As is par for the course for a David Chang project, his new Seaport District bar is not easily categorized.
Bar Wayō, open today at 89 South St. on Pier 17 with a fantastic view of the East River and Red Hook beyond, combines precise Japanese cocktail techniques and a tiki “mindset” with bar food that brings in influence from Hawaii to Rhode Island to Australia. The concept and name are inspired by the Japanese notion of wayo-secchu, or the idea of combining East and West cultures to create something new and better.
Momofuku bar director Lucas Swallows came up with the drink menu, which he says “juxtaposes the tiki state of mind with Japanese technique.” The melon creamy soda, for example, is inspired by a creamy melon-flavored soda the team found at Japanese bodega Sunrise Mart. Swallows experimented for a while with the soda and adding liquor, but found that it wasn’t “giving enough of the flavor.” So they ditched the soda and instead set out to recreate the flavor, settling on a combination of vodka, Midori, Yakult yogurt drink, and milk punch.
“We were like let’s just reverse engineer the whole thing,” he says. “To me [Momofuku] is just making the best thing possible, really dissecting things and throwing it against the wall and trying to put it back together.”
He did that with the Old Fashioned, too, creating a “new fashion” based in an aged rum made with coconut water. It’s accompanied by creme de banane, matcha genmaicha, and bitters. Other drinks include a take on the gin-based, tropical Singapore sling and a “zombie Elvis,” which is made with a peanut butter-washed rum and velvet falernum, a sweet citrus liqueur. The menu is in full below.
The tiki element comes in through playful serveware and “transportive” elements, like the zombie Elvis’ fish-head cup. But the team is avoiding umbrellas, face cups, or any of the other “appropriation side of things from tiki,” Swallows says.
“That’s not the intent. We’re taking the idea of the fun parts of tiki, that escapism part,” Swallows says. “It’s the idea of the transportation in a drink to somewhere, anywhere in your own mind, to a happy place.”
On the food end, chef de cuisine Sam Kang, who’s worked at Ko for years, created a menu of classic bar food with some twists. There are straightforward items like onion rings with ranch and trout roe, dry-spiced wings, and a hamburger dip sandwich, and then Kang’s take on his and other staffers’ favorite fare from around the world.
A half-smothered “royale” is an omelet with sausage gravy and mushrooms over rice, a dish that Kang grew up eating at a bowling alley bar in Garden City, California. An employee’s hometown Rhode Island-style clam chowder — a brothy version that’s neither tomatoey like Manhattan nor creamy like New England — gets a dashi broth and scallions, while another staffer’s favorite salad in Melbourne gets an ode that combines bitter greens with lettuce, herbs, and caramelized palm sugar vinaigrette.
The space is very much a bar, with no tables inside and just a 27-seat wraparound bar and stools along the window. An equal-sized patio seats 50 more in communal tables and padded booths, and there are garage doors that roll down in inclement weather.
Bar Wayō is a Momofuku restaurant, but as with Chang’s last NYC opening Kāwi, the company isn’t pointing to any significant involvement from the celebrity chef. Chang has been stepping into a more media-focused role as of late, with a new podcast and television shows in the works.
Bar Wayō is open Sunday and Tuesday through Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to midnight. Lunch will arrive soon.
Disclosure: David Chang is producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.