Today's deal lets you experience the joy of drinking someplace exclusive without the heartbreak of being excluded from it. For $20, you get $40 worth of soul food and speakeasy drinks at Tillman's, a burnished slice of '70s Harlem that somehow fell through time to crash-land in Chelsea.
Though there are no bouncers with clipboards or passwords to impede your entrance through the plush velvet curtain, Tillman's autumn-brown lounge of cedar floors and mahogany leather will make you feel as if you've entered a speakeasy built for insiders only. But for all the "Smooth Criminal" atmosphere, Tillman's is remarkably egalitarian. Though dinner reservations are required to eat in the area with live music, Tillman's has no VIP section, not even for Jay-Z, who has been spotted there ordering the entire menu. The seats, serpentine booths, and alcoves all face toward the center of the room, creating the ideal conditions for people-watching, being people-watched, and for furtive eye contact for spontaneous romantic encounters or missed connections waiting to happen.
In the past, the DJ used to be picked at random from the crowd to helm a large song selection; but after too many people opted for John Cages 4'33", the neo-soul, classic soul, funky jazz, and cool hip-hop spinnage has since been left to the professionals. Patrons are free to artfully relax with a Moscow Mule (vodka, lime juice, ginger wine, ginger ale, $12) or a Tillman's Toddy (honey bourbon, lemon juice, and hot apple cider, $12) in hand.
As for food, Tillman's menu specializes in gourmet grilled cheese and melts such as the Tillmano (roasted marinated pork, black forest ham, and Taleggio cheese on a Portuguese roll with a side of plantain chips and chipotle sauce, $14) and the brie-and-spiced-pear grilled cheese on brioche loaf with black truffle butter ($14). There's even a vegan grilled cheese option ($13). Soul food connoisseurs, on the other hand, can skip all this in favor of some Louisiana Cajun gumbo ($9) or Tillman's sweet lick ribs with roots chips and black eyed peas ($15) before closing with Tillman's one and only dessert, toasted strawberry shortcake ($8).
The press, particularly the gossip press, hangs out a lot at Tillman's, hoping to spot a famous face in the amber-lit alcoves. And the speakeasy's air of soulful cool has wowed 'em at Urban Daddy, New York on Tap, and Business Traveler; Yelpers give Tillman's 3.5 stars:
- It's a rare lounge where every seat is prime, add polished table service and precisely crafted drinks and you've got the makings of a Chelsea staple. – New York on Tap
- As I stepped inside, I had the distinct feeling that it was a place only those "in-the-know" frequent. – Ally Miola, Business Traveler
Speak Easy and Carry a Quick Wit
Since Tillman’s provides that speakeasy feel without all that inconvenient illegality, you should be able to have a classy, laidback evening. However, in the event that a small bubble of chronological distortion propels the establishment back in time to the Prohibition era, here are some tips for getting out of a tight scrape with the gumshoes and other Eliot Ness wannabes. When the raid goes down, think quickly and do one of the following:
- Wave your cell phone around and be worshipped as a god. Note: Will not work with law enforcement officers who believe in witches.
- Paradoxically create a historical disaster. For instance, knock over a stool, which lands on a man’s foot, which causes him to miss work, thus not securing the fuel valves on the Hindenburg. This will not help your immediate situation, but it will distract you by blowing your mind.
- Offer the detectives a free drink. It’s just crazy enough to not work at all.
- Explain that the alcohol is for medical purposes. If they ask what condition you’re treating, solemnly reply, “The human one.”
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165 W 26th St
New York, New York 10001Get Directions