Once, when I was mocking a shuffleboard-meets expat bar in South Brooklyn, I proclaimed that the key to a winning hipster-bar formula consisted of equal parts nostalgia and novelty. The place we were in, the name of which escapes me, had it right: combine the proclaimed “weird but cool!”-ness of eight or so regulation shuffleboards at an indoor bar space with a retro throwback feel and you had the recipe for trilby-wearing douchebags to be lined up for months to come.
The Golden Cadillac is not a douchebag bar, at least, there was nary an offensive soul to be seen on the Wednesday night that I met Miss Jen Blair for a few cocktails. Still, as the name might suggest, the bar is capitalizing on the still widely held belief that the way things used to be done was a better and simpler time. I don’t necessarily disagree: some of my favorite watering holes in the city are steeped in classic cocktail vibes, and I’ll be the first to admit that any spot that openly describes itself as “trendy” jumps out to me like only a shitty rooftop club can. However, it’s a thin line you have to walk between tribute and camp.
In my completely unqualified opinion, The Golden Cadillac has stepped one foot too far into the camp pool. It’s a cool space, with a great looking bar, pleasing layout, and decent cocktails (I thought the two drinks I had were a tad unimpressive for $12 a pop, but it’s possible that the A-list bartenders don’t come out until Friday and Saturday night). No one part of the experience at TGC rubs me the wrong way, but they all add up to just a little too much in the eye-roll worthy, “I was born in the wrong decade” department. The 70s motif is ladled on thick as molasses: the lighting behind the bar, the cocktail menu made up to look like a cheap diner, the sound system playing 70s only hits, and the bathrooms wallpapered with vintage back issues of Playboy–one layer of nostalgia piles on top of another until it feels like you’re drinking in a theme bar at Disneyland.
The landscape of New York City is littered with bars, and as trends come and go, its inevitable that enterprising business owners are going to try and hit every possible angle for one that hasn’t been exploited and tapped dry by the city’s saloon-keeper’s. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I surrender my speakeasy, prohibition-era lover credentials to nobody, but just one step over the line can turn your experience from a lovely evening with a well-made cocktail into an adult sojourn into liquor-laced playgrounds. The appeal of those bars from the 20s or the 70s lay in intangible qualities and atmospheres that can’t be recreated by a mandatory handlebar moustache policy or a “playfully guady” decor. It’s great to take inspiration from the beloved eras of the past, but the inspiration is best put to use in creating something wholly new and original rather than reheating the nostalgia in a microwave.