Hidden bars are nothing new, but still, they continue to open in NYC. Top Chef Angelo Sosa just jumped on the speakeasy train with the debut of Abajo (which means “down” or “under” in Spanish) beneath the Tribeca outpost of Añejo (301 Church Street; 212-920-6270). The bar is offering a fusion of Mexican fare and NYC street food with ingredient-driven cocktails.
Set off to the back of the restaurant, Abajo is a stark contrast to the rest of the open and airy space. To get there, guests walk down a black stairwell with crystal sconces lining one wall — it’s so dark, it takes a second or two for the eyes to adjust. A deep-hued mural of agave plants and mezcal makers adorns the opposite wall in the hall.
The space gives off a vibe that marries NYC street culture to Mexican lounge: A tufted-leather banquette is set beneath a covertly located DJ booth, under two wrought-iron windows. Rustic candlelit tables fill the front of the room, and a gently illuminated wooden bar sits against an exposed-brick wall. Graffiti enhances the remaining walls.
Sosa’s goal is to celebrate NYC street food through the lens of Mexican flavors and ingredients. The succinct menu includes seven items, each of which has been bent to entice late-night eaters. The gyro taco combines lamb and pickled vegetables on top of a soft corn tortilla with traditional white and red sauce. “Down and dirty” wings are inspired by the Korean version, though here they’re fried and coated in Mexican mole sauce. Fried guacamole is Sosa’s variation on a croquette; jalapeno-cilantro-lime mayo and red onion salt accompany it. The “family meal” is one of the heartier items offered in the space; Mexican-spiced rice is cooked in pork broth with slow-braised meat, serrano chiles, habanero sauce, and cotija cheese. “We wanted to be fun, whimsical, reminiscent of New York street food,” says Sosa. “Whether you go for wings or a gyro, we wanted to pay homage with Mexican ingredients.”
The food, though, is merely intended to complement the cocktails, which are supposed to be a main draw of the concept. Sosa worked directly with head bartender Louis Fata to create the list. Look for rare agave and similar Mexican spirits, such as sotol, bacanora, and raicilla. The pair are also working on their own barrel-aged tequilas. Oils, vinegars, and perfumes are used in beverages like the Haas Muzik, a blend of blanco tequila, jalapeño, allspice pineapple nectar, cilantro, and fresh lemon. The One Love is better; Corralejo blanco tequila is shaken with tarragon, honey, fenugreek tomato, and Pernod absinthe and served in a stemmed cocktail glass. The drink is slightly sweet with nice acid and aromatics. The Church Street Swizzle is on the sugary side; it’s made with tequila, garam masala tangerine cordial, and mint and served layered with crushed ice in a punch glass.
With several other cocktail-driven spots in the neighborhood, like Belle Reve and Macao, Sosa and his team are trying to fit in to the scene and attract part of the crowd. “This should be a mixology block,” says Sosa. “We want to complement and be inspired by our competition.”
Abajo is rolling out with a soft opening.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.