In this edition of the Resy Rundown, we sat down with Ray Zhou to talk about his new bar, Chinato. Named not for the Italian wine of the same name, but instead as a reference for Zhou’s journey from China to New York City, Chinato is a labor of love from a bartender who trained at famed hot spots like Double Chicken Please and Compass.
Here’s everything you need to know before you go to Chinato.
1. The design of the bar is as creative as the menu.
The space was designed to allow the bartenders themselves to take center stage, with a central “island-style” bar without a front or back, allowing guests to see the drinks being made from all angles.
“I’ve been to a couple of bars in Europe and Asia that are doing this style of station,” Zhou says. “We thought that our guests would like to take photos from every angle of the bar space, or just walk around.”
The bar is also meant to make personal one-on-one service easier for the team Zhou has assembled. “The bartenders are working right next to our guests which means they can make drinks, take orders, and provide service,” Zhou says. “We wanted them to be able to do more than just make drinks.”
There’s also a more traditional bar setup that seats five, and table seating for up to 20. The rest of the interior is somewhat utilitarian, with lots of exposed brick, leather chairs, stainless steel, and a wooden ceiling.
2. Zhou’s time at Double Chicken Please and Compass helped inspire Chinato.
In June of 2021, Zhou joined the team at Double Chicken Please (DCP), which is known for their creative and robust cocktail program and was named the best bar in North America this year by The World’s 50 Best list. Eventually, after about a year, he was promoted to head of research and development.
“I polished my stirring and my shaking with them,” Zhou says. DCP’s high profile and relatively open bar setup helped Zhou get comfortable with the idea of setting up the bar as a stage. “You get used to people staring at you, looking at what you’re doing behind the bar. That’s a normal thing [now],” he notes.
Seeing other employees from DCP branch out on their own and start their own projects, or assist with other bar programs, inspired Zhou to do the same.
He plans to stay on the team at The Compass, an elegant rooftop cocktail bar in Flushing, where he has acted as the beverage director and head bartender, even while opening Chinato, his first-ever bar of his own.
3. The drinks are the stars of the show.
The cocktails are named for and inspired by favorite songs of Zhou’s. There’s the Gin & Juice (of course, inspired by the Snoop Dogg song of the same name), with gin, earl grey, grapefruit, strawberry, rhubarb, Campari, and clarified yogurt. There’s the eponymous Chinato (inspired by Bleachers’ “Chinatown”) served with Chinato, lychee, bayberry, goji berry, bourbon, and Ming River baijiu.
“Music is the language that lets you communicate with each other even if you don’t really speak the same language. It’s like a thing that can connect people from different backgrounds, different cultures and different experiences,” Zhou says.
Cocktails are served in delicate flutes, rocks glasses, and stemmed cups. And some of the elements for the cocktails take more than 10 hours to complete, like the infused gin and clarified yogurt that’s found in the Gin & Juice.
Over time, you can expect Zhou to roll out new cocktail menus, and you should definitely expect to see him behind the bar, too.
4. Come ready to eat, too.
The food at Chinato is worth a trip on its own, too; Zhaojin Dai, a sous chef at Michelin-starred Jungsik, consulted on the food menu, which consists mostly of bar snacks for now but will likely expand.
There’s a fluke “taco,” nestled into a seaweed shell with avocado and orange. Your usual bar fries are upgraded with wasabi, soy, and seaweed flakes. For a more substantial meal, there’s tenderloin with a Pixian bean paste sauce, and scallops served with fava beans, roasted garlic, pickled radishes, and microgreens. For dessert? A black rice pudding with mango and coconut.
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