Vessel: Not So Happy Hour

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Photo by Adriana Grant
Where: Vessel, 1312 Fifth Ave., 652-5222, downtown.

To get to Vessel you likely will walk past the Koolhaas library, The 5th Avenue Theater, and the Gucci store. Aesthetically, these landmarks will put you in the mood for this swank bar, which is sleek with tall windows, low lighting, and waitresses dressed all in black. There is a set of lime-yellow crackle-glass stairs going up to a cozier loft seating area, but the rest of the venue, including the dress code, is all monochrome.

At the bar, the barkeeps are suited up in the vests and fat-knotted ties that seem to have become de rigueur in the last few months. The cocktails are nicely crafted, subtle concoctions, and, Monday through Friday, from four to six, a few of them arrive on the cheap side. My Manhattan was $6--yes, in that delicate crystal glass--and my boyfriend's Famous Grouse scotch on the rocks was $5 (one of the fancier wells). They've also got three dollar Stellas, five dollar Louis Bouillot Blanc de Blanc (a French bubbly), and a six dollar Raspberry Drop (gin, cherry brandy, raspberry Framboise) which the bartender labeled the chick drink. With only two cocktails on the happy hour menu, the rest of the house cocktails are nine bucks each. (The wells, which also include Plymouth gin and Remy VS Cognac, are one way to go.)

I asked what to order, and one of the bartenders suggested meatloaf. The other chimed in and said they didn't have that. At all. The first kept saying, "I don't work here." The bartenders seemed distracted, complaining that the waitresses weren't listening to them, and after suggesting the dish ordered by the man seated behind us, and me giving the nod, something entirely different appeared before us. The bar was tiny, the place was not packed, but communication was not good. It should have been an easygoing drink, but the pacing felt off, and, despite sitting not two feet away from the bartenders, they were not all that friendly or attentive.

The food also left something to be desired. What arrived was the bagna cauda, cold veggies and warmed butter touched with olive oil and made cloudy by the addition of anchovy. The were a few lengths of broccoli raab, a couple diminutive carrots, a pair of thin asparagus spears, some yellow squash, one fat radish, and two small pieces of bread. The veggies were raw. The oily dip, for which the dish was named, was pungent and delicious, but the presentation of the whole thing was rather underwhelming.

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Photo by Adriana Grant
Better were the truffled potato chips, which arrived glistening and hot. Perfectly salted, with an unguent hit of smoky truffle, we crunched every last one.

The d├ęcor was sleek but the service was not so classy. The bar staff twice tried to up-sell us to more food. The bartender pretended to need clarification on the order, but it felt false. And we had to fend off offers for additional drinks more than once. Yes, we were there for the happy hour, but it was simply not all that convivial.

 
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