The new NoHo distillery, Manhattan’s first to produce whiskey since Prohibition, makes up for lost time on a grand scale.
Despite its plethora of bars fancying themselves “speakeasies,” there was one remnant of Prohibition Manhattan still hadn’t shaken: The borough had been without a whiskey distillery—a legal one, anyway—since the passing of the Volstead Act in 1919.
It’s no wonder why the arrival of Great Jones Distilling Company, now open at 686 Broadway, is causing quite a stir.
Over the past decade, loosened restrictions have ushered a spirited renaissance all across New York State, with a 200% swell in new licenses for craft bourboneers, moonshiners, and whiskey wizards everywhere from South Brooklyn warehouses to rustic upstate barns.
Contrasting smaller, more boutique players riding the recent peat wave, Great Jones is a high-budget production. It’s the latest label for Proximo Spirits, the international powerhouse best known for distributing Jose Cuervo. Behind it all is Juan Domingo Beckmann, an industry titan and 11th-generation member of one of the world’s preeminent distilling families.
Even so, it took a half dozen years to overcome the logistical and engineering challenges you’d expect might come with opening a full-production distillery in Lower Manhattan, tackled with the help and creative ingenuity of Groundswell Design Group.
Naturally, those efforts have culminated in a top-shelf result. The four-floor facility spans 28,000 square feet, an impressive footprint on some of the most sought-after real estate downtown.
Entering through the ground-level foyer, visitors are whisked from the sidewalk into another dimension, an entrancing world melding multi-sensory indulgence and jazz-age sophistication with thoroughly modern sensibilities. A curving ramp embraces the signature statement art piece: a cross-sectioned copper still, splayed and suspended with steel cables as if freeze-framed amidst a rapid and perfectly symmetrical disassembly. Backlit library shelves of evenly-spaced bottles stock the gift shop. In back, a full restaurant, with Per Se’s Adam Raksin at the helm, is scheduled to open this September.
The grand staircase ascends to a handsome tasting room with a view of the production floor. Since a local zoning technicality bans distilling above two stories, this entire level had to be dropped several feet to accommodate the towering columns off the distillery’s capacious 500-gallon pot still—glassed into a two-story, explosion-proof room that doubles as something of a gallery effect. Upstairs, an intimate lounge, bookable for events, looks in from above.
Last but certainly not least is the bricked-out cellar speakeasy, filled with marble-topped bistro tables and tufted crimson chairs evocative of the downtown social clubs of yore. And while hardly illicit today, it might still be more underground than its creators anticipated: Construction behind it unearthed what is presumed to be an authentic bootlegger’s tunnel, yet another tasting note of a slower, more romantic New York.
Though the grandiose space suggests otherwise, its yield pours at a surprisingly accessible price point. Three offerings round out the starting line-up: a straight bourbon and a rye, both retailing for $39, and a four-grain bourbon for $49—the latter two being distillery exclusives. They’re all produced exclusively with grains from New York’s Black Dirt region, grown near the Orange County town of Warwick—a coveted terroir for whiskies, wines and, more recently, farmhouse ales.
The talent, too, is locally sourced. Celina Perez, formerly of Proximo’s Black Dirt Distillery, serves as head distiller. She’s assisted by Jelani Johnson—a fellow alum, with Perez, of Owney’s Rum in Brooklyn.
Visiting hours are noon to 10pm Wednesday through Sunday, with tours, tastings, and experiences—think pairings and mixology classes—available by reservation.