Backbar: An Asian-Inspired Reflection Of Hudson
By Jamie Larson
There are few places in Hudson, New York that encapsulate the enigmatic modern style of the hip city as succinctly as Backbar. It’s a bit of a living altar to all the things that have come to define Hudson over the past two decades: art, antiques, historic architecture with a trademark layer of sexy grime, incredible food and booze, and a collective demeanor of crocodilian calm – laid back but ready to snap, strong and well designed by time.
To imbue this complex identity into a casual bar and restaurant is an impressive feat. Backbar is the collaborative fruit of two of the city’s best known tastemakers, architect/designer Michael Davis and restaurateur/chef/author Zakary Pelaccio. Tucked behind Davis’ well-known 3FortySeven gallery (at 347 Warren Street) and opening onto a large hidden courtyard through big garage doors, Backbar is an urban oasis decked out in a curated hodgepodge. The design of the space, which has been slowly evolving since it opened in 2015, combines both refined elements that belie the city’s high-end commercial tastes and more worn industrial pieces that accent the historical texture of the bar, formerly a gas station. A heavy dose of vegetation surrounds and adds a secret garden feel to the outdoor seating area.
Into this unique environment Pelaccio (of Fish and Game and formerly Fatty Crab and Fatty Que in NYC) has added a menu of Asian-inspired small plates that are a casual culmination of his years of culinary study of regional Asian cuisine and his obsession with farm-to-table cooking. The food is exciting and challenging at times — but enjoyably so.
A great way to start your evening, after ordering your drinks, is with the spicy eggplant dip called Nam Prik ($8), which comes with slightly sweet and slightly briny puffy shrimp chips, which are surprisingly satisfying. There are a number of dishes excellent for picking at between sips or sentences. Try an order of chicken wings in a garlic, pepper, curry leaf and fish sauce glaze ($9) or the iceberg wedge with smoked trout, Asian dried anchovy, coconut and mint ($12). They also serve up three types of satay skewers to mix and match including pork belly ($4), taro cake ($3) and skirt steak ($4).
Pelaccio isn’t afraid of spice or assertive flavors, which is welcome. It wouldn’t fit the space to serve safe, predictable bar food (even if it were elevated, as so much is in Hudson). The food, like the space, feels alive and vital. You feel like a part of a conversation.
For slightly more substantial dishes, there’s fried chicken with a chili-honey-vinegar sauce ($15), a spicy shaved pork laab, with fresh bibb lettuce for wrapping and cutting the heat ($14), assam laksa made with mackerel, noodles, pineapple, cucumber, chilies and cilantro ($15), and quite a bit more. All the “mains” are conducive to sharing with a group with the aid of a couple bowls of rice (additional $3 unless listed).
It should be mentioned that Backbar is also a fabulous bar. The bartenders are skilled and make excellent versions of your go-to cocktail. But if you’re looking for something different, they offer signature drinks including the expertly balanced mixture Cat’s Pajamas with chamomile-infused gin, lemon, honey, egg white and Szechuan pepper ($12). Or the whimsical slushy Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire ($13) that’s got a lot going on. That icy adventure mixes mezcal, Thai chili infused Aperol, lime, smoked agave and sumac. And, of course, the beer selection is excellent and focuses on local craft brews.
Backbar is a social place and the food reflects that; the dishes are easy to share or you can just linger beside your beverage as you drink alone. But even if you do show up by yourself, you’re likely to find yourself in conversation with a stranger or someone you haven’t seen in a while. There’s always a comfortable mix of tourists and natives in the courtyard, which gives off a feel of something happening, something unique and unmistakably Hudson.
347 Warren Street, Hudson, NY
Sunday – Thursday, noon–midnight
Friday and Saturday, noon – 1 a.m.