It’s been a good year for resurrecting the lost soul of Newark Avenue’s Ox, the forerunner to Jersey City’s downtown dining boom. Earlier this fall the restaurant’s former chef and partner, Ed Radich, made a return to Jersey City (you can find him cooking up paella down the block at Raval), and last month — after years in spiritual purgatory as Asian fusion joint Box — the former Ox space was reborn as The Archer (176 Newark Avenue, Jersey City; no phone).
Partners Jesse Weeks and Kent Baker’s hunting lodge–cum-saloon feels decisively local, with the original back bar restored to its former bottle-stocked glory and boasting a spirituous drinks list designed by Dutch Kills’ tiki queen Natalie Jacob, and ambitious wild game plates developed by chef Justin Antiorio, a veteran 21 Club cook, who also now runs the kitchens of Hoboken’s Bin 14 and Anthony David’s. “We came up with Coney Island–meets–hunter cuisine,” says Antiorio of the venison corn dogs and wild boar sloppy joes. “And now that we’ve got a Berkel slicer in here, we’ve turned Box’s sushi station into a charcuterie bar.”
They’ve also added a fireplace.
But with the prospect of the unseasonably warm weather continuing unabated, don’t expect a throwback to Ox’s pots of boozy hot chocolate just yet. If Jacob had her way, the Archer would be in full-bore Christmas pop-up mode right now, pouring candy-cane-infused bourbon old-fashioneds to pair with winter-weight plates of duck confit poutine and smoked turkey pot pie.
“We want to do a hot drinks menu for January and February — a hot mai tai, a hot buttered rum, mulled cider, a hot toddy,” says Jacob. Over the holidays, two fully decorated Christmas trees were stationed at both ends of the bar (boasting locally sourced ornaments from the dollar store across the street), with a wreath-wearing stag’s head, rescued from the junk bin of an Alphabet City consignment shop, positioned over the hearth.
Jacob’s opening cocktail menu showcases her passion for rums and for Laird’s Applejack; the latter features in the Van Vorst Park Swizzle, enriched with sherry and cinnamon. “I’m very excited that I get to do something that I love doing, in New York, in my own neighborhood; I’ve lived here forever,” says Jacob, who was raised near White Manna and has long commuted to mix drinks at Flatiron Lounge, Painkiller, and Lani Kai. “I like using ingredients that are classic and tropical, that tie in my two backgrounds.”
Antiorio, meanwhile, likes his ingredients local. For a plate of baby carrots glazed in Chairman’s Reserve spiced rum, he’s sourced his main ingredient from City Green Farm in Clifton, which sells him whatever’s left of its bounty after making the rounds at the local farmers’ markets each week. “And we’re doing our sausage from scratch,” he says. “We spice it, case it, we even smoke it here. Eventually we’ll start doing our own charcuterie as well.” Until then, he’s sourcing exotically cured meats from Smoking Goose in Indianapolis, which supplies the Archer with its Gin & Juice, a bracing lamb salami cured in juniper and orange zest that tastes more martini than meat.
“People are more receptive to different things in Jersey City — hence our menu,” says Weeks, who is maybe not the first person to sign a lease for this space to express that sentiment. “I don’t think what we’re doing would fly in Hoboken, but here people are more edgy, more experimental.”