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The retired NYC cop and Polish woman on a date sitting next to me at the bar were huddled together over a plate of oysters, stacked high on ice. They laughed quietly while trading stories about previous bad first dates and what they were looking for in life and love. Candles lit the dark bar, casting their glow down the line as smiling faces sat in chairs, merrily drinking cocktails. The vibe was good and the clientele were friendly and attractive. Everything was on point even before Eric, the bartender, came over with a friendly hello to introduce himself.

Essex, located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the corner of Rivington and Essex, is a warehouse-inspired spot serving up Modern American fare. Their $26 brunch special  is infamous among locals and includes an entrée and three cocktails, not to mention DJs on Sunday to help New Yorkers keep the party going through the weekend. They’re also well known for their Oyster Happy Hour and 1/2 price drinks—you can find the exact hours on their website; they’re different every day.

Cozied up to the bar, I asked Eric what he’d recommend in the way of cocktails and we settled on a watermelon martini to start things off. I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually made with fresh watermelon juice—you could taste the pulp, and that made me want to take down this martini like I was dying of thirst on a hot day. So yes, I guess you could say I enjoyed it.

Watermelon martini

As I sipped the dangerously delicious martini, I took time to admire the space. Essex is situated within a long industrial warehouse and decorated with simple, elegant touches that give it an atmosphere of casual class. Long mirrors above the bar help to open up the space and make the restaurant feel wider. There are two separate upstairs seating areas at opposite ends of the restaurant that are well suited for private parties or large groups and I imagine these are the hottest seats in the house for the infamous brunch. The bar is fairly large and the bartenders were extremely friendly so if you’re like me, don’t hesitate to hop on up, they’ll take great care of you.

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The bar at essex

Cafe Britt

Eric’s shift was nearly over by the time I arrived so I was passed into the lovely helpful hands of Siobhan. She was gracious and patient while I tried to get the pronunciation of her Irish name right (its ‘Che-von,’ by the way). She was able to give me some wonderful recommendations on food and before long, I was happily dining on their Burrata with Pear and Calabaza salad. If there’s one thing I love in this world, it’s cheese and Essex makes a fantastic burrata. It didn’t hurt that the toast it came with was dripping in butter (in the best way possible) and cooked to crispy perfection. Try it, you won’t be disappointed.

Essex Burrata

MSC Cruises

By now my martini had disappeared and my curiosity at their colorful drink menu had returned. Siobhan recommended I try the Honey Pot, which is whiskey, honey, bitters, and ginger ale. I liked this so much I (guiltily) had two. After over-indulging on so much burrata and toast, I wasn’t sure I felt up to something heavy for an entrée so Siobhan recommended the homemade gnocchi. It’s usually served with shrimp but I’m not a huge admirer of the crustaceans so I had it vegetarian-style and it was the perfect amount of food. The gnocchi are pan-seared on all sides so while the middle is smooth, the outsides are slightly crispy. Stuffed to the gills, I couldn’t even manage to think about dessert.

Honey pot and gnocchi

I had a lovely time at Essex and I look forward to joining Eric and Siobhan again. Next time, I’ll be back for the legendary brunch.

FTC Disclaimer: This article contains sponsored links from Essex. Opinions expressed herein belong to the author.

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