At the Museum of Sex, visitors can gawk at images of masturbating mammals, buy porcelain spoon rests shaped like tongues and now, settle in with a cocktail at the new drink den PLAY. But don't think that cloying martinis served out of vulva-shaped glasses are part of the "allure." Instead, this dim, red and black-lit cafe and bar -- surrounded by books -- puts a tasteful spin on sensuality. Here, beverage director Jim Kearns, who has dreamed up drinks for the likes of Rye House, Freemans and the Astor Room, tells us how.
So, when you told your friends about your next career move, were they skeptical?
Some people were like "Really? The Museum of Sex?" But obviously I had already seen the place, knew exactly what to expect and was amazed at how beautiful it was.
They probably thought the menu was going to be heavy-handed and gimmicky, but you had something classier in mind.
With the bar being called PLAY, you can surprise guests, play games and be cheeky. It was an opportunity. We wanted the cocktails to play around with umami, so we ran with it. For example, there's a drink called Loose Women & Pickpockets that's a lot of fun. It's almost a traditional Sidecar, but with Cognac that's been washed with duck fat. We're also doing the Drive-in Saturday that tastes like Coke and movie popcorn, with popcorn butter-washed Buffalo Trace White Dog and pharmacy cola syrup -- ingredients that reference both kitsch and food. I also made a tomato water for the In a Pickle?, with mushroom-infused cachaca, fish sauce and pickled onions
Those drinks can be found on the "Kinky" part of the menu, but just like one's sexual proclivities, there are also "Demure" and "Curious" offerings -- and let's not forget the food, categorized by "Flirting," "Fondling" and "F*cking."
If you give people a massive list of stuff, it overwhelms them -- like at a tapas bar. By breaking it down into digestible chunks and giving them a spectrum of riffs on classics and out-of-the-box drinks, it helps to make them more accessible.
The menu is sexy, but smart and subtle, just like the bookshelves that dominate the interior. You would never know all those books are sitting pretty in a defiled state.
Yeah, a lot of the books have been artist-altered. You pick up a book that might ostensibly be written by Danielle Steele, open it and see someone else's drawings.
How did the museum's portrayal of sex inspire you to find synergy between the collection and the drinks?
When trying to understand how the museum presents sex -- which is to the general public and very often to people who are not from New York -- I looked around the gift shop and got a sense of how they do it. It's tactful and not at all done as a gag. We tried to do the same with the beverage program. We don't have penis straws. We don't need to go for the obvious cock-and-bull. We want to draw a crowd of people who live in the area, too.
Given the nature of the museum, do you think some customers are going to assume the comfy couches are intended for public groping sessions?
Some will want that, while others will be turned off by it.