In The Midnight Hour: Schiller's Liquor Bar
Open Until: 1:00 am, Sun-Wed; 2:00 am, Thu; 3:00 am, Fri-Sat
Drinking Until: close, 7 days
Food Until: close, 7 days
The best Keith McNally restaurants captivate the neighborhoods in which they reside, and Schiller's Liquor Bar has shared this special relationship with the ever-gentrifying Lower East Side since 2003—a year when their namesake SLA license was threatened mere months after opening. Lucky for us the well never ran dry, and both residents and visiting roustabouts have enjoyed competently mixed cocktails and cheekily-listed wine selections (separated into "Cheap", "Decent" and "Good") on a nightly basis. Years in, and the restaurant has become more accessible—its clientele less exclusive. Yet it remains a consistently difficult table to snag when the sun goes down. Shortly after we sat down, two t-shirted gentlemen took the place of a dour-faced couple who'd sat silent through most of their meal. Observing the ease with which they acquired a table at nearly 2am, one of them blurted, "well, that was surprising".
As British as Keith McNally is, and as French as many of his restaurants skew, his high commanders—chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson—have developed a justifiably American menu. Crab and artichoke dip shares the page with nachos, fish and chips, sliders and a Cuban sandwich. For a dip into Spanish territory, there's a cast iron ramekin of garlic shrimp ($12.50), which come swimming in a pungent oil brimming with the stuff, enlivened by a good dose of lemon and red pepper flake. Portion size aside, the shrimp themselves have a pleasant springy-sweetness, and the accompanying Balthazar bread is gangbusters for mopping up the infused sauce. East Village resident and alt-comic extraordinaire Todd Barry is also a fan.
In need of some lightness after drowning blissfully in a bayou of garlic-tinged grease, the flavors in the asparagus salad ($12) lived up to their airy construction with wisps of baby watercress strewn about the plate. Though the price feels a bit high for a veg-only appetizer with four stalks of asparagus (undeniably robust though they were), the dish stands proud with slivers of roasted almonds and a slick of yogurt as the anchor. A light dressing was present, but would have benefited from some additional acidity.
Schiller's two most talked about features are the befuddling pseudo-unisex bathrooms and the sticky toffee pudding ($7.50)—you can guess which one lives up to its purported awesomeness. Caramel as dark as the leather on a pair of dignified fox-hunting boots (everyone owns a pair of those, right?) covers two pucks of date-sweetened sponge cake. The accompanying vanilla ice cream hardens the toffee sauce, making it stick in your teeth. It's a wholly satisfying dessert, simple and straightforward without being overly cloying. And it is reason enough to brave the neighborhood's lamentably famous nighttime crowds.
Schiller's Liquor Bar
About the author: Zachary Feldman is a former debutante and current freelance writer. He makes hand-crafted, small batch bitters under the moniker Bitters, Old Men.