Shoolbred’s 197 Second Ave, between 12th and 13th Sts
The vibe at Shoolbred’s, a snug new Scotch bar in the East Village, is Macbeth-as-drizzled-through-the-pages-of-Elle Décor, with faux old-world touches (stained-glass windows inlaid with images of knights, paintings of Scottish heroes and miscellaneous old people) smoothed with lacquer and softened by handsome, golden lighting. But the warmth, however glossy, is genuine, and the ideal way to pass an evening here is sunk in one of the chocolatey, overstuffed leather chairs flanking the manicured fireplace. Sweaty, yes, but they’re the best seats in the house — especially on packed weekend nights when your options are to yell over the bright, excited voices of clean-cut 28-year-olds, or sit in contented, lairdly silence.
Candlelit tables are nice if you can snag them (particularly a shadowy, red-light-special nook table in the back), and the mahogany bar is best for after-work single malt Scotches (from $10 to $21), pints of Shoolbred’s Ale (a tasty draught micro-brewed specially for the bar in… Massachusetts, $5) or Gin Rickeys with fresh-squeezed lime ($8). The short but hearty bar menu stays firmly anchored in current American gastro-trends, with half-hearted nods to the United Kingdom: Bangers in a Blanket aren’t hot dogs but little logs of hand-wrapped chorizo, and Bacon & Eggs are actually lush, overflowing half-moons of deviled eggs plated with ridiculously rich candied bacon.
Shoolbred, by the way, is the Scottish ancestral name of the bar’s designer (sure, why not), and the ornate family crest hangs by the door. The “ancient Scottish” theme, however, doesn’t really hold up under, for instance, the reams of fancy-pants wallpaper and the twinkling Radiohead/Justin Timberlake soundtrack, but so what? It’s comfortable and warm, and so are the bartenders, who go out of their way to make sure your Scotch is carefully prepared however you prefer it — rocks, water on the side, dosed with a single droplet, whatever. Cocktails receive the same treatment: for instance, a juicer behind the bar provides fresh-crushed fruit for such non-Scottish staples as specialty martinis, Bellinis and screwdrivers.
If Shoolbred’s sticks around for a few centuries, maybe it’ll get that been-there-for-a-few-centuries feeling it’s lackadaisically reaching for. If not, it’s perfectly fine to be another smooth, friendly bar with good drinks and good service. That’s what we’re all after, isn’t it? Life, love and a decent drink served by a kind hand, in a place with clean bathrooms.