Living in Margaritaville – NYC, Lower East Side
New York City is a tough town and it doesn’t get any easier when summer arrives with a vengeance. The streets are hot, the sidewalks even hotter. Thankfully, there’s lots of cold, colder, coldest cocktails and, for Greedy Girl, it doesn’t get much better than a margarita.
In the Lower East Side of this amazing city, the no-go areas have been transformed into incredible places to eat, drink and be merry. Like most big cities in the US, there is a huge Latino community here, living alongside the melting pot of cultures and nationalities. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were happy to be staying on Ludlow Street, just down from Houston, and within a block’s radius were able to find a slew of bars. Greedy Girl isn’t aware of any ‘collective noun’ for bars, but given the ubiquity of Mexican and other Central American establishments in this part of the city, she’d like to suggest a ‘barrio’ of bars. All comments/thoughts welcomed.
It wasn’t officially summer as many of these drinks were sampled but there had been a run of days where the temperatures soared. Happy hour is a wonderful thing here. Cut-price cocktails can be found as early as noon most days and go into the night.
But despite the recipe for a margarita (frozen or otherwise) being well documented, there’s a huge amount of variance in quality and cost – even in an area acknowledged to be, perhaps, the least expensive neighbourhood in Manhattan.
Greedy Girl has to ‘fess up – as this post was written, she’d just returned from an early happy hour and was planning on visiting a later session before dinner. Here’s her very potted guide to the best frozen (and standard) margaritas NYC on the Lower East Side.
This is a crazy bar on weekends and nights. Don’t go in there at an advanced hour unless you want your eardrums assaulted and the indignity of not being ‘cool’ enough to warrant admission. From early evening there’s a line. However, there are US$4 frozen margaritas (most days, it can go up to $5 on public holidays) during happy hour, which starts at 2pm. Then, it can be rather easygoing inside.
During our first experience, Greedy Girl asked for a salt rim. When she gingerly licked it she found, to her dismay, the rim was actually sugar. The delightful girl behind the bar gave a heartfelt ‘D’Oh’ and proceeded to fix a new glass. She offered the sugar-laced glass to us, free of charge, which gluttonous husband gratefully accepted. We were planning on going back subsequent days to eat but the next time we were in, the girl was nowhere to be found and a rather dour fellow was behind the bar. He also produced a frozen margarita with a sugar rim – but that was because he couldn’t be, well, you know, bothered to go out back and get the salt. We insisted and he begrudgingly complied. Days like that, one just doesn’t want to tip. Sadly, all other days we poked our heads in, he was behind the bar. We’d rather pay more for a margarita prepared by someone who actually wanted to make one their customers asked for/enjoyed. A side note: apparently this is one of the premier music venues on the LES, so if you’re into live music, attempt to get in late one night.
Happy hour from 2-8pm. There’s some decent-looking food, particularly burgers and fries. 158 Ludlow Street.
On Essex Street, just below Stanton, this is a fun bar with a very quirky look and feel. We tried it one Saturday afternoon, pushing our heads through the net curtains that hide the bar from the rest of the world. It’s more cafe/restaurant than bar (strictly speaking) and doesn’t do frozen margaritas. Nonetheless, we opted to give it a go. We sat on a couple of the bar stools at the far end of the room and watched the bartender prepare the cocktails with a lot of flair. They’re, ahem, potent. One of the reasons Greedy Girl rarely drinks margaritas on the rocks is that they go down too quickly – and that’s exactly what happened here. Still, it was a very ‘tasty’ mix, the bar is a fun place to sit and there’s quite a decent food menu. Something to note – there’s a very limited selection of beers in the early stages of happy hour. Gluttonous husband found himself sipping a Mexicali which he didn’t enjoy. After 6pm there’s a separate happy hour menu and he was able to get an IPA.
Happy hour – half-price margaritas until 7pm. 151 Essex Street
This ended up being our go-to spot after we decided that Pianos was too high-maintenance. It’s a very low key spot, quite small inside, with a good range of drinks and various margarita flavours. While there’s a bit of a strange aroma inside – presumably the room has baked too many taco shells – you can’t argue with the margaritas, which are consistently delicious. The standard size (as opposed to ‘grande’) is US$5.50 from 12 noon until 6pm every day. We also tried a couple of crunchy beef tacos – they were perfectly edible. San Loco has the advantage of being open late, so a great spot to drop in for a late night attack of the munchies. It’s probably just as well for Greedy Girl’s liver that happy hour ceases at 6 …
111 Stanton Street (between Ludlow and Essex).
A restaurant that looks a little more upmarket, we tried it on a Sunday afternoon where it was besieged with large tables full of people who’d been drunk since lunchtime. Propping up at what we thought was a quiet end of the bar, we were next to open windows where the aforementioned patrons stood outside smoking. It wasn’t a terribly pleasant spot and the local obsession with opening all the windows the moment the sun shines is a bit painful – there’s really nowhere to get away from the, ahem, smells. However, we did manage to fit in one frozen margarita, served in a ‘cactus’ glass (while gluttonous husband, of course, took an IPA – one of the few Mexican places around here that offered them). The margarita was OK – siphoned from a giant ‘slushie’ machine but wasn’t particularly memorable.
108 Stanton Street (corner Ludlow).
El Nuevo Amanecer
This is a very simple bar with more than decent food, offering Mexican and Dominican specialties. The frozen margaritas here come in a number of flavours but, as usual, Greedy Girl went for the classic with the salt rim, while gluttonous husband had to content himself with Coronas – there’s not a great beer selection and certainly none of his preferred IPAs. It was more than drinkable but at US$7.50 (effectively half the regular price) it’s not the cheapest happy hour in the area. Still, you get complimentary corn chips and salsa. We also tried the guacamole and the chicken quesadillas – both were very edible.
117 Stanton Street (corner Essex)