If the thought of decking the halls of your studio apartment has you overwhelmed, fear not — there’s a brand-new ready-made holiday hangout from some of the neighborhood’s favorite proprietors opening in Hell’s Kitchen tonight!
Nestled in the 9th Avenue nook once occupied by Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant — Chow Down NYC, the team from the now-shuttered space (who currently operate West Side favorites El Centro, B Side Pizza, and nextdoor neighbor ‘ritas) have taken the already warm, wood-paneled walls of the empty bar and transformed it into a veritable winter wonderland now known as Sleigh Bar through New Year’s Day.
“We want to make it a fun holiday dive bar — we’ve got Narraganset in the can and the 12 Christmas Shots behind the bar, and we really want to embrace that vision — the gaudier the better!” said Kurt Reed, a ten year veteran of the NYC hospitality industry and Chow Down’s Jack-of-All-Trades mind behind Sleigh Bar. Part of the bar’s kitschy-Christmas-living room vibe even includes actual holiday knick-knacks from Chow Down founders John and Maren Powell’s home, said Kurt. “John and Maren have been in business for over 20 years, and Maren loves decorating her venues for Christmas, so we had lots of stuff in storage!”
Full of fun, seasonal touches like twinkling lights, tinsel, wine-bottle shaped chandeliers, Santa’s sleigh (and even an errant Menorah or two behind the bar), the holiday pop-up will serve themed beverages like the Mistletoe (gin, lemon, rosemary simple, a “kiss o’ cran”), BuenaNoche (añejo, coconut milk, coco lopez, cinnamon, nutmeg),the Foggy X-Mas Eve (vodka, white rum, gin, tequila, ginger, lemon, fruit punch) and for the adventurous caroler, a “12 Days of Shots” series. For hungry revelers, there are sliders, nachos, burritos and even Santa-ready cookies and milk.
The idea for Sleigh Bar originated from a proposed farewell to Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant, which shuttered during the pandemic. “We were in a meeting talking about the Hell’s Kitchen space — and the original idea was to do a New Year’s Eve party for everybody who has been missing Hell’s Kitchen to come and party — one last chance in the space before we launch a new concept there,” he said.
After expanding the plan to include a staff party and Christmas party, Kurt and the team at Chow Down decided to go all-in for the holiday season and host a public pop-up bar. “My mind started turning — I thought about Miracle on 9th Street and that whole franchise that’s come out of East Village, as well as a college bar back in my college town in Newark, Delaware that did a Christmas pop-up every year,” said Kurt. “And I thought, ‘We could do something like that here — we don’t have to change a thing!”
Armed with a fully functioning kitchen at adjacent B Side Pizza and ‘ritas, Kurt, Maren and John went to work trimming the warm, wood-paneled bar with tinsel and holly galore, easily remodeling it into a cozy Christmas cocktail joint ahead of the holiday season.
The expansive space has plenty of room for a cozy holiday cocktail or rocking around the Christmas tree, with festive music accompanying a glittering-garland adorned dance floor and a DJ available for private parties and special events. And for those who have yet to do their holiday shopping or who want to relive their favorite nights out at Hell’s Kitchen, the team is selling branded mugs from the erstwhile bar.
The bar’s soft launch has already been a rollicking success, having hosted several seasonal shindigs — including one for the famous Radio City Rockettes, who have their own Barbie-fied tribute behind the bar. “It was amazing,” said Kurt. “They came in glitzed and glamored up and dressed to the nines, which I loved. Everyone was dressed over the top and it really felt like such a cool event space to be in. They really embraced the theme of the restaurant and the concept and, and I mean, who better to do it than The Rockettes?”
Local West Siders have been enthusiastic about the joint as well, eagerly anticipating this evening’s official launch. “We have a lot of regulars who can’t wait to see our bartenders again,” said Kurt, who will be back behind the bar several nights a week to help Hell’s Kitcheners ring in the season. He emphasized that while they are looking forward to welcoming parties to the space, they’ve made sure to save plenty of prime shifts for casual drop-ins. “At its heart we are a Hell’s Kitchen restaurant, and we’ve never left the neighborhood. The neighborhood and our regulars are the reason we opened in the first place.”
As for when the snow clears, Maren said that the team has big plans for the Hell’s Kitchen space, which will launch a new, yet-to-be-announced concept in the new year. But will Santa and his reindeer get to return for happy hour next year? “Oh, yes. We’ll load it to the gills with decorations!” she said. Kurt was equally excited about the possibility of a yearly pop-up, adding: “I do miss the hustle and bustle of working in an actual restaurant. To know that I can go home every Christmas season to Hell’s Kitchen or whatever space they decide to recreate it in — I’ll be happy to go back every season. It’ll be a little nostalgic for me as well.”
Sleigh Bar is located at 754 9th Avenue (between W50th and W51st Street) and is open Wednesday through Saturday 5pm “until the last customer leaves!”. Private parties are available for booking through SleighBar@chowdownnyc.com.