To be honest, I was a little skeptical when I heard that PLAY, a bar and lounge, opened as an extension of the Museum of Sex. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it markets itself as a “transformative experience that arouses the senses.” I envisioned dark corners and multicolored, er, paraphernalia.
Oh, how wrong I was, and how happy I was to be wrong. The space is dark but inviting, leather couches and 70’s era chairs line the walls. This is a place to relax and let the music slide over you. Jim Kearns, of Balthazar, Dumont, Pegu club and Death & Co., have created what can only be described as a mindf$%@ of flavors in various fancy glasses.
The Bearing Straight
Walking straight might be a bit difficult after this one. Mezcal, nigori sake, kiuchi no shizuku (an oak-aged wine), ginger, yuzu, and a salted umeboshi plum is one of the strangest combinations you will find here. It’s smoky and spicy, with a smoothness that lingers and, quite frankly, makes you want to make out with anyone in sight — it’s that good. So, way to go on that one, PLAY.
With gin, St. Germain, rose-infused vermouth, ginger, and lemon, this drink was subtle, the rose coming in through the nose at the end.
This conjures up the taste and experience of being at the movies. Popcorn butter-washed White Dog mixed with pharmacy cola and salt tastes like throwing back a handful of kernels and washing it down with a Coke.
A Clear Day In Normandy
This is the total opposite of the Drive-In, with a mix of apple eau de vie, grapefruit bitters, and Lairds applejack. It tastes like biting into a crisp, alcoholic apple and I wish this grew on trees.
This one’s a doozy made with rum, bourbon, strawberry liqueur, crème de cacao, Campari, Tri-Star, and mole bitters for an intensely sweet, somewhat smoky and spicy drink. At first it tasted a bit like Robitussin, but it quickly grew on me after sipping the others. This is definitely a second drink drink.
A bar wouldn’t be worth going to if there wasn’t any good food. Chef Ben Roche informed us that after debating on whether to make everything on the menu look like genitals or not, he decided to play with all the senses — mixing textures and tastes into delectable morsels.
Popcorn coated with brown butter and cheddar cheese topped with a dash of hops powder is funky, salty, and highly addictive.
These are my new favorite snack, covered in Szechuan pepper, chili, and served with cilantro and micro greens. Each bite is different, and by the end of the bowl (because you’ll end up eating the entire bowl) your tongue is numb.
These crisp chips are made from the skin that rises to the top of the pot when tofu is made. They’re spicy and insanely crunchy — hands down the best chips you’ve ever had thanks to a sprinkling of nori and togarashi.
This, of all the bar snacks, is a killer, genius idea. Overcooked pasta is fried so it puffs up crisp, then tossed in a spice mix that tastes like tomato, garlic, oregano, burnt crust, and mozzarella cheese. Perfection.
If you need more than bar snacks, get some tongue. Crisp chunks of beef tongue, tasting like the beefiest beef you ever had, are plated with fried cauliflower, cauliflower puree, and chimichurri.
This focaccia was brought out last minute by Roche, who told us we couldn’t leave without trying it. Oh my God, was he right. The bread is studded with pieces of homemade comfit rabbit leg, topped with a white gazpacho made from almonds, and served with split grapes. It’s unassuming, but it whacks you right over the head with fatty rabbit flavor, cut through by the richness of the almonds, which in turn is cut through by the grapes. It’s a perfect trio, and everything’s in-sync.
After ending on that phenomenal note, I’m definitely heading back soon to see what else PLAY has up its stocking.
1 East 27th Street
New York, NY 10016