New York’s Oscar Wilde Bar: A Victorian Wonderland
Most bars have a theme of some sort. It can be an Irish pub, a Wild West bar, a “roadhouse,” etc. But you don’t see to many Victorian-inspired bars, and you certainly don’t see any that take a Victorian theme to quite the extreme that Oscar Wilde, a new bar that recently opened in New York City, does.
The large bar is actually home to the largest (actual) bar in New York City; it’s 118.5 feet long, and snakes from the very front of the bar to the very back. And it’s not even the only bar in the room; there’s another on the other side. When we recently visited after work one weeknight, the place was completely packed; the bars, high-tops, standing room, and rear dining room were all occupied, so if you’re planning on checking it out for yourself, we suggest you get there early.
And check it out you should. There’s no other bar quite like Oscar Wilde. It’s absolutely packed, from floor to ceiling, with antique furnishings, decorative items, art, and ephemera, much of it from the time of the iconoclastic Irish writer. Among hundreds of other vintage knick-knacks, there’s a French fireplace from the 1840s, a life-size bronze statue of Wilde himself perched at the head of the bar, an 1884 English grandfather clock, fireplace inlay from the 1700s, a Parisian china cabinet, porcelain from Gosford Castle, wood paneling from Ireland’s Hope Castle, Welsh wainscoting, bronze table bases and Carrara marble table- and bartops, Parisian newspaper holders, Welsh chandeliers, an 1819 player piano, WWII-era Argentinian dining room doors, Milanese stained glass, and a two-tiered Victorian Gothic lamp from Paris. There are also no less than 26 antique clocks to be found, all of them set to 1:50, the time that Oscar Wilde died; in here, time really does stand still. If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around all of this, I suggest you take a look at the online photo gallery.
Once you’ve staked out a spot and taken in your lavish surroundings, you’ll probably be in the mood for a cocktail, and the ones here are in turns classic and creative. They’re divided into four sections: Victorian, Prohibition, Wise Guys, and Seasonal. Victorian cocktails include 50 Shades of Dorian Gray (gin, cherry liqueur, Chinese five spice, and citrus) and Oscar Wilde’s Potent Elixir (cognac, gin, Guinness syrup, cassis, lavender bitters, Champagne); Prohibition cocktails include the classic Bee’s Knees (gin, honey, lemon, block ice, and a lemon twist) and a Prohibition Manhattan (rye, Carpano Antica, Angostura bitters, and a cherry) served in a tea cup; Wise Guys include El Heffe (mezcal, ancho verde, suze, lime, and jalapeño) and My Bookie’s Wife’s Cocktail (vodka, elderflower liqueur, rosé wine, grapefruit, and Peychaud’s bitters); and Seasonal options include a watermelon margarita and a strawberry Moscow Mule. Of the cocktails we sampled, all were expertly prepared, well-balanced, and served in a variety of creative glassware.
There’s also plenty to eat. Starters include lamb sliders, fried calamari, Buffalo cauliflower, “banger in a basket,” curry chicken wings, and lamb tartare; and entrées include a cheeseburger, chicken breast, broccoli guacamole, striped bass, oxtail cottage pie, a grilled cheese with Irish Cheddar, and moules frites with bacon and brandy. It’s an approachable menu with relatively simple preparations, but we enjoyed everything we tried: The banger in a basket was an Irish sausage wrapped in puff pastry and served with Worcestershire ketchup, and made for ideal drinking food (thoughwe would have preferred it served with mustard instead of ketchup); lamb tartare was rich and flavorful; broccomole was very finely puréed, but the broccoli gave it an interesting twist; the burger was nicely cooked and warranted no complaints; and I was pleasantly surprised by the chicken breast, which had a nice crispy skin and was perfectly complemented by Anaheim pepper purée, colcannon, and a very flavorful pan sauce.
If you’re planning on eating dinner, I suggest you ask for a table in the back dining room, which is removed from all the craziness of the bar area; the chairs at the bar high-tops were also pretty uncomfortable. Even though the bar was a madhouse, service was on-point and we never felt as if we’d been forgotten.
Should you decide to visit Oscar Wilde, prepare yourself for an experience that can seem a little overwhelming at times, like a Victorian phantasmagoria that takes you in its clutches from the moment you walk through the doors. Our suggestion? Just go with it. Grab a seat at the bar, have a couple cocktails, then go exploring.