On a recent Friday afternoon, a strip of Orchard Street populated by decades old vintage stores plying everything from fur coats to original Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses is almost eerily quiet. Shopkeepers step outside for a breath of fresh air or a smoke, but there’s little activity to suggest the makings of a proper night scene once the sun sets.
The contrast is all the more striking then, stepping into Apl, the new restaurant-cum-lounge from club-veteran Joey Verdone opening tomorrow, whose colorful interior was overseen by Blackbook’s Steve Lewis. Strips of yellow, blue, red, orange and black paint and wallpaper, designed by Shepard Fairy, cover the walls; bronzed hi-top sneakers dangle like a Williamsburg baby’s mobile and a butternut wood bar beckons.
“I wanted to accommodate the area. When you come outside, it’s simple. And you come inside and it’s more complex,” explains Verdone, who also heads up the kitchen. “That’s sort of how a hipster is. He could be wearing dirty shoes, but he has a $30,000 watch on. It’s totally uncontrived.”
And so Apl, pronounced “Apple”—it’s on Orchard, get it?—has Fairy’s wallpaper juxtaposed with wormwood floorboards that had to go through Canada before reaching New York (“It’s exotic and rare and you don’t see it anywhere” says Verdone) and leather chairs and banquettes replicating the seating in a 1937 Bugatti Lewis found (Verdone is a car aficionado). Framed wooden carvings of pigeons in flight, an ode to the neighborhood’s avian inhabitants, separate the front bar area from the back dining room, where a corner DJ booth allows the space to segue from eatery to lounge once the mood strikes.
Helping with both ends of that spectrum is mixologist Jeremy Osslund, who crafted six specialty cocktails and one dessert drink, drawing on and rejiggering recipes dating back to the 1850s and early 1900s. The East River, for example, pays homage to the classic East Side, a gin, mint, cucumber, lime and sugar concoction. In Ossslund’s reincarnation, the gin is replaced with rum, a Swedish fish floats in the bottom and the mint is infused into the alcohol in a way no 19th century bartender would have imagined—with nitrous oxide gas.
“It’s not so dangerous,” he assures me (I didn’t taste the drink, but he seemed like a trustworthy fellow). “It’s the same idea as making whipped cream. It’s the same canister.” In addition to allowing him to play around with ingredients that normally wouldn’t render much result—“You’re able to infuse hard, porous materials, so instead of doing a pineapple fruit infusion, I can infuse the rind of the pineapple and give it more of an earthy flavor”—it also cuts down on time, taking minutes instead of the days for a traditional process.
It also might make a few patrons unwittingly tipsy, should a server blunder their espresso order. One of Osslund’s nitrous creations is an infusion of espresso and cocoa nibs with vodka, mixed with water, demerara syrup and lemon oil and served in an espresso shot glass.
“It takes away the heat from the alcohol to the point where I have to be very careful and know which one is the alcohol and which is the actual espresso,” he says with a laugh. “You wouldn’t be able to taste the difference.”
As for the food, there are Share plates like fried house-cured pickles with whipped ricotta and slow cooked deviled eggs with a custard-like texture; Regular plates (a bit smaller than appetizers) including everything from a clam gratin in place of a more expected clam chowder and uni ravioli; Larger plates like a lobster stew with herb gnocchi and Smaller plates of potato puree with nutmeg and fairy ring mushrooms. Dishes will morph depending on available ingredients. After all, even the most intransigent hipster might enjoy a little change of pace.