David Chang’s decade-old trailblazer Ssäm Bar is closing next month for a renovation — an update that will include a switch to all chairs with backs, a move away from the Momofuku empire’s design signature. The renovation will also mean a change for Booker and Dax, the wildly popular cocktail bar at the back of the restaurant. Co-owner Dave Arnold is seeking a new, stand-alone space after five years at Ssäm. The experimental drink spot will close next month for an indefinite amount of time.
Ssäm Bar’s renovation is being done in conjunction with the restaurant’s 10-year anniversary, according to a restaurant group spokeswoman, and the upgrade is what's sparking Booker and Dax's departure. Both its dining room and kitchen will be updated, while the emptied Booker and Dax space will be repurposed as extra dining space. Ssäm Bar will close on Sunday, October 16 for the project.
The new version will largely look the same, but one big change will come for people familiar with the Momofuku empire: new chairs that have backs. Chang’s known for filling his restaurants with blond-colored backless stools and communal tables, and his use of them probably played a role in the proliferation of uncomfortable chairs in the city’s restaurants over the last decade. The stools have been particularly-maligned at his newest restaurant, Nishi. Both Eater critic Ryan Sutton and Times critic Pete Wells noted in their reviews that the stools added to the general discomfort of dining there, and according to a recent New Yorker story, Chang did not take all the criticisms well.
It’s not yet clear what the new chairs will look like, but Momofuku’s Midtown restaurant Má Pêche might give a hint. It’s one of the few Chang restaurants that offers chairs with backs. The team hasn't decided what to do with all the old stools yet.
Meanwhile, fans of Booker and Dax have until Saturday, October 15 to get their cocktail fix. Arnold says he's not sure of a timeline for the bar's reopening, since he's still looking for a new space. "It's going to be a little while," he says. Whenever it does open, regulars can expect a similar vibe, set-up, and cocktail technique, he says. "It will be a progression," Arnold says. "I want it to be very much the same."
Only little tweaks will happen at Booker and Dax 2.0 — things like glassware and a new carbonation rig. But ideally, Arnold will nail down a bar that offers space to serve more people, including standing room. He's also hoping to stay in the East Village, though that's another element that's still up in the air. The structure between Momofuku and Booker and Dax, which also has an equipment company, is still to be determined, but Arnold says the companies will be supporting each other in some way.
Booker and Dax will be throwing a party on its final night in the space, possibly with drinks from older menus and special appearances from former bartenders. "I really, really want to go out strong," Arnold says.