The Leadbelly

  • Restaurants
  • American regional
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Photograph: Krista Schlueter

Cucumber Julip at the Leadbelly

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Photograph: Krista Schlueter

Dirty Lemonade at the Leadbelly

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Photograph: Krista Schlueter

Gin LB at the Leadbelly

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Photograph: Krista Schlueter

The Leadbelly

Lower East Side

Like a still from Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, this dimly lit booze-and-bivalves den packs in ample saturated colors and whimsical curios. The twee rec room—fittingly, the film’s assistant set decorator had a hand in the design—evokes midcentury Americana as fondly as its sibling, the Fat Radish, tips a hat to England. There are yellowing maps on the walls, battered old suitcases stuffed onto bookshelves and teal leather banquettes cracking from faux-wear. Of course, New York digs up bygone eras like a moonlighting archaeologist. But for all of its meticulous sentimentality, the downtown scenesters slurping oysters at the bar make this period piece feel decidedly less dated.

DRINK THIS: The frosted storefront window broadcasts the two things Leadbelly does best: oysters and liquor. At the Airstream trailer-inspired copper bar, drinkers in Buddy Holly specs perch on wooden stools for briny, bicoastal mollusks and seasonal cocktails, created by Brit mixologist Colin Asare-Appiah (U’Luvka Vodka’s brand ambassador). Plump, rugged Chatham oysters—salty and straightforward—come fanned out with caper-heavy tartar sauce for a smart bar bite. Quaffs (all $13) are modern spins on old-school sips: Toasted-almond milk lends a smooth, subtle nuttiness to a White Russian, while a refreshing mint julep gets a picklelike bite from muddled cucumber. The Dirty Lemonade is a bawdy take on the sidewalk-stand classic, with spicy Mount Gay rum and fiery jalapeño juice butting against tangy limoncello and sweet honey.

GOOD FOR: A fuss-free first date. The intimate, weathered nook—rusticated with crumbling plaster walls, raw-wood floors and aged postcards thumbtacked about—rouses an easy, romantic vibe that’s fit for early-in-the-game courting. Twosomes chat over candlelight at the cluster of plush couches in back, but if conversation lags, there are, graciously, plenty of diversions: Practice your dart aim on an archery target, play checkers on tables silk-screened with game boards or tickle the ivories of the stand-up piano built into a wall.

THE CLINCHER: Leadbelly’s soundtrack is as preciously retro as an Andersonian film score. Jangly rockabilly tunes like Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” and Elvis’s “Blue River” croon from a Dansette record player. Patrons can pick a tune by leafing through stacks of vinyl, including the occasional bluesy gem from the bar’s namesake, the 12-string-plucking Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter. The 45s scratch to a stop when live musicians take over nightly, with stylish oyster-shooters swaying to bossa nova guitarists and ragtime piano players. Music to mood, Leadbelly’s got plenty of charm to go around, and not just for film geeks wishing they were Tenenbaums.—Christina Izzo

Venue name: The Leadbelly
Contact:
Address: 14 Orchard St
New York

Cross street: between Canal and Hester Sts
Opening hours: Daily 5:30pm-2am
Transport: Subway: F to East Broadway
Price: Average main course: $15. AmEx, Disc, MC, V
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