"We are a New York bar with a Southern accent," says co-founder and managing partner Mark Maynard-Parisi, "so we can have pimento cheese served with a Brooklyn beer." Located in a far corner of west Chelsea, Porchlight wants to be your friendly watering hole destination. The first of its kind in a building and area more know for mini-storage units than neighborhood bars. "We are in a different end of town than a lot of our guests," adds general manager Michael Shain, "so the intent is for us to be a warm welcome light in west Chelsea."
The name Porchlight is a nod to the south, where the porch light is the beacon that invites people in for a drink. While they don't have a porch or a porch light, they do have a range of craft cocktails that are approachable, delicious, and a little cheeky.
Head barman Nick Bennett and general manager Michael Shain are covering a lot of bases offering a sherry cobbler; a pre-bottled whiskey and cola (made with house-made cola); punches; and a retro cocktail made with blue curaçao. Channeling the 1970s, Bennet is using the citrus-flavored liqueur as a key ingredient in the Gun Metal Blue Cocktail. When was the last time you ordered a neon blue cocktail? And not ironically? And you enjoyed it. Bennett's cocktail is smokey, bitter, and boozy. It's not what you'd expect from a dayglo-colored cocktail. But it's exactly what you'd expect from a bartender who worked for Dave Arnold as the bar captain at Booker & Dax. He's bringing these twists and takes to Porchlight. But that's not to say that Porchlight is just focused on new wave creative cocktails.
The Flagg Day is a play on a Manhattan, made with Rittenhouse Rye, Cardamaro, and house-made orange liqueur. Michael describes it as "really straightforward and simple, but well-balanced and super delicious. It's something that everybody can get a grip on and really enjoy."
To further the southern motif, Michael created the Whiskey & Cola and Nick did the fine-tuning. It's pre-bottled, carbonated, and made with Mellow Corn Whiskey, Mexican Fernet Vallet, and house-made cola syrup. "The marriage of ingredients work absolutely beautiful together. It's served in a little bottle with a cap on it, which is then popped at the table and poured."
In keeping with the trend currently going through cocktail circles, they are offering low alcohol cocktails. All the better to drink several and minimize the morning after effects. "The last thing we want to do is have someone wake up in the morning after a night at Porchlight and feel hungover," explains Michael. In addition to a Sherry Cobbler, they are playing around with punches. One is made with Old Tom gin with lemon juice, Amontillado sherry, black tea, and lemon Oleo-saccharum. "We want to be able to provide these types of drinks where you can have four of them and still get home safe and wake up in one piece."
If cocktails aren't your thing, they have a good selection of draft, bottle and can beers, as well as wine on tap, in bottles and by the glass. They also offer house-made sodas and a couple of "Free-Spirited" no-alcohol cocktails.
Can you have a southern style bar without bar nuts? Mark says, "Of course not. Everyone has bar nuts, but ours are first soaked in bourbon and then roasted." The bar nuts are a great place to start your night, but don't stop there. They also have fried oysters, frog legs, corn bread, and pickles. The frog legs were inspired by a dish that Mark ate at Hog & Hominy in Memphis. "They didn’t want to do chicken tenders or wings, so they do these great sweetbread dumplings. They are deep fried and amazing." That's just how the frog legs are served at Porchlight -- dredged, deep fried, and crispy.
The New York cocktail scene has been witnessing a movement towards a more open, less speakeasy style bar in the last few years and Porchlight continues in this vein. They are customer-focused and, to keep things more approachable, are sticking to three to four ingredients in their cocktails instead of seven or eight. From a design perspective, it's a large open space that can accommodate up to 170 people in a number of different areas, including a back game room where the shelves are lined with trophies donated by customers. They have kept the old 1891 warehouse vibe, with brick walls and wooden beams made from a stash that came from the original building in various forms (including the actual bar).
"Come for the cocktails, stay for the food," emphasizes Mark. They refer to Porchlight as a bar, but they want patrons to know they are also an all-day restaurant and open for lunch. The goal is for people to come by in the afternoon, not for a three-martini boozy lunch or to do shots a la the sketchy old man bar, but to actually eat lunch.
Partner Mark Maynard-Parisi is a 22-year veteran of Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group. He began at Union Square Cafe after college and worked with both general manager Michael Shain and chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois at Blue Smoke. Head bartender Nick Bennett came from Booker & Dax.
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271 11th Avenue, New York, NY 10001
T: 212.981.6188 | porchlightbar.com
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