Passing the Bar: Elsa
In a relative blink of the eye, the former East Village dive Hanger Bar—and, before that, the legendary Plant Bar—has transformed into a spiffy, retro cocktail bar with alteration services.
At the risk of sounding like Cindy Adams: Only in New York, kids, only in New York.
Gone are the grungy interiors, pool table and the grimy, door-less bathroom of Hanger. In its place, Elsa exhibits a stylized ambiance similar to that of Schiller’s Liquor Bar or Little Branch. The transformation is like having the Barnes and Noble at Astor Place suddenly, unceremoniously become a David Barton Gym. I was left stunned, wary and baffled.
For starters, Elsa’s interiors are golden-lit by dozens of old-school light bulbs. Wire filaments glow warmly in the elongated bulbs, accenting the gleaming white subway tile that lines the walls. Hanger and Elsa have the same owners, and the renovation is clearly a matter of black and white. Where Hanger was a narrow, dark little bar, Elsa has been opened up with creamy, ivory interiors and décor that’s preciously reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The bathrooms now sport varnished doors salvaged from old hotels, and the menus are covered in old hardback book covers.
Winston S. Churchill’s Painting as a Past-time concealed a marginally original cocktail menu.
The Elsa’s Cocktail—applejack, gruet, Blanc de ment, lemon and orange bitters—was served with a brown-sugar cube dropped in an old fashioned champagne glass. Though pretty and fizzy and not cloying, it was also gone in a flash and left me with nary a buzz by which to remember it. Never one to let a weak cocktail get me down, I pushed onward to the martini.
Smooth gin, a touch too wet for my taste and oddly served with an orange peel rather than an olive. While enjoyable, the martini was less like a knockout punch from a contending flyweight and more like a chuff on the chin from an affectionate uncle.
Now, let’s talk about the totally ridiculous alteration services. It’s a cute idea, and the tailor sitting in the shop window was as stylized as the rest of the bar. (Bless her soul, but Twiggy must not have heard that it was pitch black and pouring outside when she chose to wear that floppy black hat—indoors.) Still, the gimmick is rather confusing: As in, who gets his clothes tailored at a bar on a Thursday night? Perhaps Elsa is trying to take a note from Employee’s Only, the faux Prohibition-era speakeasy with a palm reader in the false storefront. Or maybe I’m just not as sartorially sensitive as the rest of Alphabet City.
The music at Elsa nails the bar’s target audience. The combination of Blondie, Grandaddy and Sparklehorse form a musical cup with which to catch the hipster overflow from Williamsburg.
Nonetheless, the yuppie-priced cocktails might alienate the jobless crowd, and Elsa, while pretty and fizzy, might well be subject to the fate of so many new establishments face now—wherein we all wait to see if and how long it lasts.
217 East 3rd St. (betw. Aves. B & C), 917-882-7395
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