Inside Manhattan’s Milestone Great Jones Distilling Co

The first legal whiskey distillery in the borough since Prohibition is an architectural triumph with a must-visit restaurant

We first stepped into Manhattan’s 28,000-square-foot Great Jones Distilling Co at 686 Broadway in Noho when it opened back in August 2021. The highly anticipated distillery, restaurant, tasting room, speakeasy, immersive art experience and more had already begun to debut some of its many splendors—including a delectable straight bourbon that ranks among the best. Now, a handful of months later, Great Jones Distilling Co is in full operation and there are innumerable reasons to seek it out in person, from its eye-catching entry sculpture (a deconstructed Vendome still) to its four hospitality ventures and a set of top-notch, location-only liquids (a rye and a four-grain bourbon).

“The building is about 84 years old,” Andrew Merinoff, Great Jones Distilling Co’s project manager, tells us on our walkthrough. “It has a lot of history. It was the site where Manhattan’s first cash registers were made back in the day. Most recently, it was a discount sneaker store. The transformation has been extensive.” The project—helmed by Juan Domingo Beckmann, chief executive and founder of Proximo Spirits—began about six years ago, and included an 18-month search for the location. Throughout NYC, distilleries (and breweries for that matter) can only be developed in specific manufacturing zones. There are only a purported 122 buildings that qualify.

The extensive engineering and nuanced design astounds, whether looked at in detail or large-scale. It all begins in the lobby, which is paved with half-a-million tiles, some that curve alongside the spiral staircase which has a railing crafted from one single piece of steel. In addition to the copper sculpture (which nods to the educational aspects of the distillery), there’s also a host stand and gift shop where one first sees the three whiskeys and a slew of collaborations—including candles of Great Jones Distilling Co’s proprietary scent. Much like the lobby, the whiskeys themselves act as a microcosm for the entire project, whether that’s through their charming Art Deco design (based upon a curved bottled they found from a defunct Staten Island producer, but updated by Stranger and Stranger) or its 100% New York State agricultural composition.

You may wonder how a brand new distillery can sell aged whiskey. That was through advanced planning and a partnership with a sister distillery. Six years ago, Proximo Spirits started producing and aging whiskey in Upstate New York’s Black Dirt Distillery. In 2018, Proximo then bought that distillery outright. This whiskey—produced from 100% New York grain—is what’s in the bottle today. All the whiskey that’s distilled at Great Jones Distilling Co since its August opening makes its way to Black Dirt to age, as well.

Visitors at Great Jones Distilling Co can tour the state-of-the-art facility, but production attributes run through the entire venue. “You will never lose sight of the fact that you are in a manufacturing zone,” Merinoff tells us. “We are not trying to hide it; we are trying to embrace it. Every room you see in here has some element of manufacturing because it’s one of our core messages.” In fact, the explosion-proof glass chamber that houses two column stills (each 28 feet tall) and the intact 500-gallon Vendome pot still is visible from several floors.

To enter the production area, however, one witnesses what the brand calls “the world’s first vertical distillery.” As Merinoff explains, “We are in between two residential buildings. We had to build up. That led to several things. The floor that you are standing on used to be five feet higher, but because of a community board rule from the 1960s that only exists in Soho and Noho, that says you cannot distill above the second floor, we dropped the floor down.” Every time something in the layout moved on one floor, it shifted everything everywhere. According to Merinoff, there were over 6,000 floor plans.

There’s an admirable through-line to the bars on site: they only use New York State alcohol, whether that’s their own whiskeys or wines from the Finger Lakes and Long Island, as well as local ciders and beer. Directly above the lobby, visitors will find the richly decorated Tasting Room bar. Here, a menu of “classic-meets-modern cocktails” is supported by an inspired menu. Seats along the window offer a bird’s eye view of Broadway below.

Beyond the lobby, one floor down from the Tasting Room, executive chef Adam Raksin’s The Grid opened at the end of last year. This 72-seat contemporary American restaurant features elevated and reimagined classics with an emphasis on seasonal and local ingredients (drawn from New York State in particular), sometimes featuring a boozy flourish. Raksin, an alum of Le Cirque, Per Se, Benoit and more, even uses the spent grain from the distillery in his butter.

Beneath it all, visitors might even uncover the speakeasy, which has a real-life history as a rum-runners tunnel. While sitting at the subterranean bar here, guests will often hear the subway rumbling nearby, lending an exhilarating atmosphere. Of course, Great Jones Distilling Co is a distillery first and foremost, and none of this would matter if the whiskey weren’t as covetable as the groundbreaking story and nostalgic design. Fortunately, every sip is worth savoring, whether at the distillery or at home.

Images courtesy of Great Jones Distilling Co