Pub Flub

07/08/2009 4:00 AM |

Lillie’s, 13 E. 17th St, 212-337-1970

Price range: $23-$35
Rating:3L’s

Lillie’s isn’t the kind of place you expect to find between Chelsea
and Union Square. One look across the sea of suits milling around the
40-foot marble bar and you’d swear this was Murray Hill. Yup, the
banker/fratboy contingent has adopted this impressive new
self-described Victorian Irish lounge, a place featuring over-the-top,
mahogany-heavy decor that seems like the Vegas idea of a 19th-century
Dublin hangout for Anglican gentry, financing a life of luxury on the
backs of those who produce. So perhaps the crowd is appropriate.

Lillie’s has a great beer selection, with lineups from Belgium and
small American brewers but disappointingly few Irish quaffs. But much
of the crowd isn’t ordering the beer, a bargain at $6 draughts. The
drinks of choice seemed to be oak-y Chardonnay and, distressingly, Grey
Goose and sour, beloved by the blue-shirt, white-collar set.

But the bartenders are a good lot, attentive and lacking pretense
— although one particularly green drink slinger accidentally
spilled a Black and Tan all over my companion’s dress. The same good
intentions can’t be ascribed to the hostess, who had earlier told us
that the wait for a table in the restaurant portion in the back was
going to be an hour. By the time she came around to tell us our table
was ready, my friend had gone home to try to clean the Guinness from
her purse, and I had ordered takeout. The hostess found all of this
funny.

When a night goes so poorly — needless waiting, a crowd out of
an 80s movie, a rude hostess and a clumsy bartender (who did cut our
bill in half) — it can be a solace to mock it in writing. The
only problem is the food: It’s good. Pan-seared halibut takeout should
be a slimy, chewy mess, but the kitchen cooked it perfectly to survive
the takeout container, while the accompanying green peas and mushrooms
in a beurre blanc were a clear taste of modern Irish fare, fresh and
simple, letting great ingredients speak for themselves, without
skimping on the butter. Likewise, a grilled ham and cheddar sandwich
slicked the hands but somehow avoided being heavy. Even beet salad rose
above its humble roots with an outrageously good goat cheese and an
uncommonly balanced dressing.

All in all, an infuriating experience, but I can’t say I won’t be
back. And I’m sure that some day soon, the finance-dude crowd will tire
of the Victorian-Irish concept, letting me tuck into a velvet chair at
the bar, free from jostling elbows and Jäger bombs. That and a few
years of wear, not the simulation of age, and Lillie’s might really be
something.