I only went to the Noc Noc one time. They had a new happy hour, and my coworkers Charles Mudede and Christopher Frizzelle and I walked downtown on a sunny summer evening to check it out. I was wearing a floral-print sundress, Charles had on a pink button-down, and Christopher was wearing stripes. Somehow it had eluded us all that the Noc Noc was a goth bar. The blackout curtains were closed, and before we knew what was happening, there we were waiting at the bar, a J. Crew ad in the middle of a murder of crows. We ordered drinks—what else to do?—and the bartender was as nice as could be. In fact, far from pecking us to death, everyone was extremely tolerant of the freaks in their midst (a tolerance no doubt born of experience). I talked to some people for the purposes of the column I would write—they were also as nice as could be—and I danced to New Order with a couple other early-evening soloists, all of us jerking around with our eyes rolled back in our heads. Then I helped a woman who was panicking in the ladies' room because she'd dropped her engagement ring down the sink. Her attire might've led you to believe that she'd eschew the quotidian institution of marriage and its sparkly accoutrements, but no, and she was very much freaking out. "Stay here," I said. "We'll get someone to take the sink trap off and it'll be right there, I swear." And the bartender got the doorman to get a wrench, and there was her ring.
It was really fun.
But I digress. There is a reason for that: I do not relish telling you that the replacement for the Noc Noc—with the notable exception of its cocktails—is just not very good.
It is called Elysian Bar. Brought to you by the local brewpub standbys of the same name, it is a notable departure for the company. It's a cocktail bar, with none other than the great Murray Stenson in-house Monday through Thursday nights, and it's also a high-end restaurant, with entrées ranging up to $32. Elysian-brewed beer is on offer, but when you have world-famous Murray Stenson behind the bar, it's clear that beer is not the raison d'être.
The space is huge, with a sweeping stairway up to a big balcony. The old building's handsome interior brick is still in evidence, as in the Noc Noc days, but there's no mummified angel hanging on it anymore; now the place is anti-dark, airy, and attractive in a uniform, contemporary way. The sole decor surprise is an enormous ceiling fan—possibly one of those Big Ass Fans chronically advertised in the back of the New Yorker—which comically dwarfs a much-smaller-ass chandelier. Also, there are deep purple pleather booths: a bold choice.
The drinks are very good: balanced but pointedly interesting, and, of course, full of alcohol. If you love craft cocktails, you should—you must—go and pay homage to Murray and try the Harrington, which is vodka, triple sec, and Chartreuse; or the Pick of Destiny, with bourbon, apricot liqueur, bitters, and pastis; or an especially good rendition of a Planter's Punch. There are no prices on the cocktail menu, puzzlingly, though wine and most of the beer had them listed; ours were $11 each, which seemed more reasonable than what you'd expect from a menu with no prices on it. The wine list, for a place that has a pricey full menu, is woefully under-considered and unimaginative.
You might not expect much in terms of food from a brewpub company venturing into fine dining, and your low expectations would be met. A little bowlful of sautéed wild mushrooms with grilled baguette ($14) should've been left on the forest floor rather than meet this sadly bland end—they needed salt, pepper, herbs, a splash of vinegar in the sauté, anything. The pieces of shallot that might've provided flavor were undercooked, making for crunchy, unpleasantly sharp-tasting bits here and there. A citrus-roasted beet salad ($11) had no evidence of citrus; the beets were watery and, again, bland, recalling the supermarket canned kind. A peculiar-sounding beet and carob vinaigrette was, maybe thankfully, not detectable. The romaine in a grilled romaine and radicchio salad ($10) was grilled until collapsed, accompanied by the powerful tastes of raw shallot slices and thick, funky Point Reyes blue cheese cream. The slices of sea scallop in a crudo ($12) tasted fresh and good, like slices of raw scallop should, but they were sandwiched among pieces of grilled nectarine that were underripe, unjuicy, and bearing only the faintest grill marks. A small amount of pineapple-lime sauce, piquillo pepper, and matchsticks of jicama and chayote neither integrated well nor helped matters.
Harissa-roasted lamb neck ($22) was a good argument for making that part of the animal into lamburger: Some of the meat was fatty, some tough, and the side of vegetable succotash was oversalted. But it was not as oversalted as the scorzonera slices that came with the sea scallops ($28); if you were curious about the flavor of this relative of salsify, you would remain that way. The scallops themselves were mercifully not overdone, but they lacked any golden sear. If you like razor clams, the fried ones here ($26) will not remind you why; the weird and wonderful flavor and texture are nearly totally lost under the thick panko breading. Luckily, they came with a large pile of fully decent frites and a better-than-tartar cornichon aioli.
What you should get if you're going to eat at Elysian Bar is the New York strip steak. Ours was cooked exactly medium-rare, with a picturesque crosshatching of grill marks; the meat, from Painted Hills, was tasty, and it comes with lots of fries, which you can also get on their own for $5. The server brought us some of the cornichon aioli along with the mayonnaise we asked for, which was nice. She also gave us and charged us for the 12-ounce steak, $32, when we'd ordered the 8-ounce one, $23. This was emblematic of the sweetly incompetent service everywhere at Elysian Bar except the bar. A server awkwardly asked if we wanted to keep the cork from a bottle of sparkling wine; another brought the second course while we were still eating the first, standing helplessly in front of the already crowded table; fresh flatware was dropped in a heap. If you ask for a box for, say, the leftovers of your wrong-size steak, they may just bring you one to box it up yourself, which, for $32, doesn't seem right. Same with too-bright lighting and strange acoustics that make you an unwilling party to bro-y conversations ("Go big or go home!").
You can't blame the servers for their evident lack of training—they'd be perfectly fine at one of the Elysian brewpubs. The kitchen also seems, similarly, nearly entirely out of its depth. Come for a drink. Say hi to Murray. Have some fries.