I Won’t Take Manhattan

01/06/2010 4:00 AM |

The Manhattan Inn
632 Manhattan Ave, 718-383-0885

Price Range: $25-$38 Rating: 2 out of 5 L’s

I walked in off the winter street and into a hipster’s wet dream. I have to admit, I was taken in by it all. Who wouldn’t be? The Manhattan Inn, the new project from Glasslands co-owners Brooke Baxter and Rolyn Hu, is, at first glance, the modern speakeasy done pitch-perfect, with all of the spirited bustle and personalized touches missing from today’s paint-by-number drinking dens. This is a place with real personality, a place where I initially envisioned myself getting to know the menu by heart and the staff by name, which is why it hurt so much when it broke my heart.

Let’s start with how I fell in love. It was the little things: the old school desks repurposed as little bar tables, the worn and weathered feel of the reclaimed building materials, the clientele dressed for the part. Walking into the back room felt like straying into some romantic tableau from a long-forgotten period picture: Diners, elevated as if on a stage, sat on vintage theater sets around a baby grand piano, where a hatted gentleman played upbeat ditties under an artfully spare chandelier, tip jar at the ready.

Drunk on the restaurant’s bohemian charm, I tried to gloss over its shortcomings. This proved harder with each visit. The waiters were hopelessly inept, forgetting drink orders, bringing the wrong dishes, staring blankly when asked about the restaurant’s selection of spirits. Ordering at times resembled Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch, when after asking for a second or third absent dish or beer, I began to think the waiter was deliberately wasting my time.

The menu comes from Bouley alum Justin Farmer and is, admirably, all sourced locally. Sadly, the road to mediocre food is paved with good intentions. A cottage pie low on grass-fed beef and vegetables and heavy on garlic mashed potatoes was a stiff and starchy disappointment. The fried chicken wings were thick with chili apple glaze, like a cloying throwback to 90s suburbia. The pierogies, tangy and earthy from a mix of leeks and potatoes, were good, but on a tiny menu everything really needs to be a hit.

Yet through all of this, the warm din of conversation and the lively sound of the piano were enough to induce a Panglossian daze, and even now I’m tempted to go back. Take a tip from a man with a broken heart: bring a few friends, order a round of Manhattan’s Manhattans (Rittenhouse Rye, Carpano Antica, Fee’s Orange Bitters), listen to the piano man do his thing and try not to think about everything else.