Is Avenue C the new Avenue A? East Village boozers have been stumbling further down the alphabet for years now, but it's taken this evolving strip some time to develop the critical mass necessary to attract a late-night buzz. While stalwarts like Esperanto and Zum Schneider fly their flags for international boozehounds, and Summit Bar provides serious cocktail cred, the already-jammed Wayland may be Loisaida's most versatile barroom. Drink slinger Jason Mendenhall (Madame Geneva) and chef-partner Robert Ceraso (Beppe) infuse the menu with DIY flourishes, crafting proprietary bitters and jams from a pantry of seasonal ingredients. Meanwhile, the memory of Banjo Jim's, a honky-tonk dive that used to occupy the space, is kept alive with Miller High Life longnecks ($5), eclectic tunes on the speakers, and an upright piano that hosts the occasional jam session. These enticements make the spot easy to like: Even when the Wayland drops the ball on one front, it has other charms at the ready to win you back.
DRINK THIS: The drinks are accessible, with just one quaff designated for each type of spirit. But they're rather weak, with ingredients like kale and flavored ice taking center stage over the booze. Lemon juice, orange bitters and house-made clementine-cranberry syrup are tart and refreshing in the Hudson Overcoat ($11), but they completely obscure the gin that should be the drink's backbone. Meanwhile, an old-fashioned riff called I Hear Banjos ($12)—made with moonshine, apple-spice bitters and Laird's bonded applejack—comes with a ceremonious puff of applewood smoke, captured in an overturned glass that's placed over the drink. The first few whiffs are transporting, bringing to mind a crackling fire, but the drink deteriorates quickly once the smoke dissipates. Of course, you can skip the hard stuff and stick with beers like Narragansett Lager tall boys ($5) and bottles of Otter Creek Black IPA ($6), as well as pours of San Fran Spout ($7)—a citrusy concoction of house-made cola and Fernet Branca.
GOOD FOR: Late nights on Loisaida. The Wayland knows how to have fun, and that alone gives it appeal over stuffier joints that might mix a better Manhattan. Solicitous staff, a young and attractive crowd, and the likelihood of a spontaneous sing-along around the piano all contribute to a convivial vibe that makes you want to call for another round.
THE CLINCHER: Equipped with just two burners, Ceraso turns out ambitious bar snacks. The hearty sandwiches ($10--$12) are the real draw—we liked the tangy pulled chicken, braised with apples and hot peppers, then wedged between toasted slices of rustic bread, alongside crunchy cukes, fresh cilantro and garlic aioli.