Little Branch - Really?
I know I'll get lite up by some people on this board and unfortunately it will probably be some people whose opinions I really respect especially in the World of cocktails but, never the less, I need to state I was completely, utterly, unimpressed by Little Branch. We've been hoping to stop in for quite a while but timing has never worked out until this past Friday when an unscheduled route between two places had us walking by LB shortly after opening so we figured what the heck, let's go.
I do need to point out the one nice thing about the place was the very nice doorman, if his attitude and interaction had been a foreshadowing of the rest of our brief visit we would have had a grand time, alas, it was not.
Walked downstairs and asked the hostess how long for a table, before I even finished the question she barked back, "3 minutes", my GF started to ask a question and before she could finish the hostess barked, "3 minutes, name?". And that was it, no suggestion/advice on you can get a drink at the bar and wait so we had to just kind of figure it out on our own. As we stood there obviously perplexed the bartender, in between grabbing ingredients, literally tossed a cocktail menu in front of us. When she was done she looked at us and said what do you need, made the drinks, etc and we stood for 5-10-15-20 mins sipping our drinks, which by the way, were very good but far from revolutionary or life changing. We finally got a table at about 35 mins after giving name, so we took the table since we had waited, finished the last little bit of our drinks in about 10 mins and split.
Really trying to figure out why people love the place so much? I have had way better experiences at PDT, EO, D&Co, Pegu, Amar y Amargo, well you get the idea, bascially I had far better experiences everywhere. We won't be rushing back, don't think we will even be leisurely heading back...
Sounds a lot like what happend to Sasha Petraske's now defunct spot White Star, when they just lost the concept entirely and service got bad, as they piled people in drinking these supposedly high end cocktails, standing room only. The cocktails were fine, but not breathtaking. Most of the ingredients get lost.
Cervantes is a character, and he's been at Little Branch a number of years now, but he's not serving up drinks I would say compete with the best in the city.
We just visited for a week and unfortunately were able to get to only 1 speakeasy instead of the 4 or 5 we wanted to, but it was Little Branch. We arrived on a Tuesday night around 9:30 and waited for about 5 minutes to get in. Agree the doorman is great. While you may have a sour taste in your mouth at not being told you could get drinks at the bar while waiting for a seat, let me explain a little bit about why I would give Little Branch my highest recommendation, even though after one visit it would be impossible to say if my experience was typical.
Being from South Florida, Little Branch is to me about 1,000 miles and 1 million light years away from South Beach. As a matter of fact, the place reminded me a great deal of the “wild west” days of South Beach in the late ‘80s before there was any money there and make shift clubs popped up in abandoned theaters like the Cameo (with all the seating ripped out and the entire huge place lit by one desk lamp on a portable bar from Wal-Mart in one corner).
Contrary to your experience, after running into the excellent doorman, everyone from our hostess to our three different servers to our bartender Cervantes Ramirez (pictured) were professional, approachable, and friendly. Descending down into the dark candle-lit cellar we ran into the packed plug of people in the tiny bar space below. Nice thing about being married is teamwork, so with a nod my wife went to the hostess station on the left, while I went to the bar on the right.
A suit and his first date that we had spent some time listening to outside (awkward conversationalists, but the evening seemed pre-ordained to end happily for them) ordered a Diablo and a something-something and I watched Cervantes make their drinks both at the same time which was a treat in itself. He stood head-and-shoulders above the other bartenders in the practiced ease and speed with which he juggled his ingredients. When he was done I mentioned that the Diablo, which contained a little Cholula sauce, sounded right as I love a good spicy cocktail, he let me know if I really liked spicy he’s make me a El Guapo instead. For my wife I take the blame and ordered her the first drink I saw on the menu that sounded good, the Rum Swizzle. What I should have done is asked Cervantes to make her something like a Long Island Iced Tea, which she likes.
My wife had found a little spot to sit opposite the bar and we enjoyed our drinks amongst the small crowd for 10 minutes before being seated. El Guapo was a first class cocktail in every way, complex and well balanced. The Rum Swizzle was less so. I thought it was OK but I don’t like overly fruity drinks. My wife actually hated it – too citrusy. “Keep trying, maybe it will grow on you,” I sagely advised her. Well, she took a couple more sips before we were seated but then could take no more and we told our server she’d like to order something like a Long Island Iced Tea instead. The waitress whisked away the half finished Rum Swizzle and returned a short time later with a Gin-something-something. No more mention of the Rum Swizzle and we were not charged for the new drink.
OK, strike two because my wife took a sip and didn’t like this one either. I took a sip. Fantastic. Perfect. So, I bucked up my courage and said: “Keep trying, maybe it will grow on you.” And this time it worked! After a few more sips my wife overcame the newness of it and really loved it. Also of note was a Tequila Sazerac.
Now the Jazz quartet was setting up in their tiny cubby five feet away from us and we settled in for a couple of hours of great music and interaction with the band. Worried at times about getting a drumstick in my eye. :-) Absolutely what we come to New York for and I’m not good enough of a writer to describe the attraction here. We’ve found other “favorite” spots in the city – intimate and good enough to not have to try too hard to impress. Little Branch has made the list.
Drinks - El Guapo and Rum Swizzle
Last photo is a pretty good indicator of the actual light level. Candlelight only at the tables.
I live literally right across the street and my tip is to never, ever go on a weekend. The vibe is completely different and I wouldn't judge based on a single weekend visit. After 10 p.m. on a weeknight is best. No wait for a table, no lines, live jazz—much more pleasurable. It's one of my favorite bars.
I like Little Branch but I also hate standing while drinking my cocktails and I think the standing policy at LB really takes away from the experience. Unfortunately you had a terrible experience and it's easy to see why.
If there were no seats I just wouldn't stay. LB can also get impossibly hot in the summer, just an FYI.