Like a shy brooder glued to the wall at prom, this humble West Villager is hardly noticeable at first. Yet tucked behind concealing blinds and modest airs there’s attention-grabbing pedigree, thanks to cocktail vet Xavier Herit, who served a seven-year tenure behind the stick at Daniel. Freed of those fine-dining confines, in digs that evoke a country cottage rather than a Parisian palace, the Frenchman has ample room to play, bottling, carbonating and twisting quaffs with the glee of a schoolkid who’s finally found his niche.
DRINK THIS: What the eight-option bar menu lacks in volume, it makes up for in personality. The gin-and-ginger Tête de Mule ($14)—served in a petite glass bottle with a polka-dotted straw and a sprig of mint—is so twee, Zooey Deschanel could’ve dreamt it up, but a tart bite of citric acid curbs the preciousness. The carrot-shochu–based Sho Sho ($15) is also irreverent but shrewdly balanced, offsetting the sweetness of the veg and fruity sherry with spice-heavy root beer and candied ginger.
GOOD FOR: A buzz-aided date. The candlelit, jazz-tuned spot baits couples, with two-tops dominating the space and shareable plates populating the menu. Jared Stafford-Hill—who transformed Maison Premiere from booze-and-bivalve bar into full-blown restaurant—is behind the dainty, Francophilic dishes: Tangy, lavender-infused chèvre comes adorned with peppery radish petals ($11), and buttery game-bird terrine gets acidic pep from pickled crosne tubers ($14).
THE CLINCHER: The best seat in the house is at the compact, eight-stool bar. Not only does it offer a prime view of Stafford-Hill in the kitchen through an open archway, but you’ll also be waited on by Herit himself. Bowtied and waistcoated, the dapper, affable barman can rarely be found without a cocktail shaker in hand or a drink recommendation on the tongue. With lighthearted sips matched by the sheer fun Herit’s having behind the bar, this spot won’t stay a wallflower for long.—Christina Izzo