Sunday, December 6, 2009

Lillie's -- Unsuspecting Cool Bar in Union Square!

Ever hear of an Irish Victorian Bar? I didn't until I walked into Lillie's Irish-Victorian Bar and Restaurant on 17th Street between Broadway and Fifth avenue. In contrast to other Irish Bars, Lillie's does not have the typical Irish Bar front entrance that is adorned with heavy wood panels or a sign that has the name of the bar encrusted with gold lettering. Rather, the entrance to Lille's is nondescript, but you will know its Lillie's by the locket photo of Lillie on the glass window and its name in cursive gold lettering. As you enter the bar, you will immediately know its no ordinary Irish Bar. Its not "divey" or a "whatever" bar. The bar immediately sets itself apart with its lighting, the columns, antique wood carved bar and furnishings. The antique wood carved bar topped with marble and its furnishings were acquired from a Victorian mansion in Belfast, Ireland (yes, it was packaged and shipped across the Atlantic). You will find other antique carvings there and its representative of an era in which Lillie lived (1853-1929). For more info on who Lillie was, scroll to the end, but lets get to the meat of this story and why you should frequent Lillie's!

What do you normally look for in a good watering hole? Depends on the mood and the day, but first and foremost its alcohol. Then its food, especially if its going to be a long night of drinking! and finally, its the atmosphere -- though, if the alcohol is cheap enough, you'll probably go just about anywhere (ha ha).

Lillie's -- things you would want in a good watering hole.
  • Good alcohol selection. Beer from more than 15 countries with 25 on tap ($6) and 30 bottled ($5-12) - Guinness, Smithwicks, Kronenbourg, Stella, Boddingtons, Hatachino White (actually not that great), Sam Adams are all on tap ... and the list continues. Whiskey? Yes, they have Irish Whiskeys and Single Malts ($8.5 - $123). If none of this meets your liquid needs, Lillie's also has a fully stocked bar with hard liquor and a selection of wine and champagne ($8 - $19 glass). Btw, some of the wines are from the Langtry Estate in California, where Lillie herself owned and lived from 1888 to 1906!
  • Food - Its a bar and a restaurant. So, you can come for lunch/dinner/brunch ($5 - $18) or bar bites ($8 - $20) after 5 pm. We ordered bar food and I was pleasantly surprised that it was reasonably priced and the portions were not scanty . The miniature burgers were good (though, probably could do without the raw onions) and the chicken tender strips had a solid crunch to it (yum!). For dinner, they have Bangers & Mash (YUM) and if your stomach desires -- the Full Irish Breakfast is served all day! btw, the kitchen is open till 4 a.m.!
  • Atmosphere - Upbeat. Its not a sleepy bar. The music is loud, but not so loud where you find yourself having a shouting conversation with a friend (you just have to lean in a little, which may be to your advantage! :D ). The bar is spacious, but it can get crowded. Its extremely busy on Friday, but if you're willing to brave the crowds like I did -- its worth it! It's NOT a teeny bopper place -- the clientele is your run of the mill after work crowd -- with a good mix of ages ranging from mid twenties to late thirties.
Though I'm not sure whether the bar was previously owned by Lillie (highly doubtful) or if the theme and concept was named in honor of her (more likely). Either way, Lillie's in Union Square has a unique story behind its name and for the liquid consumer -- it provides a unique atmosphere for everyone who wants to satisfy their liquid desires and hunger pangs. The alcohol and food prices are reasonable and on par with many other Irish bar establishments, but for the upbeat Victorian atmosphere I thought it was well worth it. I highly recommend this joint if you are looking for an upbeat Irish watering hole!

13 East 17th Street
Between Broadway and 5th Avenue
Open from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Photos of the bar, click here (sorry, didn't bring my camera that night)

Did you know this bar has a unique story behind it?

So who is Lillie? Lillie was born as Emilie Le Breton and was raised on Isle of Jersey, off the coast of Normandy and lived from 1853 to 1929 . According to Lillie's bar website and wikipedia, Lillie married Irish land-owner Edward Langtry at the age of 20 and through her life became an acknowledged beauty of her era who was an "A-List guest, an actress, a model, a mistress to the future king of England (Edward VII), inspirer of poetry and plays by Oscar Wilde". Her nickname was "Jersey Lilly" and was popularised by a portrait of Lilly done by Sir John Everett Milais. Interestingly enough, the portrait had her holding a Guernsey Lily instead of a Jersey Lily flower (ok, that may not have been that interesting). She moved to America in 1887 and became an American citizen in 1897. During her time in America, she purchased a winery in Lake County, California in 1888 and was sold in 1906. To this day, the winery is still in operation and its wines are served at Lillie's Irish-Victorian Bar and Restaurant. For more information of her, visit the wikipedia link noted above!

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