Three years after launching Double Chicken Please as a traveling pop-up bar in a yellow Volkswagen minibus, Taiwanese cocktail vets GN Chan and Faye Chen are ready to settle down. The hotly anticipated craft cocktail bar opens its doors at 115 Allen Street, near Delancey Street, on the Lower East Side today.
Beginning in 2017, Chan and Chen have been roaming the country in a 1977 Volkswagen T2 Westfalia that the former bartender purchased on Craigslist — “I gave him all the cash I had,” Chan says — and converted into a traveling pop-up bar under the name Double Chicken Please.
Together, the duo has made hot ticket appearances in Austin, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Columbus, Nashville, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Miami, along with venues closer to home, like Patisserie Fouet in Greenwich Village and Hunky Dory in Crown Heights. It only took three years and ten thousand miles of driving, but Chan and Chen are finally ready to open Double Chicken Please as a brick-and-mortar bar.
Chan and Chen are opening with a slimmed down version of the bar’s full concept — an elaborate food and cocktail pairing menu — which may not be possible until New York City reopens for higher capacity indoor dining, Chan says. To start, the duo will serve six drinks, including riffs on classic cocktails along with the bartenders’ own inventions ($12 to $13 each). The #7 nods to the Negroni with a tongue-sweet mixture of gin, cherry liqueur, red bell pepper, and cranberry. Further down the menu, the alcohol-forward #9 brings together banana and walnut, a pairing often seen on fall food menus but rarely in cocktails.
When New York City reopens for indoor dining at 50 percent capacity — plans that could be on hold until at least next year — Double Chicken Please plans to unveil a multi-course menu of food and drink pairings. The menu will consist of pairings like kimchi gazpacho and soju or shrimp tacos and Michelada, only, “the food will be the drink, and the drink will be the food,” Chan says. In the case of the latter example, shrimp tacos will be served as a cocktail — a mezcal bloody mary that incorporates shrimp shell — while the Michelada will appear as a peeled cherry tomato filled with Michelada mix.
For now, all of the bar’s cocktails will be served on tap at opening, Chan says, as its luxe made-to-order cocktails aren’t financially viable at 25 percent capacity. Pre-batching cocktails has been controversial at other establishments, but it’s a move that could work here, given the duo’s respective histories working in some of the world’s leading bars. Chan previously bartended at New York City cocktail bars Mace and Angel’s Share, while Chen is coming to the project from Shanghai cocktail bar Speak Low, which holds Shanghai’s top spot on the vaunted list of the World’s 50 Best Bars.
The brick-and-mortar space will also include a short food menu, which Chan and Chen simply didn’t have the space to serve from their Volkswagen minibus. The five-line menu has been created by heavy-hitting chef Mark Chou, an alum of some of the city’s finest fine dining restaurants, including Eleven Madison Park, Le Bernardin, and Blue Hill.
Here, Chou is serving casual but complex dishes, like fried chicken sandwiches coated in honey and Thai basil, along with those that have been slathered, battered, and topped in salted duck egg yolk ($12 each). A vegetarian version of the sandwich — made from tofu that’s been cured in pickle juice, fried, and dressed in a sesame-peanut butter sauce — rounds out the bar’s food menu ($11).
One wouldn’t know it from the ABV content of the bar’s cocktails, which can climb as high as 20 percent, but Chan’s tolerance for spirits is actually quite low. “It’s not that I don’t like to drink,” the internationally acclaimed bartender says. “It’s that my body can’t take it. My whole family is the same way. Our bodies just aren’t built for drinking.”
A bartender who doesn’t drink sounds like the punchline to a joke, but more and more bartenders in New York City are questioning whether they need to enjoy the beverages they make in order for customers to do the same. “As a chef, you don’t eat every dish you prepare,” Chan says. “You don’t need a big appetite. You just need to be able to taste it and control the flavor.”
Chan’s tolerance does impact the way he prepares drinks, though. Several of the cocktails at Double Chicken Please hover around seven percent, closer to the alcohol content of a strong beer. Having served cocktails across the country — and world — Chan has found that drinks in New York City tend to lean on the strong taste of alcohol. That’s not the aim at the new bar, whose drinks borrow the subtle flavors of lavender, oolong tea, longan, tomato, and apricot.
“In the past, I have had people tell me, ‘This is too weak,’” Chan says. “When we mix drinks, spirits are just one ingredient. Alcohol content is something, but it’s not flavor on its own.”
Double Chicken Please — the name, not the bar — dates back more than a decade ago, when Chan was studying industrial design at Chang Gung University in Taiwan. Growing up, Chan’s friends nicknamed him jī pái, which loosely translates from Mandarin Chinese to English as chicken cutlet. (“I was very short and skinny,” he says.) It wasn’t until college, though, that another chicken entered his life, a best friend who went by the name huǒ jī, or “turkey.” Ahead of graduation, the pair vowed to open a design studio together under the name Double Chicken Please.
The studio never came to fruition, but the bar is a close approximation: Its clubby interior decor and gold-trim menu have been imported from Taiwan — “It cost us a shitload of money to get,” Chan says, before apologizing for swearing — but that’s not really what he’s talking about. Though the duo eventually plans to use the space to create and sell merchandise, the bar is already a studio without those things, according to Chan. For now, their medium is food and drink.
Double Chicken Please is now open for indoor dining from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The bar’s front room has 21 seats available at 25 percent capacity. Closed Mondays.