New York | October 9, 2020 12:25 pm

NYC Now Has a Rooftop Whisky Bar Engineered for Social Distancing

A new omakase restaurant/whisky bar turns COVID-safe dining into an elevated experience

The Westerly
Sunset views at The Westerly, a new rooftop concept
The Westerly

It’s not all doom and gloom for intrepid diners and drinkers in New York City. We’ve actually seen a ton of new restaurants and bars open in the last few months, and plenty of old standbys have gotten creative with outdoor space and redefine what it is to be an eating and drinking venue in a time of pandemic.

That said, I really wanted to get off the street.

And that formerly simple act can be accomplished at the just-launched o.d.o by ODO at The Westerly (39 E. 13th Street), a new dining concept that would work wonderfully in pre-2020 times. But for this year, it’s a revelation: a beautiful, purposely minimalist rooftop retreat with few guests, plenty of space and air and a memorable menu for both food and cocktails.

Odo was designed by Philip Wu Architects, an architecture firm based in Union Square whose portfolio includes the Miho Institute of Aesthetics campus located outside of Kyoto, a collaboration with io Architects and the late I.M. Pei. The restaurant is ensconced in a building penthouse with an outdoor terrace (seating six) overlooking Union Square and Greenwich Village, with an additional 12 seats available when and for as long as indoor dining restrictions are lifted. 

Admittedly, the rooftop haven wasn’t actually imagined as a COVID-era response to fine dining. “The Westerly was originally conceived as a private event space featuring executive chefs for different nights of the week,” as designer Philip Wu tells us. “The concept had to evolve due to COVID-19.  Since outdoor space is a premium, we made our roof terrace as the focal feature.”

Construction for the space actually started in February but had to be paused until July. According to Wu, the design “evolved to meet the hygiene requirements” of our pandemic time. A few examples: A hand sink was placed at the reception area so diners can immediately clean and sanitize once they enter. A retractable sun/rain canopy was installed to cover the entire width of the terrace, along with exterior heating and evaporative cooling equipment. “These are unique features not many event spaces can offer,” Wu admits. 

There are two different, limited-time experiences available now at The Westerly: A whisky bar featuring rare and hard-to-find spirits from the House of Suntory (Chita, Hakushu, Hibiki, Toki and Yamazaki are some offered examples) paired with small bites by Chef Hiroki Odo is now available on Thursday evenings, with a last seating at 9:00 pm. For $200 per person, you’ll get beverage and food pairings, while Suntory premium whiskies come at an additional charge; reservations can be made at whisky.reservation@gmail.com.

Outside the rare whiskies, the Suntory cocktails we tried at a pre-opening event were delicious — and also light and surprisingly fruity. “I wanted to keep the drinks minimal in their ingredients but concentrated in their flavor: both out of a respect to the spirits themselves, and also in deference to the wonderful fresh produce we’ve been able to obtain as the season has shifted,” explains Jordan David Smith, the head bartender and spirits director. “And keeping the drinks on the lighter side just felt natural given our al fresco setting.” 

The Westerly
There can be a pleasant minimalism in the new normal
The Westerly

On Fridays and Saturdays, meanwhile, two-star Michelin chef Chef Eji Ichimura collaborates on an omakase dining experience with Chef Odo; these are $350 per person with beverage pairings available, and there only 20 guests per day — half at a 5:30 pm seating, the other at 8:30 pm. Reservations can be made at sushi.reservation@gmail.com.

Cheap? No. Memorable? Absolutely, and a wonderful, uplifting dining respite from the last seven months.