If you’re strolling past Second Avenue and 89th, you’ll notice a cute retro ice cream parlor, complete with neon sign and pink barstools. Everything from the cone-patterned wallpaper to the generous scoops screams “Instagram me.” And visitors oblige.
This ice cream parlor goes by the name UES, an acronym for its Manhattan neighborhood. If the name seems obvious, then it’s the only obvious thing about this establishment. Anyone who asks to “volunteer in the storage room” will discover the real reason Manhattanites are flocking to UES.
Behind a door of ice cream cartons and another black curtain, UES reveals itself as a speakeasy. At its center stands golden bar, decked with chandeliers and flanked by Corinthian columns. Black leather booths, lit only by small candles remind you that at the heart of every speakeasy is discretion. At the heart of this one, there’s also a hint of whimsy.
Founder Cortney Bond says she wanted to create a place where people can “drink outside of the box.” In that goal, she definitely succeeded. The menu, which is a spoof of a Zagat guide, provides a list of extravagant and clever cocktails. If they take a few minute to arrive at your table, you’ll soon understand why. Some appear inside small cigar boxes (with chocolate cigars), others in ice cream cones, and some drinks are literally on fire.
UES spends as much time naming their iconic cocktails as they do making them. Each one has a unique (Upper East Side-themed) title. The “Girls Gossip on the East” is inspired by a classic teen drama set (and often filmed) in the neighborhood. The “Tea at the Carlyle” recreates an authentic Upper East Side afternoon tea experience (with a little more liquor). And the “2nd Avenue Subway” is a nod to an ill-fated and long-winded New York construction project. It even comes with a metro card stuck to the side of the glass. Ironically, it’s hard to imagine any of the UES clientele arriving by subway.
The bar draws an eclectic crowd, but there are some “uniform requirements” for “volunteering in the storage room.” No hats, sneakers, flip flops or athletic wear are allowed. Think the opposite of what you’d wear to volunteer in an actual storage room. The only exception is on Sundays when UES hosts weekly movie nights.
In a neighborhood that really isn’t known for its nightlife, UES has quickly become an institution. So much so that founder Cortney Bond is expanding to open a second underground cocktail lounge in Summer 2020. No word yet on whether the storefront will be ice cream parlor of something equally whimsical.
Regardless, UES is definitely a place where, as Bond explains, folks can “have fun with their cocktailing.” The excitement of choosing a drink here is almost like the childhood excitement of choosing an ice cream flavor. Except now you get ice cream and liquor.