Yes, it’s every bit as extravagant as Oscar would want it to be.
As you may know, Oscar Wilde was a nineteenth-century writer closely associated with the Aesthetic Movement, which focused on the inherent value of beauty and art for art’s sake. He shocked Victorian society with his decadent lifestyle and morally ambiguous writings, the best known of which are his satirical play, The Importance of Being Ernest, and his Gothic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. And now, a brand new bar has opened in New York City to honor his legacy. Originally slated to debut in June, the bar—simply called Oscar Wilde—finally opened its doors just last month. You may remember over a year ago, I wrote a post on the best gothic literature-themed bars in Manhattan, of which there are a surprising amount. But as soon as I started seeing pictures of this new bar’s interior, I knew it would put them all to shame. I finally got the chance to stop by for a few drinks last week so I could give you all a first-hand review.
The bar is located in the middle of Midtown Manhattan, on 27th street between 6th Avenue and Broadway, in a building that once served as the Prohibition Enforcement Headquarters—a particularly ironic location for a bar, especially one which celebrates extravagance. Right outside the entrance, a statue of Oscar Wilde sits on a park bench with his cane and bowler hat. Etched into the front glass windows are phrases like “Let the Victorian era reign,” and “Today I would like to sit and drink.” Just behind the glass are several displays of vintage tea sets and other trinkets that provide just a taste of what you will find inside the venue.
If you are familiar with either of the two locations of Lillie’s Victorian Establishment, an upscale watering hole that celebrates the life of Victorian actress Lillie Langtry, you’ll have an idea of what awaits you inside Oscar Wilde. The bars are run by the same two co-owners, Frank McCole and Tommy Burke, and have a similar look and feel. Like Lillie’s, Oscar Wilde is decorated floor to ceiling with portraits, photographs, artwork, and other objects of aesthetic value that bring to life a bygone era. But this time, the bar owners truly went all out. Oscar Wilde is huge, boasting the longest bar in Manhattan, and it’s filled to the brim with all sorts of elegant treasures. The décor features quite a few pieces shipped from various Irish castles, an 1840s marble fireplace imported from France, a number of Welsh chandeliers decorated with feathers, and twenty-six antique clocks all set to the time of Oscar Wilde’s death. And that’s hardly scratching the surface—let’s just say the space is extravagant, and the bar owners spared no expense. Even in the bathroom, there’s a golden faucet in the shape of a swan. But my favorite touch are the many Oscar Wilde quotes which adorn the walls.
But enough about the décor, what I really came here for was the booze. The food and drinks are a bit pricey, as you would expect for this sort of establishment. But in my opinion, the alcohol, at least, is worth it. Their cocktail list is two full pages, featuring a number of unique and intricate drinks that go along with either the Oscar Wilde or Prohibition theme. My favorite so far is one of their seasonal cocktails called “The Nightingale,” though I also enjoyed the creatively named “My Bookie’s Wife’s Cocktail” and “50 Shades of Dorian Gray.” I tend to be less willing to splurge on fancy food, so I ate beforehand, but one of my friends ordered the “broccomole” with taro chips, which makes an excellent drinking snack.
What really set Oscar Wilde apart from other upscale themed bars in the city, though, was the service. Of course, it being the first few weeks since the bar opened, the staff was extra solicitous and eager to make a good impression. But though they’re new, the staff was also highly competent and professional. They managed to accommodate our large and haphazard group, smoothly moving us to a bigger table when more of my friends showed up than expected and easily dividing up the check when we were done. They were happy to provide recommendations and suggestions, and frequently checked in to see if we wanted another round, even once the bar got busy.
Between the carefully cultivated atmosphere, the delicious cocktails, and the high quality of service, I think Oscar Wilde may just become my new favorite place to go when I want to treat myself to a fancy night out. Have you been to Oscar Wilde yet? What did you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!