I usually don't go out of my way to visit a new "regular" bar. But the idea of a highly regarded chef—in this case Sam Mason of Tailor, the SoHo restaurant which used to contain an estimable cocktail bar manned by Eben Freeman—opening a bar with ostensibly no frills and no gimmicks was tantalizing enough for me to drop by the newly unveiled Lady Jay's on Grand Street in Williamsburg.
Indeed, there's nothing special here. Just a nice, solid bar. Exposed brick walls; booth up front; stools around the bar; a jukebox; a Shuffle Bowl game; and a draft and bottle beer lists where nothing pierces the $6 ceiling. The only things that gives the joint an interesting edge are the absolutely huge, airy backyard deck in the back; and the fact that Sam Mason—tall, lanky, tattooed, handsome—is making drinks behind the bar.
Still, I can't help but think that Mason has something up his sleeve, and that he will stealthily haul out some secret weapons in the weeks and months to come. Why? Something about the way he meticulously prepared a couple of Bloody Marys. He was very chef-like about it. It took him forever, as he carefully dosed the tomato juice with hot sauce, tasting it often until he hit upon the right level of hotness. He added a pickle spear and skewered four olives with great care. All these vegetables were from storebought jars, so they weren't fancy. Yet, he handled them with kid gloves. Then, as he handed the cocktail over, he mentioned something about a shellfish Bloody Mary making an appearance next week. The man has some ideas in his head.
My guess is Lady Jay's will be popular with bartenders from other bars when they get off their shirts. It's elemental and basic, with an unspoken serious touch. Which is what a lot of bartenders are looking for in their off hours.