Business in the front, party in the back isn't just relegated to a certain polarizing hairstyle. At New York's Patent Pending, the coffee shop-by-day, speakeasy-by-night concept works double duty in its design.
— Ally Spier
A narrow, subterranean space; flickering candlelight; glass bottles arranged in rows, their contents selectively and precisely measured and poured to generate the proper reaction. You could be in a mad scientist’s underground lab, or you could be at Patent Pending, New York’s latest speakeasy.
The modern space is an experiment of sorts, too, performing double duty in operating from early morning to late night seven days a week. The bar isn’t open for business during the day; rather, it’s fronted by a coffee shop, simply called “Patent”. This cafe features a rotating cast of single-origin coffees and a pastry case with contents from Pain d’Avignon. Its wares are housed in a light-filled, standing-room only space of wood and marble.
The new space on Manhattan’s West 27th Street is connected via a basement hallway to the adjacent Radio Wave building, so named because of the work of one of its former tenants, Nikola Tesla. The Serbian-born inventor, engineer, physicist, and futurist lived and experimented in this building when it was still the Gerlach Hotel. The exact length of Tesla’s stay is unclear— he lived in New York for most of his life in a series of hotels, but he’s known to have at least been at the Gerlach in 1896, when he conducted experiments on the roof and transmitted radio signals to downtown’s Trinity Church.
Double the Fun
From a business standpoint, owner Ryan McKenzie’s insurance policy is not relying on just one space to be the breadwinner. It should come as no surprise that the costs to run his bar are higher than those required to keep the cafe going, but so are the potential profits. Recognizing additional opportunity, McKenzie says he’s considering serving beer and wine in the front cafe to guests waiting to get into the back room.
Materials throughout Patent contrast with the brick, leather, and industrial elements of the nocturnal back room, which opens up for business after its sister space shuts down for the night. The dual-concept isn’t the first of its kind: Stone Street Espresso and its back room speakeasy, Bathtub Gin, aren’t too far away in nearby Chelsea. But McKenzie hopes that the history of the Radio Wave building, and the subtle nods to it through Patent Pending’s distinct design elements, help to establish a clear identity.
To enter the bar, guests must first enter a secret code on a keypad outside. When they do, staff inside Patent Pending is alerted via a spotlight that shines above a hanging stuffed pigeon (more on that later). Visitors descend a staircase at the main entry under a brightly-lit custom-sign of abstract channel letters and head to Patent’s back wall. The menu and shelves of coffee bags are displayed here during the day, but at night the door hinges open to reveal the hidden space behind it.
McKenzie, who’s also a founding partner of creative agency Simmer, worked with Brooklyn-based firm Carpenter + Mason to develop the bar’s design. The Cocozza Group helped execute a custom build-out. The blueprint was influenced by a desire for intimacy within the space, so much so that the original layout called for an oval-shaped bar with bartenders in the middle. The team couldn’t make this work from an equipment and cost standpoint, though. Instead, they ultimately achieved the desired degree of intimacy through raised banquettes. “No matter where you’re sitting, there’s a decent view of the bartenders,” says McKenzie.
Original arches in the bar space were discovered after what could perhaps be called experimentation. With some liquid encouragement and sledgehammers in hand, McKenzie and his team broke into a wall when the space was being demo’ed to reveal these architectural elements. Though likely not a patented technique, it was an extra-fortuitous one in this case: they also came across a handful of artifacts that suggest the space was perhaps at one time an actual speakeasy, including matchbooks, playing cards, flasks, milk bottles, oyster shells, and old newspapers. Some of these relics are displayed throughout the bar.
Other decorative elements include include framed drawings inspired by Tesla’s notebooks, and a cocktail menu filled with sketches and handwritten notes. Above the bar, 80 lightbulbs whose brightness can be adjusted jut out from a black-mirrored ceiling. And a custom metal art piece is still awaiting installation.
It’s still early days for the business, though McKenzie’s recruitment of top talent for the bar’s cocktail program will hopefully contribute to the bar as moneymaker. Harrison Ginsberg of Dead Rabbit and Nick Rolin of BlackTail brought their expertise to the drinks menu. Cocktail names, inspired by Tesla’s tinkerings, include AC/DC, Cosmic Rays, Currents and Coils, and Odd Love. That last one’s related to the aforementioned pigeon: Tesla had some antisocial tendencies and never married, identifying such a relationship as a would-be distraction from his work. But he did develop a somewhat peculiar fondness for one of the many pigeons he fed and cared for. That, at the very least, is worth drinking to.
Skift Table contributor Ally Spier is a Brooklyn-based writer and designer who studied ergonomics at Cornell, and architecture at Pratt. Her background in design informs her love of food and travel… and vice versa.
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