2nd Floor on Clinton Bartenders Talk Art-Inspired Cocktails
Enter Barramundi, a Lower East Side bar that boasts both red vinyl booths and red overhead lighting, and head back toward the bathrooms, where you'll find a cracked mirror and a door marked "Privat." Now ring the doorbell.
From 7 p.m. until 2 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday, a host will greet you and, space allowing, invite you and your party to enter. Inside, you'll find the calm luxury of 2nd Floor on Clinton, an English living room respite owned by Tony Powe that's a far cry from the chaos a floor below. The spot's cocktail list was recently revamped by bartenders Sarah Miller and Ektoras Binikos, partners in mixology venture Art & Spirit Mixology, who extended the bar's hours and expanded the menu. Obscure spirits line the back bar, and Binikos, a seasoned mixologist, muddles and mixes intricate, imaginative combinations. These cocktails are meant to be sipped slowly, allowing the unique flavors to unfold, develop, and ruminate on the taste buds as patrons lounge on plush couches and wing-backed chairs.
How did you become interested in mixology?
Ektoras Binikos: I came to New York from Ikaria, Greece, when I was 21, and I thought bartending would be fun. My parents are distillers. They make wine, grappa, and homemade liquor, but I knew nothing about bartending. So I took a class and got a job. After awhile, I wanted to experiment, and when I did, the response was really great. There was immediate gratification; you create an experience right there.
For me, mixology is exactly the same process as making art. I make different associations in my head, and my mind wanders. I studied film and video. I draw, paint, do photography, but I haven't done anything for the past year because I've been focused on 2nd Floor, so all my creative energies are here.
You often create art-inspired libations. How did that concept start?
Binikos: The idea came in 2007 when I was commissioned to make a performative cocktail for artist Marina Abramović's 60th birthday celebration at the Guggenheim Museum. I took inspiration from her life, from Yugoslavia, from her art.
The cocktail has 10 ingredients, and there's a lot of blood in her performances, so for the 10th ingredient I wanted to use human blood. You know, just a tiny bit that I would dehydrate to kind of walk in communion with the deity, with the artist, bound to the idea of sacrifice. It was a very controversial cocktail and the art department of the Guggenheim was very excited, but the legal department said absolutely not.
So in the end, we used red peppers. I pulverized them into powder, and Marina slept with the pouch of powder under her pillow for seven nights to absorb the energy of the aura, and then I threw that into the cocktail. And now, it's a book in the making, translating 40 artists' works into libations, capturing the essence, and translating that into a cocktail.
What is your favorite cocktail that you've made?
Binikos: Right now I have a favorite that I put a lot of time and thought into it, and that is the Absolut Kelly. I made it for the Sean Kelly gallery. (Absolut was sponsoring the event.) I wanted to create something that would reflect the ethos and the sensibilities of the art space. It's a crazy cocktail because it has a lot of unusual ingredients. And the ingredient that really makes it stand out is active charcoal.
Sarah Miller: Charcoal absorbs toxins. We joke that it takes away the alcohol, and you can drink as much as you want. Of course we're teasing. At first glance is very dark, one dimensional, a blank slate. However, when you taste it, it's incredibly complex. That's why it was so apropos for an art event, because you really are drinking artwork.
When you aren't working, where do you go to drink?
Binikos: I love Pegu Club. I love the Earl Grey martini, it's really fantastic. They infuse gin with the tea. The mixologist Audrey Saunders owns the place. I go to Death and Company, Amor y Amargo.
Miller: The Tippler. It's below Chelsea Market. They're known for making a craft cocktail with efficiency and they have a great menu.
Do you sometimes just want a beer at the end of the night?
Binikos: I love beer!
Miller: When people come to 2nd Floor, they feel that they have to order a cocktail. But when we go out, I drink tequila on the rocks with lime or whiskey neat. Ektoras drinks wine or beer. I'm generally a purist when I drink. If someone likes a really good scotch or a really good bourbon, we're totally into it. And sometimes when we're busy and Ektoras has been muddling for the last four hours and someone orders a beer, it's like, "Thank God!"
For tequila, I like Three Amigos, Don Julio, Corralejo. I generally like reposados or añejos to sip. I like it really cold on the rocks with some fresh lime.
Binikos: My favorite beer is IPA. I drink Lagunitas every night. It's so delicious. Bitter enough, crisp, dry. It's perfect.
Editor's note: This piece has been updated to correct an error that named Binikos and Miller as proprietors at 2nd Floor on Clinton. They are not owners; they helm the cocktail program through their company Art & Spirit Mixology. We've also adjusted the headline to clarify the fact that 2nd Floor on Clinton has never served a cocktail made with human blood. The human blood cocktail was merely conceptual (so fear not for your health and safety!). The drink was created for the Guggenheim, and in it's final iteration, it was mixed with red pepper.
Check out the recipe for the Absolut Kelly and the Tauster, which is easier to make at home, on the next page.