Emperor’s-New-Clothes Alert: First Café Serving Only Water Opens in NYC

Dinner is served.

“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. The New 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.