In our series Office Crush, we’re asking people with the coolest jobs to take us to work. Up next, Katie Rue, the owner of Reception Bar on the Lower East Side, lets us shadow her for a day of cocktail creating, tea tasting, and tamales.
Katie Rue knows a thing or two about setting a vibe. Her (almost) all-day cocktail bar, Reception Bar, lures pedestrians off a quiet stretch of Orchard Street through circular doors that shine natural light (a prized New York real-estate commodity) over thriving houseplants and chubby pink booths.
These design elements may sound like millennial bait, but the aesthetic has a deeper meaning: The round doors welcome visitors by echoing the design of arched Korean garden gates, and the colorful prints wrapping everything from menus to matches are pulled from blown-up vintage Korean postage stamps. For Rue, a 27-year-old former options trader turned bar owner, every aspect of Reception Bar is an opportunity to celebrate Korean culture.
“I chose the name Reception Bar for the idea of being able to receive your heritage with love and have a lot of pride in being Korean American, and on the flip side, for people coming in to be receptive of understanding this culture,” she says. “We used a lot of vintage Korean stamps for the branding to go with the idea of sending and receiving gifts, and our menus have garden imagery to suggest that the fruits of the garden are in your drinks, because we make everything in house.”
Infused soju forms the backbone of almost every cocktail on the menu, from re-interpreted martinis to Yong Blood, a throat-clearing, eye-wateringly fiery blend of bokbunja wine, yumberry, and Korean green pepper soju. There’s also a fleet of non-alcoholic elixirs that eschew sugary juices for shimeji mushroom shrubs and single-origin teas, inspired by the traditional Korean medicines and home remedies Rue grew up with. “My drinks don’t follow industry rules or standard measurements, but it works because what I’m trying to do isn’t something you can find in a classic cocktail book,” she says.
Running a bar is a constant exercise in creative problem solving, from dealing with ingredient shortages to brainstorming new drinks. Luckily, she’s learning to embrace the unexpected. “At the beginning, there were surprises that would overwhelm or stress me out almost every day,” she says. “Now I know there’s always going to be something and to stay calm and work toward a solution.”