One of the great things about restaurants like Gramercy Tavern, The Modern, Bobo, Colicchio & Sons, Aureole, et al. is that those who sit in the beautifully appointed dining rooms pay the formal dining room prices. Those who walk in or those wanting a more casual experience miss out on the formal glamor, the elegance of the main show but dine from a lower priced, bar food centric menu.
One of the big issues with Village newcomer The Lion is that the people out in Siberia, The Tavern Room, are paying dining room prices (meaning everything is $5-10 more than it should be) for a bar room experience. And unlike its clubby, throwback to another era predecessors like Monkey Bar, the rooms here are like night and day.
The main dining room is the one with the skylight, the paintings, the glamzons, the tablecloths, that terraced private table (see Sam Sifton's review). Over in the bar room it's impossibly loud, the tables are so close together it requires great skill and some embarrassment to get out, and for those seated by the bushes, there is a bonus Lemon Pine-Sol smell with a subtle hint of dog shit (see Adam Platt's review).
On top of that there's the bouncer at the front door who asks if you have a reservation as if it's a challenge, a bitchy reservation staff, and a bathroom attendant who is quite lovely but wholly unnecessary, perhaps placed there just to make sure none of these scenesters have sex in the loo.
As far as the food goes, the two times I visited I found it decent to disappointing and somewhat overpriced (not on paper but for what you get). The burrata with watermelon and tomato water was, one guess, watery. The arichoke fritters were leaden, the fries overly starchy. The $18 burger (that comes without fries but with a whole jar of pickles) comes topped with a slab of excessive pork belly (bacon would get the job done in a much better fashion) and soaks through the bun by the time it arrives. The pasta annunziata ($23) is bland but oversalted, the lobster pot pie, filed with ample but chewy lobster, is small and runny. However, the green and white asparagus with a beautifully runny egg were lovely, as was the chicken, the souffle, the spinach, and the cheesecake in a jar.
That said, if food isn't your main concern and you can get a reservation in the main dining room, it's a beautiful place in which to dine. Service is friendly (until you take out a camera) and efficient without lags and without the feeling that they're aching to turn your table. John DeLucie is on the scene to glad hand, and the be-suited, chauncey crowd, well, it is what it is. If you're stuck in the bar room, have your dinner elsewhere and just stick around for a drink. It's a dark long bar and they have everything you need.
Verdict: As far as shitshows go, The Lion makes a fairly weak showing. Overpriced with a short half life but not a shitshow.