Bill’s Gay Nineties, the beloved former speakeasy that opened in 1924 and enjoyed a long, celebrated life as a restaurant and piano bar, closed in March with much sadness all around. Located in a 19th century townhouse, the establishment, at 57 East 54th Street, was enduringly popular with generations of loyal patrons. But the building's owner, Noel Tynan, who lives in Dublin, refused to renegotiate the lease with restaurant owner Barbara Bart Olmsted, whose father bought Bill's from the original owner, boxer and jockey Bill Hardy.
Today a new restaurant opens in its stead from Crown Group Hospitality, which also operates The Lion, from Chef John DeLucie. DeLucie, a Crown Group partner, has formerly manned the kitchen at the Waverly Inn, so he certainly knows how to capitalize on old New York nostalgia, and the new establishment, called simply Bill’s Food & Drink, tries to retain some of the atavistic touches of the original. "The former Bill’s Gay Nineties piano can be found in the bar downstairs while original moldings appear in the main dining room," says co-owner Sean Largotta. Murals on the first floor can be dated back to the 1940s and round silver dollars are still imbedded in the bar’s wooden floor."
The menu, from Executive Chef Jason Hall, features contemporary twists on classics, with contemporary prices to match. These include a Manhattan Shellfish Chowder with Jumbo Prawns, Oyster Crackers and Saffron ($32), and steaks dry-aged for 28 days ($52 for an 18 ounce Delmonico). Nantucket Bay Scallops with Romanesco cauliflower & vermouth butter clock in at $37, and a Domestic Rack of Lamb with Persillade & ni çoise olive will set you (or your expense account) $46. Specialty cocktails, from Crown Group "head mixologist" Ben Scorah, are all $14 and include a tempting Gingerbread Sazerac, made with Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Aged Cognac, Gingerbread Spice, Peychaud’s Bitters and Absinthe Wash.
Check out the full menu below and decide for yourself how much gaiety this news merits.
57 East 54th Street, (212) 518-2727