Spur Tree opened last November and was known as Red Stripe — after owner Marc Solomon’s old Soho bar — but as of this month it’s Spur Tree, for the eponymous umbrella-shaped hot-weather tree; for a town in Jamaica; and because the Red Stripe label is owned by Guinness (learning something every day!). The change was good — naming a bar after a country’s best-known beer (like opening a Coors Light in Kingston) plays to the lowest common social denominator, undermining the fact that Spur Tree’s not a cheesy beer bar cashing in on spring breaaak! stereotypes of sweaty, sloppy drinking that’s sooo chill and wicked rad.
That said, I do like Red Stripe beer (it feels like I’m drinking antique medicine), and the rest of Spur Tree’s drinks, like the barely, perfectly sweet and extraordinarily fresh Watermelon Mojito ($7) — made from just-crushed, blush-pink fruit and hand-smashed liquid ginger, if you’d like, poured into a tall glass over mint leaves and hunks of ice — are nicely priced, although there’s not too much selection. A couple wines and five bottled beers (Dragon Stout, Chimay Ale, Tsingtao, Hoegaarden and Guinness, about $5 each) round out the list.
But the food! It’s phenomenal, and all of it costs less than $10, like the Grilled Jerk Wings with Chipotle Mango BBQ sauce ($7), which were tangy, gargantuan jewels of sweet, glistening heat, juicy but with strips of crunch in their jerk-cloaked skin — unbelievably good. Cheaper, smaller snacks, like the Panko-crusted Sweet Plantains dusted with ginger and cinnamon ($4) or the Organic Patties ($5) of spiced meat packed into toasty pockets of dough, would very nicely accompany a round of relaxed pre-dinner drinks.
The bar is, like most others squeezed carefully into the Lower East Side, long and slender, giving it a delicate feel, especially when the lights are on too brightly (which they are before 8pm). Red droplets of hanging light lead from the sleekly earthy front to the more rugged back and a lovely outdoor patio. Calm reggae plays constantly, but it’s never very loud (until late night, when DJs step in). I’d lose the off-white canvas barstool slipcovers, which add to the front room’s very occasional lapses into primness, but that’s about my only complaint.
The staff was great and seemed genuinely happy to be there. I was too. If I lived any closer, I’d eat and drink there all the time, but I’d keep it a secret so only my friends and I knew about it. But I don’t live close by, so maybe that fantasy Lower East Side resident can be you.