A Café That Serves Only Water

The East Village has a new watering hole—and for once, that term’s not a misnomer. The drink on tap at Molecule isn’t wine or beer, but pure water.

The idea of a café that only sells H2O sounds silly at first—after all, tap’s typically free—until co-owner Adam Ruhf puts it in perspective: “I realized there was a gap between tap and bottled water.”

Tap, he explains, can be imperiled by everything from pollution to old plumbing, while disposable bottles’ carbon footprint makes their contents hard to swallow.

So, with business partner Alex Venat, the Massachusetts native set out to open a café in between those poles. At the heart of the tiny operation is a huge filter, designed exclusively for Molecule by a California-based engineer, that has the power to usher 1,000 gallons of municipal water daily through an eight-stage purification process, which removes just about everything from sediment and chlorine to fluoride and nitrates. Manhattan tap is hailed as cleaner than that of most cities, so it’s natural to be skeptical, but the sight of a once-white filter that’s become brown after only 10 days tends to inspire one to reach for a cup across the honey-hued wood counter.

That’s when the customization begins. Customers can choose to drink the filtered water as-is, or to add sea-based electrolytes and alkalinity. A shot of vitamins or supplements, developed by Ruhf and a privately contracted New York-based chemist, can be infused into your cup or bottle for a dollar more. Two of the most popular include the immunity blend, with extract of shiitake mushrooms and a sweet Tibetan berry, and one that promises to restore shine to your hair, skin and nails.

“Most flavored drinks on the market contain high doses of sugar,” points out Ruhf. “We wanted to create one without any sugars, preservatives or artificial ingredients.”

Most of the company’s earnings come from walk-ins. It costs $1 a cup, $3 for a gallon, plus from $1 to $2 for the extras, all served in glass or BPA-free plastic bottles, or in one brought from home. They’re also rolling out a home filtration service, which involves installing a range of options, from smaller under-the-sink systems (starting at $50) to complex ones fetching upward of $2,000. And opening cafés in neighborhoods like the West Village or the Upper West Side is on the table. “We’re not going to be billionaires doing this,” he allows, “but we are offering a healthy and sustainable model for drinking water.”

More than 100 regulars, about half of whom Ruhf greets by name, agree.

Molecule, 259 East 10th Street (near 1st Avenue); 646.371.9025; themoleculeproject.com

Photo credit: Rebecca McAlpin

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