Since it comes from Employees Only owner Billy Gilroy, I figured the East Side Social Club, on E. 51st between Second and Third, was worth an inspection, cocktail-wise. I'm all for a new place to go to for a well-honed Negroni in the drinking wasteland of Midtown.
As the name suggests, this Italian restaurant leans heavy on the irony, trying to strike a self-conscious balance between the old red-sauce, Mobbed-up joints of the past, and the hip, stylish, retro hangouts of today. There are wall murals, and photos of Sinatra and Marciano. But the decor is miles beyond that which you'd find in a true goombah place in terms of taste. I wonder how many people who frequent the place are actually aware of the dual aesthetic.
Perhaps as a way of adhering to its regular-guy ideal, the cocktail program makes more than a nod to the hoi-polloi. It's not genteel. No rarefied concoctions and tiny-precious glasses here. There's a lot of vodka (five cocktails in the spring menu use it as their base by my count) and the coupes verge on the size of a small punch bowls. I sampled the Upper East Side, a blend of cucumber vodka shaken with mint leaves and lemon juice, served straight up, because the menu said it was the place's most popular tipple. It sounded simple, and it tasted simple. Not too exciting.
ESSC casts a nice spotlight on the classic Negroni, making it with Old Tom Gin, and offers it served up or on the rocks with an orange twist. (The latter is my preference.) There's also an interesting emphasis on bygone dessert drinks you don't see very often anymore, like the Grasshopper, Pink Lady and Golden Dream. Nice to see the owners not being afraid of looking like cocktail squares by including those drinks. Let's just hope they actually taste good, not ironic.
Sure there is nepotism at work here, but Gilroy the chef seems to have earned his spot by cooking at both Chanterelle and A Voce. He'll be putting out a Italian American menu with crudo and raw bar specials, homemade pastas, and Berkshire pork chops. Of course, cocktails will get special attention.
The 113 seat space is divided into a bar, a main dining room, and a semi-private room on a raised platform. Dinner starts tonight, late night next Monday, and lunch and breakfast next month. Find more info here and see the menu below.