A cocktail bar veteran’s low-key destination in the heart of East Harlem, Lion Lion has all the pedigree without the frills, serving an abundance of uptown flavor and hospitality. Come for the unique seasonal drink list and stay for the refreshingly relaxed vibe and outdoor patio.
OUR ARTICLEBY: Katherine Barton Contributing writer
A quick step down off the vibrant El Barrio thoroughfare of 116th Street, behind a thick velvet curtain, sits one of East Harlem’s best bars. Lion Lion was founded in 2016 by Zack Gelnaw-Rubin (Little Branch, Dutch Kills, Attaboy) and Dave DeStefano, and draws its name from their shared astrological sign. It’s hard to miss, unlike most speakeasy-type locations, due to the massive LION LION cabaret sign that greets you at the door.
Passing through the curtain, your eyes slowly adjust and you find yourself inside the belly of the beast—a subterranean dimly-lit den pulsing with a classic hip-hop soundtrack and a slow-burning energy. Lion Lion is snug and dark in a way that feels intimate and conspiratorial. The only sources of light come from flickering candles on low-slung tables and a scattering of red-shaded wall sconces, their warm glow illuminating vintage photos of other famous Leos: Robert De Niro, Orville Wright, et. al. The decor is intentional but laidback, a reflection of Lion Lion’s prevailing come-as-you-are philosophy.
Regarded by locals as a neighborhood staple and now settling into its fourth year of operation, Lion Lion is the unassuming bar that quickly consumes you and spits you back out onto the street a few hours later fully re-calibrated.
Best known for the “Bartender’s Special,” a Negroni and a Baby Pineapple Daiquiri, the menu at Lion Lion hosts a rotating cast of inventive seasonal cocktails in addition to more standard fare. Currently on offer is The Love Jones—a hard-hitting concoction of Bourbon, Fernet, Ginger, Maple, Lemon, and Mint—a strong option for those looking for a twist on a classic. For the more adventurous palate, the Scream Queen features Gin, Pine Liqueur, Pineapple, Lemon, and Demerara syrup. A robust Happy Hour menu covers all the bases, offering $22 wine carafes, beer-and-a-shot deals, and discounted signature cocktails.
While the drinks are the raison d’être here, if you happen to arrive hungry you are not without options. Food at Lion Lion comes primarily in the form of heaping plates of meats and cheeses—Cured Meats and Cheese can be combined for The Works, with additional selections of pretzels, pickles, nuts, and other substantial bar nibbles. Making a meal of it depends on your dietary leanings and definition of “meal,” but the selections do not disappoint.
The bar gets busy, especially late-night on weekends, but a clever use of space and a seating counter along the back wall ensure that you can reliably find an open stool or two. An outdoor patio with additional tables provides a breather from the heady atmosphere inside and is open year-round, weather pending.
Regarded by locals as a neighborhood staple and now settling into its fourth year of operation, Lion Lion is the unassuming bar that quickly consumes you and spits you back out onto the street a few hours later fully re-calibrated. If you can imagine everything that you love about your current favorite cocktail bar (strong drinks, ambiance), without all the things that you hate (pretentious service, crowds), you’re getting close to the experience.
The website won’t tell you much. Menu and seasonal drinks are posted on their social channels regularly
For the selfie inclined: the bathroom is mirrored & lit by a single red bulb. Get your sexy ’gram on
Outdoor patio closes at 11pm nightly, out of respect for neighbors
Happy Hour is 5-7pm Monday—Friday
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