A saloon for the downtown fashion set

Evan Mock, the 25-year-old skateboarder, ‘Gossip Girl’ actor and Calvin Klein model, was thrown into the amber light, leaning against a pine wall at The River, a new bar on Bayard Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown .

He was chatting with two of the bar’s owners: Aaron Aujla, 36, and Benjamin Bloomstein, 34, the men behind Green River Project – a design firm of the moment known for its dark, tactile, wooden interiors and furniture. “This place is about 30% mahogany – it’s pine, it’s ash,” Mr. Aujla said, pointing to variations in flooring and furniture.

Mr. Mock, himself a handyman, thought about buying a chainsaw. He had used one to chop wood for a makeshift hot tub. Then the conversation shifted to fashion. Mr Mock wore a vintage Carhartt jacket recycled by Bentgablenits, a rarefied fashion brand that has collaborated with Byredo and Levi’s. “Pharrell’s manager put me on them,” Mr Mock said. “They arrive.”

It was the bar’s opening night in late March, and despite a misfire with the liquor license—only Shirley Temples were served—the place was buzzing. The intimate space was packed with personalities from the downtown art and fashion world: photographers Ryan McGinley and Tyler Mitchell, artist Nate Lowman and stylist Haley Wollens.

Fashion designer Emily Bode, Mr. Aujla’s wife and co-owner of the bar, ran the music lineup. “There will only be American music at the River, except for Neil,” she said, referring to Neil Young, a Canadian, who quickly came on the loudspeakers.

After a year in the making, the river is the final footprint Mrs. Bode, Green River and their entourage have left on their teak-toned corner of Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Chinatown. The first was the Bode retail store at 58 Hester Street, a destination for their circle of savvy art school graduates with deep, perfectly tailored pockets.

This was followed by a tailor and a cafe next door – two wood-centric spaces designed by Green River. Then there’s Dr. Clark, Hokkaido’s hotspot right next door at 104 Bayard Street, in the space once occupied by Winnie’s, a Chinatown karaoke joint. Opened in 2020 by Yudai Kanayama (of Izakaya and present day) and David Komurek, Dr. Clark is social catnip for models and scenes, who squeeze into sunken seats on the sidewalk.

The river was born out of Dr. Clark’s need for space. When the lease of 102 Bayard Street was put on the line, Mr. Komurek snatched it up, in part to preserve Dr. Clark’s long outdoor meal outside that address.

“We built this place for us and our friends,” Mr. Aujla said. “We felt something like this was missing in our neighborhood.”

A decade ago, when he and Mr. Bloomstein were artists’ assistants on the Lower East Side and Ms. Bode was a student at Parsons, their after-work revels took place in the studios, then spilled out into dive bars locals like that of Milady. “We wanted something that was a little more hidden and felt a little more valuable than Dr. Clark,” Mr. Komurek added.

The River is unlike any other bar in New York. Guests enter through a narrow, dimly lit, wood-paneled hallway that leads to two parlor doors Mr. Bloomstein crafted from sarsaparilla, a climbing vine native to the Amazon rainforest. “If you scratch it, it smells like root beer,” he said.

Beyond the doors is 600 square feet of wood, whiskey, heat and more wood. The bar is flanked by large ash logs that had been infested with emerald ash borer beetles and removed from the property owned by Mr. Aujla and Mrs. Bode near Great Barrington, Mass.

For the chairs, of which there are only a dozen, they used branches and twigs harvested from Mr. Bloomstein’s family farm in Hillsdale, NY, where Green River maintains a studio. (The Green River, which runs through this property, inspired the company’s name, while the bar’s name itself references both the studio and the Hudson, which is depicted in an oil painting. oil 100 feet long, separated into panels, along its walls.)

“Collecting thousands of sticks and finding a way to work with these materials reminds me of carving,” said Mr. Aujla, originally from Victoria, British Columbia.

To give the bar the perfect shade of brown, Mr. Aujla and Mr. Bloomstein used a wood finish of coffee and shellac, a process sometimes used in model making but uncommon in woodworking. .

“Ben and I think about the color of whiskey and the color of tobacco all the time,” Mr Aujla said. “These are our first design cues.”

Ms. Bode brought her passion for reusing vintage fabrics to the project. Above the bar is a 19th century embroidered velvet valance. “It was probably used around a window in a living room or under the canopy of a bed,” she said.

For the waiter uniforms, Ms. Bode replicated a dress designed for Neiman Marcus in the 1960s and made it in a tobacco color. “I would call them reimagined satin sailor coats,” she said. ” They are young. They are satin with a white cord as trim.

Initially, Mrs. Bode designed a tuxedo for the bartender – inspired by the suit the designer’s grandfather wore to graduate from Yale in 1940. When that proved too restrictive, they switched to a white Bode shirt (although it is sometimes worn with a black collarless satin jacket with ecru trim, made by Mrs. Bode to match the waiters’ uniforms).

Cocktails of the day ($16) are handwritten on a sheet of computer paper. There are also traditional highballs, old-vine American wines and hard-to-obtain American whiskeys, like Weller Antique and Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve (23), which are “assigned”, in bar terms, to certain establishments. .

“We also sold a lot of 25-year-old Laphroaig,” Mr Komurek said. “This Scotch is $130 a shot.”

There’s also a limited snack menu including popcorn ($6), olives ($6), slices of coppa ($12) and American caviar served with crackers and crème fraîche ($75 ).

That said, the liquor, its provenance and its price are irrelevant. The river is both Mr. Komurek’s refuge and a place to see and be seen. Another associate, Yasmin Kaytmaz, 26, former manager of Dr. Clark’s and Lucien, has an enviable list of “it” people in her contacts.

Regulars have included model Ella Emhoff, who is the daughter-in-law of Vice President Kamala Harris; playwright Jeremy O. Harris; and Salima Boufelfel and Roberto Cowan, owners of Desert Vintage on Orchard Street. The women of Drunken Canal, artist Aurel Schmit, actor Aziz Ansari and musician Lizzi Bougatsos of Gang Gang Dance have all been there.

Parties have been held here for Gagosian artist Kon Trubkovich and bustling model agency No Agency. And after Balenciaga’s party at 88 Palace last month, the staff went to the River, and Ms. Kaytmaz kept the bar open for them.

A few weeks after the official opening, with the booze finally flowing, Mr. Aujla and Mr. Komurek sat at a corner table, discussing their decision to cover the bar’s only window. “It has that Chinatown feeling,” Mr. Komurek said. “There are so many secret things happening in Chinatown.”

Mr. Aujla laughed. “It seems closed,” he said.

The two became distracted with ideas for future projects. “Let’s open up more things about Bayard,” Mr. Aujla said. “There is a Thai store next door.”

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