Behind the Bar Snap Shot

One Happy New Bar That Loves the 20th Century

The Happiest Hour, where tiki meets 20th century.

Time for some bar math. Take two cocktail world veterans, with respective experience at Pegu and the NoMad Hotel. Throw them a prime Manhattan space. Watch the influences fly at the brand new The Happiest Hour.

Feeling That 20th Century Feel

Jim Kearns, who worked with Pegu Club doyenne, Audrey Saunders, and Milk & Honey founder Sasha Petraske, envisioned a 1950s and ’60s beach vibe for The Happiest Hour, which he opened with Jon Neidich. Kearns calls that mood “mid-century.” There are warm-weather souvenirs clustered in the corners, palm trees painted on the walls and a blender whizzing the tropical drink of the week. It’s “diner meets country club,” says Kearns.

The Happiest Hour’s Link Ray, with house-made celery soda, lime and Suze bitters.

The Non-Tiki Tiki Bar

There’s a definite tiki tone to The Happiest Hour, despite it being an association Kearns doesn’t quite warm to. “It came out looking a lot more tiki than anyone thought it would,” says Kearns. “But it’s still very much in line with mid-century trends—and that tiki element is a counterpoint to the space’s clean lines and geometry.”

What excites Kearns most about the mid-20th century is the soda jerk/counter-service model, a trend that seems to be influencing a number of bars including San Francisco’s newly opened Devil’s Acre from the Future Bars Group. For a bar owner, allusions to soda fountains are appealing because of the soda fountains’ inherent nostalgia and because the model’s emphasis on pre-batching is smart cocktail-making. As Kearns puts it, “Soda fountains were very front-loaded in terms of prep.” At The Happiest Hour, fresh house-made sodas and organized advance work allow busy bar staff to turn out high-end drinks with speed.

Fresh grapefruit cordial brightens the house Tom Collins.

The Happiest Lineup

The menu features a handful of classics, like a Daiquiri and Gibson, in addition to a smattering of house-created cocktails, such as the What the Doctor Ordered, made with sarsaparilla, vanilla, soda and rye, Scotch or aged rum. Even the standards, according to Kearns, have a little personal touch to them. One of those tweaks is an in-house grapefruit cordial used in some of the drinks, like the Tom Collins.

Next Up, a Floor Below

While the current bar takes on the clean-lined era of Mad Men, the downstairs floor will evoke the 1930s and 1940s. Kearns compares the current bar to the Beverly Hills Hotel fifty years ago, while the one slated to open below it in February 2015 is more like “the Raleigh Hotel in Miami in the 1930s.”

The new space will be more intimate, more low key and have a more tailored cocktail program. Cocktails may cost more on the floor below and take longer to prepare, says Kearns.

The lower floor will seat 45 to 50 people, compared to upstairs’ U-shaped bar and multiple back booths that currently accommodate 120 to 150 guests. The lower space will also feature reserve spirits, hardwood floors and banquettes.

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about drinks for two decades. She is the principal of the San Francisco–based Liza the Wine Chick consulting firm and regularly contributes to publications such as Wine Business Monthly, DrinkUpNY and the SOMM Journal.