A former Midtown speakeasy is taking on new life as Bill's Food & Drink, an upscale restaurant that still has some of its old charm. Zagat Editor Kelly Dobkin filed the following report.
The 19th-century Midtown townhouse that once housed the legendary speakeasy Bill's Gay Nineties has been redesigned by the team from Manhattan's Crown And The Lion. But the current restaurant, Bill's Food & Drink, has left many of the bar's original design details intact.
"The idea was to take this old space, breathe some new life into it and make it look like it’s been here for 100 years," says chef Jason Hall. "We kept all the floors and beams, all of the original mantles and fireplaces. Downstairs, we have a really great bar/tavern area. There’s silver dollars in the floors. Our designer Meg Sharpe, she really wanted to preserve the original integrity of it and give it a modern feel."
The kitchen is helmed by Hall, formerly of the group's sister restaurant Crown, and puts a steakhouse twist on classic American fare.
"The menu is really approachable. There's really nothing on there that you don't know. Great burger, great Porterhouse, huge raw bar," says Hall. "One of my favorite dishes is our Bill's Bolognese. Our logo is a billy goat, so we’re making a goat bolognese, it’s kind of a riff on a classic."
The cocktail program is curated by mixologist Ben Scorah, who draws inspiration from the restaurant's former tenant's Prohibition-era fame.
"We wanted to create a drinks menu that kind of hit some of the old pre-Prohibition drinks, and some of the drinks that came just after and during Prohibition, so lots of old classics," says Scorah.
Bill's also features some unique artwork, murals and decor which help personalize the space.
"We really wanted to get back to the speakeasy tavern fare," Hall says. "Our designer Meg she curated a lot of stuff from antique fairs in Bucks County, Penn. and some estate sales in Connecticut and upstate New York and then mixed in a lot of modern pieces. It's a really festive and fun energetic restaurant."