New Kid on the Block: Theater Bar

“What do you mean it’s finally opening?” said my partner when I told him I was going to Theater Bar for a cocktail tasting. “Haven’t you been writing about it for months?” More like months and months: It was actually in December 2009 that proprietor Albert Trummer went before the CB1 Tribeca Committee with his plans to open a “gourmet cocktail food concept.” For whatever reason—perhaps related to the meltdown at his then-other bar, Chinatown’s Apothéke, after an incident with a fireball—the liquor license took a long time to come through. Many private parties were held there in the meantime, including one with a non-metaphorical white horse, and while it was hinted that well-dressed locals could drop by and get waved in, I waited for the actual opening. I didn’t want to go until all of my people anyone could go. Instead, I walked by and admired the red curtain in the window and the fantastic pink carousel-themed wallpaper.

Then came word that the bar would be opening April 1, followed by an invitation (I think they got tired of having me ask) to the cocktail tasting on Wednesday night. Rather gauchely, I arrived 20 minutes early—I had too much time between events and it was drizzly, so I was just hoping for a place to sit and wait. But Albert Trummer himself answered the door and immediately gave me a quick tour.

The space is long, narrow, and high-ceilinged—like most in Tribeca—and when it was Grace, the bar was against one wall in the front and a dining room was in the rear. Trummer has kept the front open, lining the walls with low banquettes, tables, and benches. The elevated bar (watch your step!) is about three-quarters of the way back; there’s a space behind it—reachable by a “secret” passageway that goes via the kitchen—that Trummer says he can use for meetings or, if a riser were added, to showcase musicians. (Along the passageway are Grace’s old walk-in refrigerators, where Trummer is currently storing art.) It’s all dark and sexy, like a nightclub; the DJ sits above the action, in a wooden balcony that looks like it wandered over from White Street. It may get drafted as seating: “I learned from David Bouley that you have to have a special place where you can seat people,” said Trummer, going on to explain that it doesn’t have to actually be a special place, you just have to call it that.

The marble bar itself is much deeper than usual, so that the bartenders have room to work. “I want to bring the kitchen into the bar,” said Trummer. The ingredients will all be fresh, as is the trend, and he also pointed out homemade “tinctures”—in medicine bottles—that will be used in the drinks. A bartender may also do a magic trick now and again, which explains the Houdini posters on one wall.

And the cocktails? They’re divided into four categories—New York, Mexican, French cuisine, and Asian—and while the bartenders talked about four “stations,” I couldn’t tell whether that would be a nightly feature or whether that was just for the tasting. I parked myself by the New York section’s bartender, who said that his drinks were meant to evoke the Harlem Renaissance. The Cotton Club Flip has vanilla-infused bourbon and a cotton-candy garnish (as well as egg whites, rhubarb, and other ingredients), while the Apple Harlem Jig had vodka infused with New York State apples, agave, lemon juice, and a graham cracker–encrusted rim. I asked whether the bar would still make classic drinks such as, say, a Negroni. “Yes,” he replied, igniting a lemon-peel garnish with a lighter. “But if you want Red Bull there’s another bar down the street.”

So is Theater Bar open? I don’t think so. I didn’t ask Trummer at the time because I assumed it was, but then a bartender said it’d open in a week or two (and the website,, no longer works). When I hear back from Trummer, I’ll update this. Until then, I’d assume it’s the same “private party” business as before. According to Grub Street, it’s opening Thursday. Update 4/8: I just got an email from Trummer saying, “Theater Bar is now open. […] We will be open Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.”

Theater Bar is at 114 Franklin (bet. W. Broadway and Church), 212-334-3633;

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