Nurse Bettie is the kind of place I really wanted to hate. A self-proclaimed “upscale dive” on the LES — a neighborhood already choked by bars along that continuum — with pin-up-based décor done by a fancy designer (studioTEKA), and covered by Daily Candy-to-the-iBankers mailing list Thrillist well before it opened, it just seemed like the sort of bar that I could safely despise. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you aren’t a bitter crone), it turns out to be a really nice little spot.
First of all, the drink prices are actually reasonable. Usually, “upscale dive” means a place that looks as shitty as a dive bar but inexplicably charges as much as a fancy place. Not so with Nurse Bettie. The design is retro without being cloying or creepy grandma’s house-like: a couple of big paintings of pretty pin-up ladies, atomic cluster bubble lights, and lots of exposed brick. Though it’s small, the extra row of bar stools opposite the bar and the couches in the front area provide lots of seating.
Drinks are good and well made, and priced squarely in the area of fair-for-Manhattan. They don’t have a huge wine list or tons of beers on tap, but they do pass the “What Kind?” test that in my mind distinguishes actual dive bars from nicer places (i.e., if the response to “I’ll have a glass of red wine” is not “What Kind?” then it’s a dive.) They’ve got a specialty drink menu that stars a bubblegum martini, which I looked at but did not try because I may be a girl but I am not a pussy. I was assured that it was delicious. Food-wise, I was told you can order in from Schiller’s if you want. There are also approximately 85 adorable small plates restaurants in stumbling distance, as well as Congee Village.
The bad news is that since Nurse Bettie is a new-ish, kinda tiny, much reviewed, actually good bar, it will be a total dildo factory a lot of the time. It’s small enough that one or two groups of crappy jerks would probably make it uninhabitable. Still, though, it should be a nice place to go on a weeknight, maybe killing time before a show or having some drinks with pals. Such is the fate of anything new and nice on the Lower East Side, I’m afraid. Sigh.