Craft cocktail bars are a dime a dozen in New York, though finding one exclusively focused on clarified cocktails is another story. As of late last year, Jelas officially opened its doors in NYC’s Union Square neighborhood—and its unique focus is as clear as day.
Jelas, which translates to ‘clear’ in the Malay language, features thoughtfully-crafted drinks created from bases of various milk-washed spirits. The bar was created by Colin Stevens, managing partner of Singlish, a speakeasy-style bar conveniently located upstairs from the newly opened concept. While both establishments draw inspiration from the great cocktail bars of Singapore, Jelas takes it a step further, focusing solely on clarified cocktails—in other words, spirits crafted with the addition of whole milk, which is then curdled and strained out with a cheesecloth, coffee filter, or centrifuge. The result? A crystal-clear, flavor-packed craft cocktail.
Stevens notes that creating milk punch-inspired bases is no easy feat, though the concept of milk-washed spirits plays an imperative role in understanding the history of cocktail creations. Stevens notes that milk-washed spirits date back to the 1600s and first originated in Great Britain. While the meticulous creation process had long fallen out of style—likely due to its laborious nature—numerous cocktail bars in Singapore have worked to bring back the tradition. In New York, Stevens hopes to do the same.
In addition to his love of Southeast Asian flavors, Stevens also brings another one of his passions, sustainability, to the forefront of Jelas’ operations. The bar operates on a zero-waste approach, ensuring that all produce, peels, and ingredients are used in either food or cocktail creations. Simple bar additions, such as straws, come from natural sources like bamboo. With regards to interior design, Stevens sticks to the all-clear theme as closely as possible, adding a number of glass chandeliers, decanters, and other crystal accents to the dimly lit space.
Like the bar itself, Jelas’ menu offerings are small yet fierce. Just a handful of cocktails grace the thoughtfully-crafted menu, featuring the Singapore Sling, a frothy Vietnamese Coffee, and a riff on the classic margarita made with Szechuan pepper. An offering of small bites include Vietnamese spring rolls, dumplings, and glass noodles in chili oil, but don’t plan on coming to the bar too hungry. I recommend arriving early, as the bar’s cozy ambiance fits just 12 guests at a time—and be sure to budget in some time to visit Singlish upstairs for more extensive food and beverage options.