When Jennifer Lim and Ben Sandler attended the first annual Cider Week NYC in 2011, they were excited to find a vast array of fine ciders offered by producers both locally and internationally. The husband-and-wife owners of Queens Kickshaw, a popular restaurant, bar, and coffee shop in Astoria, Queens, immediately decided to add cider to their beverage menu.
But it wasn’t that easy.
“As soon as we got back, Ben emailed everyone and said, ‘Hey, how can we get your cider?’ And we couldn’t,” Lim says.
Many of the cider makers were either self-distributing or had already allocated what little stock they had to select vendors. Over the next few years, the pair slowly began to build a sizable, curated cider menu, and patrons took notice.
Now Lim and Sandler have teamed up with lead Cider Week NYC organizer Sabine Hrechdakian to turn their love for cider into New York City’s first cider bar, Wassail, which opened in March. The name derives from an ancient English ritual surrounding cider-making in which a community gathered around an apple tree in the dead of winter and threw the previous year’s fermented cider on the tree in order to bless next year’s harvest.
Located on the Lower East Side, Wassail boasts a long, 18-seat bar as well as space for dining and a private dining area that will serve as a room for educational events about cider. Taking charge of the kitchen is Chef Joseph Buenconsejo, formerly of The Americano. He has created a vegetable-focused menu, which subtly takes inspiration from cider-growing regions.
“We didn’t want the stereotypical cliché idea of a cider bar being something super rustic,” Lim says. “Instead, we wanted it to take people by surprise with some sort of sexy, punk rock ‘n’ roll feel.”
New York City design firm Berman Horn Studio took inspiration both from the neighborhood, which has a historically rich music scene, as well as from the idea that a wassail is an activity done in the stark wintertime with a promise of a bounteous spring. Wood and metal elements were worked into the design to create a comfortable vibe.
Patrons will be able to order from the largest cider menu in the city and also be able to enjoy cider-based cocktails. Head bartender Jade Brown-Godfrey has created a beverage menu that gives a nod to historical, pre-Prohibition era cocktails and uses a variety of sweet ciders, apple brandies, and pear-based spirits.
“The fact that we’re setting some sort of standards for how cider is served, what kind of food it pairs with, and the setting in which it’s served is thrilling because there are no precedents in the U.S.,” Lim says. “We want to do justice by the product and by those who make it. There is a pressure to serve and present it with integrity.“