Danny Meyer and Union Square Hospitality Group present what might be the friendliest bar in all of Manhattan. With Southern-inspired eats and drinks deftly crafted for both the gallery and corporate crowds, Porchlight has what Blake Shelton described as the "hillbilly bone down deep inside" every New Yorker.
It's possible that the opening of Porchlight has been my most eagerly anticipated event of the year thus far, and with a long visit on its first night of service, I can confidently say that this is the bar West Chelsea, and perhaps New York, always needed.
After trying 6 cocktails, Behind the Mule with George Dickel White Dog, Katz's Rock & Rye, ginger, lime, and raspberry vinegar emerged as a favorite, a tart concoction with just a hint of fruity sweetness. The New York Sour, however, is undoubtedly the best drink on the menu. With Rittenhouse Rye, lemon, red wine, and egg white, it is a phenomenally innovative adaptation of a Southern classic that highlights the spicier notes of the whiskey and then quickly follows them with a subtly sweet hint of wine.
The drink that has seemed to grace almost every table, however, is the Gun Metal Blue, a bright blue, smoky creation of Mezcal Vida, Blue Curacao, peach brandy, lime and cinnamon. My friend noted that it tasted just as she imagined gunpowder would taste, but those who like the earthy smokiness of Mezcal will be deeply pleased by the balance struck in this drink. For those looking for something mostly sweet, the Storm's Brewin' with Hamilton Jamaican Gold Rum, Appleton Rum, lemon, grenadine, and passion fruit is an easy choice. For better or for worse, I then ended my self-imposed tasting menu of cocktails with what are likely the two strongest drinks on the menu. The White Lightning, with Laird's Jersey Lightning, Black Dirt Apple Brandy, cinnamon, and mint, is like drinking a liquid version of an extra spicy apple pie that grandma decided to spike with a bottle of brandy. The whole bottle. Or at least it felt like it. Knowing that it couldn't get more Southern than that, I finished with the Flagg Day, essentially a digestif put together with Rittenhouse Rye, Cardamaro, and homemade orange liqueur.
All cocktails are $14, reflective of the high quality of ingredients stacked behind the bar. But if you, like me, find that you're in need of a little nourishment 6 drinks in, there is a menu of snacks loaded with just a "lil somethin'" to tide you over. The Warm Bourbon Bar Nuts (for $5! Does anything cost $5 anymore?!) are clever and just ever so slightly spicy, but really, everyone should be ordering Tom's Balls. Smile when you say it, too. And don't be afraid that you're accidentally ordering a Rocky Mountain Oyster, because Tom's Balls are just a little Southern spin on arancini, made with dirty rice and chicken liver. The texture of the salty, crispy breadcrumb crust on the balls becomes the perfect balance to the soft and creamy rice that spills out as soon as you crack one open with a fork. Served on charming, mismatched china plates, it's an elegant microcosm of the bar as a whole.
The space is also deceptively large (bless you, West Chelsea real estate), but it is so well designed and orchestrated that there is no risk of feeling lost or overwhelmed. From the bustling, social bar, to the cozy, separate porch by the windows (rocking chairs obviously included), and from the long communal tables made for a quick drink with friends, to the more intimate corner banquettes that suggest a longer, more personal evening, each corner of Porchlight seems to take on its own unique personality. All the way to the back of the game room, where darts have been set up and more games are steadily arriving, the progression of spaces seamlessly fits the diverse set of desires people have of a bar in New York.
For such a vast, post-industrial space, the concern is always whether the noise level will reach an unbearable decibel once enough people have crowded inside for a drink. But the design of Porchlight has taken all of that into consideration. Rich woods coupled with exposed brick and a ceiling rippled with nooks have effortlessly absorbed any extraneous sound, making the space feel both dynamic and still appropriate for a close conversation between two.
USHG restaurants have always impressed me by their ability to craft and deliver an experience that is somehow exactly what each individual customer wants. For their first standalone cocktail bar, they could not have done better. True to USHG form, each visitor does get exactly what they want out of Porchlight, whether it be a quick happy hour drink with some coworkers at the bar, a place to end the night with a group of friends, or a long meal replete with exemplary cocktails and plenty of snacks and small bites. Oh and of course, a smile from the bartender is always included. What else could we possibly ask for?