Whiskey bar

Mezcal and whiskey lift the spirits at Hole-in-the-Wall NxtRoom cocktail bar

At NxtRoom, the new cocktail bar in Hell’s Kitchen, veteran bartender Daniel Villanueva’s mission is simple: to create a space dedicated to the education and appreciation of mezcal, the smoky and flavorful spirit, added to an all-in-one approach. also thoughtful of understanding the complex varieties of whisky.

Daniel Villanueva serves cocktails at NxtRoom in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“Most people already know tequila, but they don’t know much about mezcal — which is not just a product, but a huge category of alcohol in itself,” Villanueva said. “At NxtRoom, our plan is to serve a variety of mezcal cocktails and whiskey cocktails from different countries to teach people about their origins and flavor profiles.”

NxtRooman intimate and cozy alcove Restaurant La Pulperia on W44th, is designed with inviting touches, from painted brick walls and the intricately tiled foyer at its center to shelves of colorful mezcals and whiskey bottles arranged like a treasured personal collection. Villanueva and La Pulperia owner Victor Medina wants the space to feel like visiting a friend’s house for cocktails and conversation, with a bit of history and learning mixed in.

“We intentionally kept this space small,” Medina said. “If you’re having a drink or booking a tasting here, we want it to be intimate and friendly.” While guests sip and munch on a customizable tapas menu, Villanueva and her team guide customers through the intricacies of mezcal production.

NxtRoom is on the corner of La Pulperia on W44th Street. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“Mezcal comes from southern Mexico,” Villanueva said. “We try to share with people that, unlike tequila, each mezcal is made from different agave plants, which can be anywhere from five or six years old to two decades old, which explains the differences in taste and flavor. price of tequila.”

Villanueva has been preparing for this moment for a long time. Working with the La Pulperia team for nearly a decade as General Manager of its former W46th and current W44th street locations, he is now excited to expand his reach by leading a new program alongside. “I’m thrilled to present a brand new concept,” he said. The small-plate, limited-seating menu format (currently featuring six mezcal-based and six whiskey-based cocktails) allows Villanueva to constantly tweak and experiment with new pairings.

“We will try new things. For example, here we are going to pair one of our mezcal cocktails with sushi. We’ll pair another with ceviche. We want every item on the menu to pair with all spirits, both whiskey and mezcal. When curing mezcal, you need to be careful in your build. The idea is to make sure you can still taste the spirit itself,” Villanueva said.

Daniel Villaneuva, President Bill Clinton and Victor Medina at La Pulperia in December 2018. Photo provided

Through constant experimentation, he determined exactly which flavors embody the perfect cocktail – one of NxtRoom’s signature drinks includes a mezcal made with pomegranate, passion fruit and burnt orange: “A Perfect Marriage”, added Villanueva.

The expert bartender had plenty of time to work out the details. After a difficult epidemic closure, La Pulperia was forced to close for a long time before moving and reopening the W44th. Both Villanueva and Medina are grateful to have been able to keep the restaurant from Hell’s Kitchen and stay in touch with their passionate regulars.

“To be back is a miracle,” Medina said. “We wanted to stay here and we like being close to Broadway. It was all about timing – when Broadway reopened, we knew everything would be fine.

Medina and Villanueva cherish their relationship with the theater community, which they have described as the “icing on the cake” of Hell’s Kitchen. “We had so much support from them – everyone came out,” added Villanueva.

As a thank you, they plan to roll out several cocktails in tribute to shows in the area. The “Jersey Boy”, a tribute to Medina’s favorite musical currently playing at the W50th’s New World Stages, will feature a smoky combination of bourbon and bacon, while “The Phantom” will showcase a mashup of whiskey, cola and blackberry. “What if we can get one of Ghost masks, we’ll hang it here,” laughed Medina.

The Villaneuva Sensei cocktail is accompanied by smoke. Photo: Phil O’Brien

While Villanueva and Medina intend to continue tinkering and experimenting with NxtRoom’s offerings, they hope to soon be recognized as pioneers in cocktail and tapas innovation. “Danny has been working on this for so many years,” Medina said. “I hope that in five years he will be recognized as one of the pioneers in the field and as someone who will give Hell’s Kitchen a totally different cocktail experience.”

Villanueva and Medina cited the close-knit hotel community as critical to their success in the neighborhood. “It’s the best – I have restaurants all over New York and there isn’t a place in the city like Midtown – and the most interesting part is Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a little pocket of support” , Medina said, citing their friendships with other bar owners in the area like Pocket Bar’s Suzy Darling.

Medina and Villanueva hope everyone from neighborhood regulars to visiting travelers will feel inclined to sit down to their famous drag brunch or dine at La Pulperia before heading to the bar at NxtRoom for a thoughtful and thoughtful trip. guided into the world of mezcal and whisky. .

Some of NxtRoom’s cocktails – En Su Punto, Be Mine and Grasshoppere. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“It’s a restaurant, but it’s really about experience,” Villanueva said, adding, “It’s about friends, it’s about family. It’s about welcoming you in the neighborhood again. We want everyone who walks in to feel like a regular, like, ‘Hey, I know you! Nice to see you again.'”

NxtRoom will be open Wednesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight. 623 9th Avenue (corner of W44th Street) @nxtroom