Green Room

Emperor’s-new-clothes alert: First café serving only water opens in NYC

posted at 2:19 pm on July 21, 2012 by

“I’ll start with an order of water, move on to some H20, and, to drink, I’d like a glass of your finest vintage water.”

The above restaurant order is fictitious but the menu is not. Neither is the restaurant. Its name is Molecule, and it is the first water-only café to open in New York City and possibly the nation.

So what’s so special about the water at Molecule? Is it distilled from the most pristine mountain stream on the planet? No, actually it comes from a New York City tap, but the restaurant justifies charging $1 and up per serving because their water is filtered through a custom-built $25,000 purifier that “uses ultraviolet rays, ozone treatments and reverse osmosis in a seven-stage processing treatment.”

An article in the Wall Street Journal (one of few positive reviews) hails Molecule as “a cocktail bar for water enthusiasts,” though those who prefer to do their drinking in private can always order 3- and 5-gallon jugs of the store’s “pharmaceutical-grade water” for home delivery (via tricycle!).

Adam Ruhf, one the café’s co-owner, told DNAinfo.com, “It’s about treating water a little more consciously, mindfully and respectfully. We are trying to change the way people think about water.”

So far, food critics have been less than enthusiastic. TheNew York Post‘s Steve Cuozzo conducted a blind taste test comparing Molecule’s fancified tap water with bottled varieties from Poland Spring, Evian, Fiji, and plain unadulterated tap water. His verdict: “Molecule was the only one I didn’t like,” adding that their product is “’pure’ nonsense,” pun intended.

Other notices include Jen Doll’s at the Atlantic Wire (“Artisanal water: It’s what you sell when people will buy anything”) and James King’s at The Village Voice (“Calling all suckers …. We’re not sure what’s more unsettling: the fact that an East Village business is selling tap water for $2.50 a bottle, or that countless idiots will probably buy it”).

When asked what he thought of New York water straight from the tap, Ruhf snuffed:

Terrible. I don’t want chemicals in my water. I don’t even want chlorine in my water. Chlorine is like bleach. Do you want to drink bleach? No one wants to drink bleach. So that’s my opinion on New York tap water.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection begs to differ. A spokesperson for the agency insists the Big Apple’s tap water “is among the safest, highest quality in the world, a standard we confirm through more than 500,000 tests each year.”

Finally, consider that a panel of “the finest pizza palates in New York” assembled for an episode of Food Networks Food Detectives to test the proposition that New York pizza is great because of the water used in making the dough. As you can see for yourself in this video capture of the segment, the four were unanimous in giving the water a thumbs-up.

Considering New Yorkers’ jaded palates and their tireless pursuit of new culinary thrills and spills, don’t be surprised if Molecule catches on. Should you decide to make a pilgrimage to the East Village to try out this rarefied elixir for yourself, remember to monitor your limit. Quaff down more than 16 fluid ounces, and you could find yourself butting heads with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s food police.

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Seems like a good business model. Water is cheap, and as you say countless idiots will be willing to pay for it.

Mr. Prodigy on July 21, 2012 at 3:14 PM

About ten years ago Woody Harrelson opened “Oxygen,” a bar in Los Angeles in which you paid about $20 to inhale a few puffs of oxygen from a medical oxygen tank.

“Molecule” is practically a legitimate business compared to “Oxygen.”

Needless to say, the air bar didn’t last long. Even in LA, there are limits to absurdity.

Zombie on July 21, 2012 at 3:24 PM

Zombie on July 21, 2012 at 3:24 PM

BMTI. Just like oxy bars in the 90s.

I bet the water does taste really good though.

WeekendAtBernankes on July 21, 2012 at 3:53 PM

“Molecule” is practically a legitimate business compared to “Oxygen.”Zombie on July 21, 2012 at 3:24 PM

Wait til cap n trade. Oxygen bar as a global madate…tax…penalty.

onomo on July 21, 2012 at 4:25 PM

Okay, sure, go drink sanitized NYC water at Molecule, then afterward go walking right through all the vehicle exhaust around town and breathe it in with all the other unspeakable contaminants swirling through the air like you’ll find in any major city on the planet and then tell me what benefit you got from that uber-filtered water.

stukinIL4now on July 21, 2012 at 4:41 PM

Thanks for this article, Mr. Portnoy. IT confirms my long held opinion that foolishness runs to the ‘molecular’ level.

thatsafactjack on July 21, 2012 at 4:58 PM

“I don’t drink water. Fish f**k in it.”~~W.C. Fields

mrt721 on July 21, 2012 at 5:16 PM

What, exactly, is the point of this piece?

Dante on July 21, 2012 at 7:42 PM

What, exactly, is the point of this piece?

Dante on July 21, 2012 at 7:42 PM

You were expecting something else, weren’t you?

WeekendAtBernankes on July 21, 2012 at 8:00 PM

Oh, we all know you’ll figure out a way to blame the Jews somehow Dante…

catmman on July 21, 2012 at 9:09 PM

How does the old joke go?

No thanks, I’m thirsty, not dirty.

Laura in Maryland on July 22, 2012 at 12:19 AM

No, actually it comes from a New York City tap, but the restaurant justifies charging $1 and up per serving because their water is filtered through a custom-built $25,000 purifier that “uses ultraviolet rays, ozone treatments and reverse osmosis in a seven-stage processing treatment.”

Funny, I’m pretty sure the 35 cent/gallon vending machine outside the grocery store I used to go to did the same thing.

Count to 10 on July 22, 2012 at 10:37 AM

What, exactly, is the point of this piece?

Dante on July 21, 2012 at 7:42 PM

Whether natural born water is better than native born water.

cozmo on July 22, 2012 at 10:59 AM

If people will pay upwards of $5 for a bottle of water, why wouldn’t they pay to drink it at a “cafe”? (Cafe means “coffee,” of course.)

J.E. Dyer on July 22, 2012 at 11:15 AM

Now here’s a business venture I would believe that Barack Obama built.

Transpo on July 22, 2012 at 11:45 AM

“I’d like an order of water please”

“And how would you like your ice? Crushed, cubed, or on the side?”

BobMbx on July 22, 2012 at 11:52 AM

“And how would you like your ice? Crushed, cubed, or on the side?”

Whoa, there! Ice has to be extra. If you use ordinary tap water to make the ice cubes, you’re tainting the whole experience. Ice, I suspect, is a secondary profit stream.

Howard Portnoy on July 22, 2012 at 12:06 PM

Solyndra, dba Molecule.

Left Coast Right Mind on July 22, 2012 at 12:09 PM

I remember the old days when a restaurant would give you a free glass of water just for showing up.

kbTexan on July 22, 2012 at 3:52 PM

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection begs to differ. A spokesperson for the agency insists the Big Apple’s tap water “is among the safest, highest quality in the world, a standard we confirm through more than 500,000 tests each year.”

Let me guess, his name is Bobby Boucher.

RickB on July 22, 2012 at 4:21 PM

New Yorkers are so stupid. This business sounds like it has a Glacier Water Dispenser in the back. I have one at my local HEB Grocery store and it charges 35 cents a gallon for water treated the same way.

What a joke.

Robert Jensen on July 22, 2012 at 6:24 PM

This could be a satire on the Bloomberg Nanny City.

njcommuter on July 23, 2012 at 2:50 AM

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection begs to differ. A spokesperson for the agency insists the Big Apple’s tap water “is among the safest, highest quality in the world, a standard we confirm through more than 500,000 tests each year.”

I’ll bet it takes a lot of unionized gubmit workers to conduct 500K tests every year. The NY Dept of Environmental Protection probably has a huge sub-bureaucracy just for water quality.

Marcola on July 23, 2012 at 2:47 PM