Decades-old dive bar Milady’s is being revived this week as a cocktail bar at its former home at 160 Prince Street, at Thompson Street. The Soho spot once known for its cheap beer and pool table closed in 2014 and will open its doors on Wednesday, October 19 under the reins of Julie Reiner, behind Brooklyn bars Leyenda and Clover Club.
Milady’s will be a grand return to Manhattan for Reiner, who was a former partner in the since-shuttered Flatiron Lounge and Pegu Club. “It was called Milady’s, how do we not reopen it... we are the ladies!” she says. At Milady’s, she teamed up with her partners at Leyenda and Clover Club, Christine Williams, and Susan Fedroff, as well as Sam Sherman, who runs the kitchen at Clover Club and will serve as a partner and executive chef at Milady’s.
The question is this: In a Carbone-ified Soho, how does a star cocktail team revive a neighborhood watering hole that meant a lot to a cast of characters?
To start, Reiner put some of her cocktail historian friends on the case to help her uncover more about the legacy of Milady’s — which proved harder to find in city records than she anticipated. For one, it is not exactly clear when the bar first opened and the name itself has muddled origins. In 2014, Jeremiah Moss wrote in his blog Vanishing New York, “Zagat says it’s been there for 81 years. Others say since 1947 or sometime in the 1950s. Either way, Milady’s has been around for a long time. And now it’s gone.” But what is clear, as Moss went on to write, is that the “funeral party” was so packed that the bar, allegedly, ran out of beer on closing night — the team had to grab bottles from a nearby deli. This is to say Reiner is aware that the fandom for Milady’s runs deep and some might have an opinion about it no longer being a dive.
“I used to go to Milady’s in the late ‘90s, it was a nostalgic sort of place, so I wanted to make sure there were throwbacks from that time frame,” she says of the menu she developed with beverage director Natasha Mesa, that’s giving major Sex and the City energy.
There’s the Big Apple martini (with apple-infused gin, apple liqueur, and vermouth), a nod to the appletini that is experiencing a “second coming,” and which initially helped catapult Reiner’s career. A Hawaiian iced tea with Grey Goose L’Orange also makes an appearance, and of, course, the Milady’s martini (gin, rose vermouth, Tio Pepe, and amaro, with a purple olive), which can be ordered as either “cheeky” (mini-sized, a three-ounce pour), or “full-figured.”
The idea for the minis — which are growing in popularity at NYC bars this year — came from wanting customers to “taste through the menu, without being overserved,” she says.
Keeping with the ‘90s/early-aughts theme, there is a selection of house-made gelatin shots, dubbed jigglers on the menu, which arrive in the shape of a pineapple or star, presented in clam shells (there’s also a blueberry lemon drop jiggly served in a shot glass with a “sugar-dipped lemon wedge”).
Unique to this project, Reiner tells Eater that she’s built an additional “showcase well” where roving bartenders can host pop-ups, which she hopes will be monthly, and where she herself can occasionally return to make drinks.
The food menu is more significant than the cheese fries Milady’s was known for. The bar splits its menu, developed by Sherman, into “high dive” (think chilled lobster tail, a caviar dip pie with creme fraiche, egg, and dill, crab mac and cheese, and a veggie burger with roasted coriander sauce), and “dive” (burgers with American cheese, chicken tenders, soft sourdough pretzels, jalapeno corn dog poppers, and loaded potato skins with bacon, queso, and sour cream). For dessert, find boozy root beer floats, chocolate peanut butter mousse, and apple cobbler. Dishes like smoked salmon with crispy hash browns, truffled egg toast, and cinnamon apple pie pancakes, will be served for brunch.
“Milady’s was always a fun place to go... we wanted to make sure the dive side really is full of the things you’d expect at a dive, they’re nostalgic for people,” says Reiner.
As for the design overhaul of the now-68-seat room, Reiner says, “when you talk to people who went to Milady’s the number one question is ‘are you going to have the pool table?’ which is really funny,” she says. But with the cost of doing business in Soho in 2022, “a pool table takes up a larger amount of space and isn’t feasible to keep it,” she says, adding that she wanted to have an homage to it with a pool table-inspired wall installation while being able to gain back those extra seats.
Milady’s will be open Monday through Thursday 12 p.m. to 12 a.m., Fridays noon until 2 a.m., Saturdays 11 a.m. until 2 a.m., and Sundays, 11 a.m. until 12 a.m.