brought to the lips.
Cocktails include the “Joy of Mango” made with mango rum and clarified Jamaican pepper sauce; the “Helicopter” (milk-washed Aquavit, Aperol, Cynar and acid-adjusted grapefruit; and the “Canary” (Fino Sherry, saffron-infused Plymouth gin and yellow Chartreuse).
What’s also innovative is serving chilled and bottled Martinis, Manhattans and a butter popcorn-infused rum Highballs from a vending machine. They have to be drunk in the bar though. All cocktails cost US$16, even the alcohol-free ones because they are just as complex.
Examples include the “Horse and Carriage” made from carbonated clarified Granny Smith apple juice, clarified Carrot and Tazmanian Pepper Berry; and the “Doyenne”, which combines carbonated clarified New Zealand Comice pear juice and Mt Olympus tea from Greece.
Arnold says: “Existing Conditions is a platform for exploring every available technique and ingredient to create drinks that have never been made before and take flavors to new heights. From the guest’s vantage point, everything will appear simple and taste pure and delicious. We are trying to change the way drinks are made, not the way people drink.”
Lee says: “Rather than creating an escapist facade, Existing Conditions examines and highlights the underlying structure of the cocktail experience. 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.”
The bar is open seven days a week, Sunday to Wednesday, 5pm to 12am and Thursday to Saturday, 5pm to 2am.