Eater NY is chronicling what we’ve loved this summer — a handful of the dishes, drinks, spaces, and people from restaurants that have opened in the past six months.
For over a year, I had been hearing so much about HAGS, a highly-anticipated queer and trans-owned fine dining restaurant by chef Telly Justice and sommelier Camille Lindsley. As it turns out, the actual experience of dining at the new East Village spot — which opened in July — actually did feel as joyful as the messaging behind it.
Much has been written about a new wave of restaurants opening during the pandemic that feel like a party, fueled by alcohol and a rowdy environment. HAGS was none of those things — I didn’t even really drink much — and yet, all the whimsical elements truly made it feel like I was at a birthday party that had me goofily smiling like I was tipsy.
Here, staff use perfume bottles to spritz rosewater onto salad and a tasty heirloom tomato slice is coated in a fava bean and sesame emulsion to mimic Nickelodeon slime. Tables are set with a plate of pronoun pins for customers to wear, if they wish, and heart lights (that also kind of look like butts) that customers can toggle for mood lighting. A warped circus mirror is installed in the bathroom (don’t skip out on stealing one of the butter mints in the jar), and the playlist ranges from the ‘80s synth pop song “I Touch Roses” by Book of Love to mainstream pop like Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy.”
It would be easy for a high-end restaurant with these elements to feel try-hard. But HAGS felt incredibly genuine to me, and dare I say, downright wholesome?
Dining there is a whole lot of fun, yeah, but HAGS isn’t operating on good vibes alone. My co-worker Luke and I each ordered different tasting menus so we could try both. HAGS may well be the only NYC restaurant where the vegan menu might be even more exciting than the meat-filled version — that in and of itself is a feat in a restaurant scene with so much outdated, lingering stigma around what vegan food must be. Especially noteworthy was the homey hunk of glazed tempeh (with the gold rice, squash, and spicy, paper-thin collard greens). It’s clear Justice, who used to be a longtime vegan herself, and her team (each credited on the menu), care so much about creating a vegan option that not only isn’t afterthought, but can go toe-to-toe with its omnivore counterpart.
At $145 for the four-course vegan tasting menu, service included (the omnivore version is $155), HAGS is by no means priced for everyday dining; but, on Sundays, the restaurant offers a casual pay-what-you-wish menu for a more accessible meal option.
Is HAGS the best meal in NYC? From a technical standpoint, no — and honestly, I don’t think that’s what the team is even going for. But as the yearbook-inspired acronym name suggests, dining here on a special occasion, with a close friend you want to belly laugh with, is, if I do say so myself, one of the best ways to Have a Good Summer in 2022.