Albert Trummer of Apothéke has finally opened his new bar on Avenue C, having dropped the rather hilarious working title of Mixers & Elixirs in favor of Sanatorium, a name that’s true to both the bar’s Habsburgian decor (surgeon’s lamps, anatomy-driven artwork, even an X-Ray lightbox) and its Dionysian philosophy on wellness.
“It’s almost a mental healing with alcohol,” Trummer told B+B last night. The bar’s theme inevitably invokes an image of Freud soaking in a mineral bath while doing lines off a sterling silver hospital tray in the name of “longevity.” Syringes, loaded and ready, sat on top of the marble and stainless steel bar. And an old-timey doctor’s tray was filled with what looked to be surgical instruments. The calming, sage-hued hospital green paint coating the walls was inspired by the set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
“We like to create a theme like in the 1930s institution– I wouldn’t say it’s a mental institution,” Trummer explained. Pointing to a plush couch from the restaurant Daniel and paintings commissioned from the Austrian artist Tomak, Trummer said, “This is almost like the waiting room, and then you’re allowed to see the doctors.” He giggled. “But the secret is, we tell you what you need.”
Beyond the medicinal motif and the setting fit for fin-de-siècle Viennese cosplay, Sanatorium aims to have fun. “Every bar has a show,” Trummer said in his lispy Austrian accent. With that, he stacked a pyramid of cocktail stemware on the extra-long marble bar and poured out a bottle of Remy Martin 1738 over top. Given Trummer’s infamous reputation as a fire bug, I worried for a moment. But then he took a sharpened kitchen blade to the top of a champagne bottle. With one decisive samurai swoop, the cork went flying off, the bubbly burst forth, and Trummer splashed the golden liquid over the glass tower. “This is what we call ‘The Gatsby,'” he grinned. (It goes for $225.) “It’s for celebrations, and we have something to celebrate.”
Indeed, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Trummer’s return to the New York City bar scene from his two-year hiatus in Miami, where he opened up The Drawing Room and served herbacious concoctions that he claimed had a “positive reaction for the customers’ nutritional and immune systems.” East Village residents enacted a petition arguing that the Avenue C bar was “completely incongruous to the neighborhood.” (It could have been worse: According to Trummer, his landlord Robert Perl told him at their first meeting that he had a “really good deal” with Starbucks, but chose Sanatorium because he “liked the concept.”) Trummer’s initial plans for $1,600 champagne bottle service raised eyebrows among the neighborhood’s notoriously stringent community board, as did the mixologist’s complicated history related to his partnership at Apothéke.
The Chinatown cocktail bar was at once Trummer’s most successful venture and witness to his greatest downfall– all stemming from an incident in May 2009, when he was busted by the fire department for performing flame-throwing tricks with alcohol and eventually arrested at the bar for continuing to play with fire even after he was ordered to stop. A puzzling mess ensued, which included criminal lawsuits, suing and countersuing, and sensational headlines declaring Trummer a “fire obsessed” menace. It all came to something of an end in 2011 when Trummer pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, narrowly avoiding a possible jail sentence after the charges were reduced from reckless endangerment.
I asked Trummer if the debacle still comes back to haunt him. “Everybody in the industry [knows], I never can get that away from my life anymore,” he said. “But I’ve learned to live with it. It was really part of my success, part of the success of Apothéke.”
With this new bar, it’s clear Trummer is hoping to stage a comeback that involves reclaiming the pharmaceutical aesthetic of his estranged bar and slapping a medical degree on it to boot. In addition to the syringes and old-timey apothecary-style bottles, patrons will find high-concentration “elixirs,” and a surplus of bartenders on staff to ensure drinks arrive to imbibers’ lips as quickly and theatrically as possible. It’s likely they’ll also find Jakob Trummer– the owner’s 21-year-old son, who said he started training at Apothéke when he was just 14. “Illegally!” Albert laughed.
Trummer has also brought a little bit of Miami’s vibe back with him. When I arrived, a seemingly endless, gently pulsating ambient techno track brought me back to Euro-tripping circa 2007, while the crystal chandeliers, enormous marble bar, and generally oligarchic-chic decor mirrored the ostentatious vibe of many Miami establishments, high and low. Plush couches invite good-looking people to lounge flirtatiously with drinks in hand, while the Habsburg-spa-like confines might send subliminal feel-good messages to drinkers that what they’re doing isn’t simply liver-fattening behavior, but is positively rejuvenating (never mind that the cocktails emphasize “liquor-on-liquor” profiles).
“People come to the bar, they enjoy it, after five, six drinks they leave different,” Trummer said. “We’re trying to be really healthy and really, really organic. I would say you can have six, seven drinks and you don’t have a hangover.” Of course, a hangover-free life (as I learned from cozying up with a luxury IV service last year) comes at a price. The cocktails run $15 a pop. But “bar chef” Chris Norton explained that in addition to fresh ingredients, they use quality alcohol. “We make all of these [elixirs] in-house, and when it says ‘vanilla’ it’s because we’re using real Madagascar vanilla, also thyme, lavender, hibiscus, saffron– there are hundreds of them.” You might also see Norton work some magic with “cryo,” or liquid nitrogen.
The drinks include In the Ambulance (gin, thyme, lime-infused sugarcane, rosemary, and an orange peeled into an elaborate corkscrew shape) and No Insurance– ha ha (vodka, raspberry, Earl Gray, lemon, and hibiscus elixir). As for the food, Trummer said he’s currently working with some “young chefs” on a menu that will likely feature “Mediterranean tapas.”
Downstairs, past a display case filled with illuminated X-Ray sheets, there’s an unfinished prep kitchen and a raw space designated for private parties and loyal patrons. “This is going to be my chef’s table,” Trummer explained. “I give my good customers a key.” He hopes to have the place open for “big lounge parties” by Fashion Week in September.
If Trummer doesn’t think there’s anything weird about Fashion Week parties on Avenue C, it’s because he considers the East Village to be the city’s “last cool” place. “I couldn’t go to Chinatown anymore, the real-estate prices became really high after we left, and it became all the French people and this new, trendy place,” he explained. “We learned that this place was really the place of punk rock– Andy Warhol lived around here, I heard Blondie lived around here, Bowie, there was some cool influence, and in the ’70s and the ’80s, they created this area. I think for me, as an artist, the East Village is the perfect place to be.”
Sanatorium is located at 14 Avenue C in the East Village, hours are Monday through Saturday 6 pm to 2 am.