With the return of indoor dining last Month, Tørst owner Bartley Cohen and beverage director Mark Verling are looking ahead at what the pandemic means for the Scandinavian-inspired, beer-focused bar and restaurant’s future.
Despite the toll the pandemic has taken on the food and beverage industry, Cohen admitted Tørst had gotten lucky with their outdoor space at 615 Manhattan Ave. That being said, news of indoor dining reopening was still met with both happiness and eagerness.
“Since we’ve been up and running the whole time, I think the transition to indoor dining has been fairly seamless because our staff is still here,” Cohen admitted. “I think if we would’ve closed, it would’ve been much more of a project to restart the restaurant. Moving indoors wasn’t a problem. We could’ve done it if they would’ve given us one-day notice. We were ready to serve people.”
That being said, Cohen did lament about the unsustainability of the lower capacity restriction compared to the 50% capacity allowed in other parts of New York State.
“We’ll just follow the rules, and it makes a big difference; it’s not a sustainable business model, but it’s a starting point,” Cohen said.
To prepare in alignment with said rules, the restaurant was outfitted with plexiglass between tables and approved filtration systems, as well as adding heaters in ventilated outdoor seating.
“A lot of it’s invisible to make the staff feel more comfortable, and a lot of it’s physical that you’ll see to try and make customers feel more comfortable,” Cohen said. “Because if customers don’t feel comfortable, they’re obviously not gonna sit with us. “
Despite changing pandemic restrictions and precautions, one constant keeps Tørst’s customers coming back: A dedication to a great beer and natural wine selection. This includes two collaboration beers with Hermit Thrush Brewery in Vermont that will debut towards the end of March.
And aside from their more signature beverage offerings, the rise in pandemic food-and-drink trends did not go unnoticed by beverage director Verling, who swiftly worked to secure a frozen drink machine and shift more focus to Tørst’s cocktail program.
“Frozen cocktails became the hottest thing in New York City; it’s as if they were just invented and everyone had just discovered them,” Verling reflected. “We jumped on board and got a frozen cocktail machine and started making a bunch of really fun cocktails. Our liquor and cocktail offerings have been a fun thing that we’ve been exploring … it’s looked after with the same care and attention that our beer program is.”
Despite learning a lesson about the value of a frozen marg, the biggest takeaway was about the importance of a good staff willing to stay on board to navigate the balancing act of restaurant safety and customer comfort.
“Tørst wouldn’t have been able to make it without the staff,” Cohen emphasized. “A lot of staff members have stayed on through the pandemic just hoping to get to the other side.”