Opening tonight on the Lower East Side, Reception Bar uses Korean ingredients and flavors in its colorful, layered cocktails. It’s the brainchild of Katie Rue, who says she created the bar — located at 45 Orchard St. near Hester Street — as a reflection of experience and identity as an Asian-American.
A former options trader, Rue’s experience making food and drinks is mostly as at home. But her attention to detail and appreciation for chemistry becomes immediately clear in the way she talks about her cocktail recipes, which she worked on with beverage director Sergio Dimoff, formerly of the Four Seasons, Made Hotel, and Soho House.
Rue built her own carbonation machine because of the specific bubble density — “really tight, small bubbles” — she wanted to have for sparkling ingredients. The existing machines on the market, she explains, didn’t have the right PSI — the metric used to measure how much gas is forced into the liquid — for sparkling beverages with a high sugar content, like plum wine. “I might be getting too technical,” she says, laughing.
But that attention to specifics permeates the drink menu, where Rue is very intentional about the kinds of ingredients she uses and the ways she uses them. She describes Reception’s approach as a marriage between the Korean ingredients she grew up eating and modernist cocktail techniques. The “Lotus Breeze,” for example, combines a white lotus-infused soju — all sojus are infused in-house — with sparkling chrysanthemum and a green plum syrup. For it, Rue uses the flowers and leaves of the lotus plant, rather than the more typically used root, which she thinks adds a “more floral and ethereal flavor.”
Rue says that a focus was placed on texture when developing the cocktails, too, as with the “Ink,” made with black sesame-infused soju, squid ink, green plum syrup, pepper, and egg white. The seven cocktails run for $14 each, while there are also seven mocktails, which Reception calls “wellness elixirs,” for $10.
The focus is really on drinks, although Reception does offer a very small menu of snacks provided by a local, Korean-American vendor. The three bites on hand are dukbokki, rice cakes and fish cake with spicy red pepper sauce and green onion; gyeongdan, sweet rice cake balls filled with red bean paste and served with various toppings; and kabocha jook, a rice porridge pudding with Korean black beans and pine nuts.
As for the name of the bar, Rue says the meaning is two-fold: to capture the “really welcoming glow” of wedding receptions, as well as her hope that people will receive Korean Culture while in the space.
“The whole concept of this bar is receiving these cultures, these experiences of immigrants and children of immigrants and showing that respect and love for it,” she says.
For the decor, she worked with business partner Mical Skiba as well as designer Miran Jang to create a 26-seat space enclosed by an off-white wall that has geometric cutouts and plants, mimicking the look of a Korean garden and meant to evoke that warm, intimate feeling, Rue says.
Modern Korean restaurants have been on the rise in NYC, as with the arrival of Soogil and Atomix, which similarly uses soju and ingredients from Korea and other parts of Asia in its cocktails. Reception also taps into the recent cocktail making trend that emphasizes science, as seen in Existing Conditions, which also customizes carbonation, and Straylight.
Reception opens tonight and is open from 6 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday through Sunday.