The transformation of a divey live music venue into a fancy cocktail bar with a pedigreed mixologist seems a fitting one for East Houston Street, as the condos move in and the mess of grubbier food shops move out. Giuseppe González, who crafted cocktails behind the pine at PKNY, Pegu Club, Dutch Kills and others, debuts Suffolk Arms inside the former Local 269 space this Thursday. There, González—along with friend and business partner Ruben Rodriguez of the Bronx's Michelin-nodded Havana Cafe—looks to dispel vodka-hatred, celebrate historic cocktails and offer some new-wave creations of his own.
Redeeming vodka in the eyes of mixology purists may be González's toughest challenge. The oft-dismissed spirit has an entire section devoted to shooing away the notion that it doesn't belong in the shakers of respectable cocktail joints. Industry luminaries including Julie Reiner (Flatiron Lounge, Clover Club) and Audrey Saunders (Pegu Club) were tapped for their expertise, which yielded drinks like Saunders's Grapefruit Cooler.
González describes another part of his philosophy as omakase-style cocktails, where imbibers select the spirit of their choice and enter a pact of trust with the bartender to craft something to their liking. But the bar also offers its own cocktail list for the risk-averse, like the B & B & B ($14) made with bourbon, banana and butter, and several classic reinterpretations from other cocktail nobility including Jerry Thomas, also known as the "father of American mixology."
Like its roundtable approach to the drinking, which celebrates González's inspirations, the food and decor follow suit with a who's who and what's what of New York City and Lower East Side lore. Sixty hand-drawn portraits of Keith Haring, Jam Master Jay and other notable New Yorkers like the New York Public Library lions line the wood-paneled walls and windows. The food menu includes a Russ & Daughters Smoked Fish Platter ($22) a matzo ball soup ($8) made with Streit's Matzo, which occupied a nearby site until, ironically, it was purchased by developers.
269 East Houston Street; website