Alphabet City cocktail joint Elsa was a pleasant surprise this past Saturday night, the usual bullshit kept to a minimum while still putting on a bit of a show. People can’t call a place “theirs” unless it has some kind of buzz attached, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s nice to write home to mom about sitting next to Leonardo Dicaprio from time to time. But isn’t it lovely to alleviate that crick in your neck from all the rubbernecking, pop into a place that doesn’t require lists or ropes, and still feel rather discerning about where you’ve chosen to spend your Saturday night? Elsa wasn’t a waste of time or an outfit.
As four friends who’d spent the day drinking and I wandered up Avenue B, I cringed to see that Elsa had a doorman. I was quite certain our plans were about to be derailed, but the doorman wasn’t a doorman, in the sense that he didn’t ask us about our 50:50 ratio, or utter the bemoaned “not tonight” catch phrase (a favorite among “clandestine” bars). He was a sweet, accommodating employee who was outside trying to work crowd control. “Just waiting for a table to get up and we can get you seated right away,” said the non-doorman. “The bartenders are just getting a little backed up.”
One minute later we were seated at a little white table inside the whitewashed, candlelit bar. The rustic space seems for a country restaurant, and the vibe is just as friendly. There were subtly-stylish pockets of people who took to table-hopping, the groups melting into one another and talking closely in dimly lit-corners. It’s easy to see why the bartenders were in the weeds: the main event of the place isn’t the rigmarole of getting in, but rather, the meticulously crafted cocktails. While they’re very good, they’re also not very intimidating – entry-level mixology for patrons who haven’t yet picked a nightlife major. We ordered the flavorful Black Book cocktail (how appropriate!) which included fresh jalapeno, bourbon, honey, lemon, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. At $10 a pop, it’s certainly a reasonably-priced selection considering the company a place like Elsa keeps (Death & Co., Mayahuel, PDT). Overall, it was an aspirational mixology den for a younger, more enthusiastic, downtown crowd, whose shining warmth left the space void of many of the pretenses you’d find in lounges of a similar makeup. A comfortable place where you can dress up if you’d like, and let seep into your Saturday night.
Overheard: “I wouldn’t necessarily call David Lynch a feminist.” “I can’t believe the Gators lost to LSU.” Waitress Doppleganger: Marion Cotillard dressed as Wednesday Adams. Cocktail: The Black Book Price Range: $$ Undernotes: Trivial pursuit buffs rejoice: cocktails with names like Picnic at Hanging Rock, and The Passenger, reference film. Invitation to a Beheading is the name of a Russian novel, while the Maddow Swizzle seems to be a pop culture reference. Try to connect them? Perk: Reasonably priced bottles of wine.