Possibly the most hyped bar in Manhattan, Employees Only is located in the West Village. Employees Only has been featured on numerous “Best Bars/Cocktails” lists and it also features a full menu which definitely merited a visit. Employees Only seeks to be a speakeasy that is influenced by the prohibition era during the 1920s and 1930s. Though it really isn’t much of a speakeasy, especially since there is a sign notifying you that it is Employees Only, the bar area does look like something straight out of the prohibition era. However, the dining room in the back does not really match the decor of the front of the room as it looks rather dated and dull. There is a psychic in the entrance of the bar which is a tad bit gimmicky for my taste but after the fake pawn shop at Beauty and Essex, I’ll let that slide. The bartenders are all very hipster looking and have matching Employees Only tattoos. How does this tie in with the speakeasy/prohibition theme, I’m not quite sure though it is a nice touch.
The menu consits of upscale American bar food with a bit of English and Italian influence as well. Their most popular dish is the Hand-Cut Steak Tartare and the menu also has a few pasta dishes and the an unexpected Elk Loin. Despite a full menu, most people go to Employees Only for the award winning cocktails. The list is split into signature cocktails and “Fancy” cocktails, not that there is a difference really. Despite Employees Only’s numerous awards and mentions, the cocktails, I find, are mediocre at best. The Billionaire’s Cocktail was quite bitter and I’ve had a better Pimm’s Cup at The Lambs Club. Quite frankly I’d much rather put in the extra $8 and go to the Boom Boom Room for drinks. The Steak Tartare was a more Americanized take on the dish by adding Worcester sauce to the dish. I felt this detracted from the taste of the actual dish but I’m sure the increasingly bridge & tunnel crowd Employees Only has been attracting lately doesn’t mind a bit! However, I did enjoy the bar-side preparation of the dish.
I find that Employees Only is mediocre at best and there are much better places in the city to get drinks (Rose Bar and Boom Boom Room are two other and better options). The food is average and so are the drinks. I’ll admit the bartenders provide excellent service but if it’s a good drink I’m looking for I think I’ll venture elsewhere!