Restaurants & Bars | September 5, 2023 6:46 am

This NYC Distillery Is Celebrating Basquiat Through Whiskey and Art

The iconic artist is the inspiration behind a new pop-up speakeasy at Manhattan's Great Jones Distillery Co.

The new bottles of whiskey, food options, cocktails and more at the Basquiat pop-up speakeasy at Manhattan's Great Jones Distiling
Great Jones's Basquiat Bar
Great Jones Distilling Co

The spirit of Jean-Michel Basquiat — literally — has returned to Noho. The work of the legendary New York City artist, best known for his neo-expressionist paintings and graffiti art, is now featured on three bottles from Great Jones Distilling Co., Manhattan’s first and only whiskey distillery since Prohibition (it opened in August of 2021). It’s a fitting tribute, as the distillery is located just down the block from the site of Basquiat’s old apartment and art studio (Basquiat died in 1988 at the age of 27).

The bottles are part of a temporary popup within the distillery called The Basquiat Bar, where the basement of the Great Jones multi-floor distillery/restaurant/bar has been turned into an artist-themed speakeasy with tastings, events and a capsule collection of merchandise designed and produced by the NYC brand Rome Pays Off (the overall partnership was created in collaboration with Artestar, a global licensing agency and creative consultancy).

Two of the Basquiat-themed bottles from Great Jones and the bourbon brand's core release
Two of the Basquiat-themed bottles from Great Jones and the brand’s core bourbon release
Great Jones Distilling Co.

The Basquiat-inspired bottles feature the artist’s “Pez Dispenser” Dinosaur graphic, “Untitled, 1982” (Skull) and his “Untitled, 1982 (Crown).” The first two bottles — Great Jones x Jean Michel Basquiat Dinosaur Edition and Great Jones x Jean Michel Basquiat Skull Edition — contain 4-year-old Great Jones Straight Bourbon, while the third bottle — Great Jones x Jean Michel Basquiat Pineau de Charentes Wine Cask-Finished Bourbon Distillery Exclusive (with Basquiat’s iconic crown) — is a new project, a 7-year-old Pineau de Charentes Wine Cask-Finished Bourbon bottled at 91 proof.  

“We were talking to the family and they came to us with the idea and asked, what sort of liquid would go best with this collaboration?” says Great Jones Master Distiller Celina Perez, who studied art at NYU. “The liquid is unique and part of our experimental series, where we’re buying and aging our whiskey in these unique casks. It’s really pushing boundaries, and I think that coincides with how Basquiat was pushing the boundaries of the art world.”

Inside the First Whiskey Distillery In Manhattan Since Prohibition

The Great Jones Distilling Co. is an architectural triumph. Bourbon’s good, too.

And it’s true: while the Great Jones rye remains a favorite, the new distillery release has a unique profile, one that’s a bit drier with a little minerality, while also a bit smoother than the distillery’s core bourbon. It’s good news for fans of limited and special releases: Perez suggests they have about “20 different things going on,” from different grain bills to different barrel releases. Expect everything from a smoked rye to single malts in the coming years.

One of several Basquiat-themed rooms in the new Great Jones Distilling Co. speakeasy
One of several Basquiat-themed rooms (and a distillery-exclusive bottle) in the new pop-up
Great Jones Distilling Co.

The basement speakeasy Basquiat Bar, meanwhile, was inspired by the artist’s favorite bar (The Mudd Club) and highlights photos of the artist and friends, a couple of original Basquiat prints, and other interior designs inspired by the early 1980s. There’s also Basquiat’s New York, a tasting room in the distillery’s multi-sensory Barrel Room where guests can partake in a whiskey tasting surrounded by oversized Basquiat imagery. Other Basquiat-inspired moments at the distillery include a specialty cocktail class (every Wednesday and Saturday) and a bespoke, Basquiat-inspired cocktail served at the distillery’s Tasting Room.

The Basquiat Bar at Great Jones Distilling Co. (686 Broadway) is open Thu-Sat. from 6-10 pm through the end of September. You can book reservations here.