Working the bar and restaurant beat for the last few years means I've seen my fair share of taxidermy. The moose head at Alphabet City spot Bedlam, however, takes the cake. It's absolutely humongous. When I first saw it, the only thing I could do was mutter incoherently at the beautiful bartender (something like "Uh, wow, big!") and then look up the average size of a moose on Wikipedia (7 feet at the shoulder).
Even though the vintage thing has been done to death, the owners, illustrator Pablo Raimondi and Anderson Cooper-dater Benjamin Maisani, have executed the look to perfection. Medical diagrams, antique mirrors, taxidermy and assorted curios are scattered throughout the bar, yet the place never looks cluttered, thanks to elements like sleek red leather banquettes and flattering lighting. Raimondi and Maisani say the look is inspired by London's Bethlem Royal Hospital, also known as "Bedlam," a mental institution infamous for a past full of inhumane treatment. It's not hard to imagine one of its patients tearing out pages of Victorian-era novels and plastering them all over the walls, although in reality artist Sean Scherer, who designed the place, probably hired someone to do that.
Taken as a whole, the look at Bedlam could be summed up as "upscale artsy," as if everyone had just come from a gallery or loft party. When planning a visit, know that the bar kind of leads a double life. During the week, it looks like it could be any bar in Brooklyn, a spot for bearded men and friends to kick back with a cold brew or two. On Friday and Saturday nights, the unofficial dance party (the space lacks a cabaret license) begins, with top downtown DJs spinning an eclectic mix of 80s and electro tunes from the serious-looking DJ booth overlooking the unofficial dance floor.
Despite boasting 1,600 square feet, the space manages to feel intimate, with a back room that can be reserved for special occasions. It is an undeniably beautiful bar, proving sometimes you don't have to be original to succeed; you just have to execute a tired and true formula better than everybody else does.