Saturday, July 12, 2008

I love it so much that I don't want to mention it...

But I can't help myself. I am officially a die-hard fan of Hotel Delmano in Williamsburg. When it first appeared on the well-traversed corner of 9th and Berry, I expected it would fill the beckoning void of a poser velvet-rope scene I thought Williamsburg was more than ready for. But months later, I am still shocked when I am not only granted entry, but seated at the best table in the house during prime time (11 pm - 2 am). I can't put my finger on exactly what it is about this place that thrills me. It's not the music (which is barely audible); and the crowd, while nothing to sneeze at, doesn't look or feel much different than the population of the Bedford L subway platform on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The cocktails are way overpriced and the wine list is only par. Sure, the space is beautiful- almost breathtaking - but that's usually the first thing you notice about a place when it doesn't have anything else to offer.

So what is it? The more I think about it, the more I think it must come down to the professionalism of the staff. The owners certainly know Williamsburg well - two are vets of Union Pool and the third hails from The Broadway Diner on the Southside: Both spots have catered with enormous success to the hipster (r)evolution. But there is something about Hotel Delmano that echoes of a far different place and time - and it's not just in the design. For starters, while the doorman will scrutinize your demeanor and ID with calculated precision, once he grants you entry, the hosts welcome you as if it were their own home (assuming it's 1925 and you're a guest of an unexpected guest). The bartenders, who are all men, are handsome but not off-puttingly so, and will coach you through your choice of libation like it's your last cocktail before Prohibition. They have all earned their wings elsewhere, at much more self-important places (like Milk and Honey) and while he might be a bass player in a band still waiting for a record deal, he's more interested in telling you the story behind one of their signature drinks, (like the Commandant's Cocktail), which are all served in champagne bowls circa Casablanca, than he is in trying to get you to one of his gigs. This is the only place I have ever been to that has offered a taste of a cocktail before committing you to a purchase. (This is done by dipping a clean stirring straw into a drink he's already made for someone else). When I left there tonight, I had already been won over many times over, but on my way out, one of the hosts put his hands on my and my companion's shoulders and whispered very discreetly in each of our ears: "Be careful". This was in response to a havoc-maker dancing in the street, shouting profanities having to do with the long-ago death of former neighbor Oznot's Dish. But as long as he wasn't hurting anyone, no one made a move to stop him.

In New York City, the ideas of being nice and being desired are far too often considered mutually exclusive. Hotel Delmano desires to turn this backwards construct deservedly on its head. Three cheers.

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