99 Below 99 MacDougal St, Greenwich Village Rating: 4L's
Its name invokes extreme refrigeration, but 99 Below just means that it’s at 99 Macdougal and it’s an underground bar that you access through a narrow stairwell — like neighboring sloppy boozefest Down the Hatch. But the two bars’ similarities end with their subterranean stairways. Stepping through 99 Below’s etched-glass door, you enter a cool (vaguely Irish) oasis of candles and wood, far from the Macdougal Street fray of sweaty, aging frat men bellowing into cell phones about how wasted they are, how fucked up they used to be, and how many hours they’ve been both wasted and fucked up. It’s a solid option for West Villagers who’ve given up on their neighborhood’s watering holes.
Despite the fact that happy hour had long since ended, the bartender gave me my first and second drinks at happy hour prices: $3 for well drinks, wine and almost all draughts. The one beer whose price is never reduced is the unquestionably delicious Grimbergen, a special dark Belgian brew that’s rarely found on tap. And although the happy hour prices are alluring, there’s something about the bar’s elegant details and low profile that keeps out the sweaty bellowers. From the handsome wood surfaces to the candle sconces to the unobtrusive flat-screen TVs, each thoughtfully considered detail further establishes it as a neighborhood staple. And if you’re hungry, there’s a full menu. The Irish Nachos — a beautiful pile of golden fried potato slices bathed in melted cheeses, scallions, chives, and sour cream — are only $6 and amazing.
Opened three weeks ago, 99 Below will have its grand opening sometime this week or next, at which point I imagine its star will continue to rise, but hopefully not too high or crowdedly. It’s a calm, attractive, relatively cheap bar too cozy to be a destination for groups, but ideal for after-work beers with coworkers or a night of drinks with friends who aren’t in college or wishing they still were. Unpretentious and unassuming, 99 Below would be unimpeachably charming if it had wood floors instead of a seamless, nondescript light-brown substance covering its ground, but it does not.
And I’m bad at smell and food identification, but I’d like to imagine the constant delicious smells wafting through the place were roasting chicken, melting cheese, and frying potatoes. It also smelled like cigars. Thumbs up.