I’ve done a lot of touristy things in my life, I’ve also mimed, said and written the word touristy a lot lately, but never have I ever felt as touristy as when I first went to La Esquina.
Thought never intimately, I’ve always known about La Esquina; you kinda have to know if you’ve ever lived in Lower Manhattan. It’s got a masterpiece of an exterior on the corner of Kenmare Street. It’s the only restaurant in the area that has enough balls to stare you in the face. And with their extraordinary display of neon signage, it’s hard not to take notice.
Even with the level of intrigue I held for it, I hadn’t managed to make myself go in. I’m a big scardy cat who’s more embarrassed to say the wrong thing to a bouncer than anything else in the whole world. La Esquina is tricky, and unless you know someone who will hold your hand through the door, or – at least – tell you exactly what to say, where to stand, and who to nod at it, the night could be a huge fail.
Our friend, a “frequent visitor”, suggested we meet there for dinner. The trickiest thing about La Esquina though is that it comes in three parts; the taqueria at the front, the brasserie in the dungeon and the cafe around the corner. He meant the cafe around the corner, but optimistic-me had no doubt it was the dungeon.
Here’s what I like to think happens to everyone:
You walk into the diner. To the right you see a counter with a smiley hispanic lady waiting to take your order. You wonder if it is her you’re meant to say the secret word to. To the left there are no more than 10 seats with only two guests actually eating. Straight ahead you spot a suited up bouncer with a clipboard and earpiece, the enemy. There is no time for rehearsing so you tell it to him straight, “Um. Hello. How are you. I think our friend is in the restaurant downstairs. There is a restaurant downstairs, right? We’d very much like to eat inside of it. There’s only three of us. Please.”
Not cool. Never calm. Absolutely not collected.
The bouncer actually ignores you for a few seconds before telling you to wait behind the door. You’re not positive what kind of approvals he was getting during those few minutes of waiting, but you’re finally signaled to go in. You! IN LA ESQUINA! Losers no more!
You make your way down the steep stairway and into the speakeasy. You take a right, walk through the working kitchen and see the very chefs who will make your meals. They are obviously pro enough to be completely unaware of your presence. You then make your way to the hostess, but are too caught up in the ambience to make a good first impression. She suggests you get a drink at the bar while you waited. You listen. You also listen to the DJ, positioned in between the long wooden bar and the mysterious, smoky lounge area. And you rest easy with a Pacifico in hand because you’ve made it.
That was our experience, at least. I bet yours went/will go smoother, no little heart attacks along the way.
To be completely frank, we weren’t going there for food. So we were pleasantly surprised when we found ourselves saying we would definitely come back for the taquitos, and the tostadas, and especially the elotes callejeros (spicy, cheesy corn!).
The brasserie downstairs is definitely, authentically just cool. It’s the kind of the place that makes you feel like you’re with in crowd. It manages to be dark and romantic, with a hint of night club.
You know that old saying… goes something like… People wont remember what you said or did. They will remember how you made them feel. I think that pretty much sums up what La Esquina Brasserie is all about. It is the epitome of a wonderfully cool New York City Memory.
La Esquina NYC
114 Kenmare, New York, NY 10012
b/n Lafayette and Centre