Painkiller, a retro-kitsch Tiki Bar, opens on the Lower East Side Thursday. I'm excited, and not just because of its proximity to GoaG HQ, free hot dogs and daiquiris. But also because Painkiller might rescue theme bars from the vise of cheesiness that often grips them in NYC.
New York doesn't have many theme bars. Maybe because most of the ones it does have leave much to be desired. There's a handful of Mardis Gras joints (two Bourbon Street recreations, the hopefully-not-imminent Hurricane Billy's) and a chain of regrettable frat house satellites that find great humor in alcoholism.
On the other end of the spectrum are neo-speakeasies striving to be cool. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don't. But regardless, the whole thing is kind of tired.
What self-conscious, self-important NYC nightlife needs these days is an injection of campy fun that won't lead to a floor covered in vomit. Painkiller could be where it starts.
Why Painkiller Should Be Good:
It's off the beaten path, on Essex Street between Grand and Hester--right by the shimmering Fung Wah bus depot--and away from the Lower East Side's weekend warpath (roughly bounded by Houston, Delancey, Orchard and Essex) and thus should be spared some of the neighborhood's bigger and more noxious crowds.
Good bones: Painkiller takes over the old East Side Company space. East Side was the cheapest and most casual joint on mix master Sasha Petraske's roster of cocktail bars and charmed drinkers with an art deco railroad car vibe. Big shoes, but I'm hopeful for Painkiller since it's got...
...Cool owners Richard Boccato and Giuseppe Gonzalez behind it. The pair teamed up with Petraske to bring critically-praised "robber baron-themed" drinkery Dutch Kills to Long Island City, a neighborhood previously lacking in nightlife options. Now in a nifty bit of reverse pioneering, they're bringing an original concept to an area saturated with generic meat markets.
There are signs of trouble, namely Scorpion Bowls (ahem, "communal drinks served in custom-made ceramic vessels") that get the rowdy post-college set as excited as a "Don't Stop Believin'" singalong. But the Petraske disciples will balance it all out with a raft of rum-based cocktails. And regardless, the best thing about drinking a scorpion bowl is the inability to remember when or where you drank a scorpion bowl.
Photo via Mitch Winstein
Photo 2 via UrbanDaddy