Keeping up with bars and restaurants on the hospitality-rich Lower East Side can feel competitive in more ways than one. First, you have to identify the good ones. Then, you have to navigate the jostling crowds and actually get in. Top honors go to those who can do both while also keeping abreast of what’s new in the oversaturated neighborhood: the friend who can say, I know a place, when options seem to be running out.
Cafe Skye, which opened on Clinton Street in October, is a good new spot where you can still get a seat. A few steps away from the booming nightlife on Ludlow and Rivington streets, it’s a tidy alternative to those corridors' frenetic energy. Its narrow space is pretty and rustic, with distressed white brick walls, succulents and neat groupings of notionally vintage framed prints. It’s cozy, if a few watts too bright, with room for about 25 inside and around half as many more outdoors. Its owner is first-time NYC service industry operator Cameron Bean.
This is a bar first, with shareable and large bites suited to complement a cocktail list (all $15) that's twice the length of the food options. The Double Decker Old Fashion, named for its two types of rye rather than its size, is a pleasant zag from the expected, its whisper of fruit comes via guava bitters rather than the typical garnish. The Yankee Gimlet is also a worthy addition to its category, pleasantly sub-sweet with gin, lime cordial and citrus saline. Cafe Skye’s addition to the espresso martini zeitgeist is its El Mañana, made with coffee liqueur, rum, vanilla bean-infused aguardiente and Colombian chocolate.
To pair, the shiitake sage crunch ($7.50) is the best of the small plates, its texture derived from the sesame seed surface coating nicely al dente mushroom bites. The grilled raclette ($10) is also promising, if a bit buried under a fairly photogenic but somewhat cheese-obscuring fig and walnut mix.
Options billed as more substantial are a little incongruous, but, like the snacks, seem to offer enough variety. A pair of braised brisket sliders on brioche ($18) are a fine bar snack when doused with the shot of accompanying jus. The autumn grain bowl ($13) skews a bit brunchier, but its farrow is perfectly prepared and abundant produce, particularly the crispy kale and plump pomegranate seeds, are demonstratively well-sourced.
There is no guarantee that Cafe Skye will remain as easy to roll into as it is at the moment, nor would any operator want it to. Its cocktails invite return visits and those boomerangs will likely grow into crowds. Until then, it's a terrific option to keep in your back pocket for when you need to know a place.
The Vibe: A lovely new LES spot to cozy up with good cocktails and tack on a few snacks to make a night of it. The atmosphere might turn romantic if the lights were a little lower.
The Food: The brief menu is divided into sharable and larger bites. The shiitake sage crunch and braised brisket sliders are each section's standouts.
The Drinks: Nice zags on classics like the Old Fashion with guava bitters, plus–you guessed it!–a take on the espresso martini. Natural wine and rotating beer selections are also available.
Time Out Tip: Ask about Cafe Skye’s seasonal cocktails like its recent hot toddy take.
Cafe Skye is located at 43 Clinton Street and is open Tuesday-Thursday from 4pm to 12am, Friday from 4pm to 1am and Saturday from 1pm to 1am and and Sunday from 1pm to 12am.