Barstool Review: The Leadbelly Oysters and Liquor

In a neighborhood filled with nightlife options, it’s hard to stand out. But The Leadbelly – an oyster and cocktail lounge located deep in the lower Lower East Side slash Chinatown – manages to do just that. With its comfortable vibe, $1 oysters and simple yet delicious cocktails, The Leadbelly – from the team behind East Pole and The Fat Radish, conveniently located just across the street – just may be one of our new favorite hangouts.

When we showed up a particularly freezing Monday night recently, the scene was pleasantly buzzing in a low key way. We scored bar seats and chatted up the bartender Gabriel Smith, who informed us that the Happy Hour drink special of the night was a Cider House Whiskey, his creation of Jameson Irish whiskey, lemon, honey, nutmeg, bitters, cinnamon and apple. For $8, we had to try it. And we’re glad we did. It was smooth with a bite, boozy but easy to drink.

Whiskey Ginger

Gabriel – who started working at The Leadbelly in August 2013 – also recommended the Whiskey Ginger, with Tullamore Dew, ginger, lemon and honey – a fleshed out version of the Cider House Whiskey. Refreshing and light, thanks to the citrus, it’s an approachable drink, even for non-whiskey drinkers.

The complimentary popcorn at the bar, covered in butter, salt, chili pepper and a hint of garlic, was a nice touch and we would be lying if we said we didn’t finish the bowl in under five minutes flat. Since it was a slower night, Gabriel even took time to play records on the antique record player, which sits atop a stand-up piano. Of course, the place is named for the jazz musician Huddie William “Leadbelly” Leadbetter, so the musical details made perfect sense.

Because we can’t just drink whiskey all the time (right?) we tried The Shaman – a mix of Dorothy Parker gin, elderflower, lemon, Fernet Branca and sage – and the Cucumber Julep, with Reyka Vodka, cucumber juice and mint leaves. This refreshing cocktail reminded us of summer, with its crushed ice – the best! – and a hint of mint. It almost made us feel like we were sipping sunset drinks on the beach. Almost.

The Leadbelly Shaman

After a few drinks, we needed some more food. The $1 oysters were a must be we also enjoyed an order of Organic Beef Sliders and devoured the Peeky Toe Crab Gratin because: cheese. It was a creamy and delicious and gone in 30 seconds.

The Leadbelly peeky toe grab gratin

Peeky Toe Crab Gratin

Before leaving, we tried one last drink: a light and boozy riff on the Last Word with gin, lime, Cointreau and Lillet Blanc with an absinthe rinse. We don’t usually drink much gin but everything Gabriel with the spirit was so delicious, we might rethink that.

And soon, we will be back. For the oysters, for the music, for the friendly staff. But mostly, for the drinks.


The Leadbelly

14B Orchard Street

Twitter and Instagram: @theleadbelly
Monday – Saturday: 6 p.m. til 2 a.m.
Sunday: 5 p.m. til 12 a.m.



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