Banzarbar, a new 20-seat cocktail bar above Freemans with an extremely specific concept based on Antarctic expeditions, opens tonight on the Lower East Side with both a la carte and tasting menu drink and food options.
Freemans owners Taavo Somer and William Tigertt launched the bar at Freeman Alley off Rivington Street as a weekends-only cocktail experience within the established restaurant. It’s inspired by early 20th century explorers — specifically, the British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) in the 1930s — and so exploration is at the center of Banzarbar’s cocktail program, which offers regular-strength cocktails a la carte as well as a five-course drink tasting menu focused on low-ABV cocktails.
Eryn Reece, formerly of Death & Co. and Mayahuel, oversees the cocktail program, which stands out with its emphasis on low-ABV drinks, a decision made to accommodate the five-cocktail tasting format so people don’t get too drunk. The two-hour, $95 experience comes with five drinks that are each paired with a small appetizer. “There are a lot of cocktail bars out there,” Reece says. “We wanted to have something a little different.”
Thus, lower-proof ingredients like vermouth, sherry, amaro, and marsala wine are the focus rather than distilled liquors. The emphasis on liqueurs and fortified wines also keeps the flavors light so they pair with the seafood appetizers from Freemans chef Harold Villarosa without overpowering them, Reece says.
One course features a vermouth and champagne cocktail with Glidden Point oysters, chili mignonette, and pickled apple. Another consists of a sherry and cocchi americano cocktail with bay scallop crudo, beet-top salsa verde, and fennel blossoms. The full menu is below.
Starting tonight, Banzarbar is open Thursday through Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight and is available for reservations, small parties, and events.