The Lawrence has a laid-back vibe yet takes an assertive stand on flavor
STORY: Hope S. Philbrick
PHOTOS: Erik Meadows
“Pace yourself with that,” a server says while sashaying past the table where the cocktail I’d ordered was just set down by another. “It’s so good you’re going to want to drink it fast, but don’t! It’ll get you!”
With that warning I lift the Trois cocktail to my lips, take a sip and immediately feel like I need to give that server a hearty thanks. Because, yeah, that lip-licking deliciousness goes down smooth and easy. Reminiscent of lemonade, it’s topped with a shimmering cloud of egg white supporting a lemon zest. Less sour than sweet, the cocktail treads in the just-right, well-balanced zone of liquid yum.
The wise server swings by a few sips later to ask, “Well? What do you think?”
“It’s so good!” “Mmm, hmmm,” he purrs while nodding. “Told you!” and then he scoots away.
The Trois cocktail, listed among the bar menu’s “Tested & Approved” options, is a blend of green tea and mint gin, lemon juice, egg white and rose water. It was created by Eric Simpkins, managing partner at The Lawrence. “It’s a throw-back from my days of running the bar at Trois,” he says, referring to the now closed Midtown restaurant. “It’s now a big seller here; it’s fun to see old things come back.”
Lady Lawrence, another best-selling cocktail, is a powerful blend of lavender mint tea vodka, ginger, cassis, lime juice and soda. Ginger dominates with a spicy kick to the palate. Bold is a frequent theme in preparations here, from the bright sauce drizzled over crab, to sharp blue cheese hidden in deviled eggs, to garlic speckled fries, and tangy sauce on shrimp.
Both the bar and food menus change seasonally; only a few items linger all year, including both of those best-selling cocktails and the smooth-sipping House Old Fashioned (bourbon, bitters and sugar). Creative new sips reflect seasonal flavors and, sometimes, themes of “Superheroes & Villains” and “Movie Monsters.” As the weather cools, the popular “Hickory Hollow” returns; it’s made with hickory-smoked whiskey, brown sugar syrup, coffee and bitters. “Our bar team does really great development,” says Simpkins. “We have a solid bar identity; it’s one of our defining features.”
On the food menu, “the Larry Burger is the only thing that stays,” says Operations Manager Jose Gutierrez, since the aim is to “mix it up.” Some version of steak frites is always available, though spicy twists such as the Indian-inspired recipe with vindaloo sauce and curry-spiced fries march across taste buds more assertively than the traditional recipe.
Order whatever most whets your palate here. Kitchen techniques are solid: Meat and seafood are consistently cooked to perfection, whether you prefer rare or well-done, melt-in-your-mouth or a toothsome bite.
Juicy and generous, the Larry Burger tops two beef and pork patties with American cheese, bacon, pickles, caramelized onions, lettuce, mustard and Larry Sauce (a blend of ketchup and mayo). If, say, you prefer a simpler version omitting certain ingredients, let your server know when ordering.
Folks at The Lawrence aim to please. Want ice in your water glass? They’ll bring it. Want crispier fries? They’ll whisk away the soggy ones and bring a hot, fresh batch. Need something to prevent the table from wobbling? Hold on while they grab a shim. Keeping you happy seems more crucial than building a relationship between you as guest and any specific server. The person who takes your order, fills your water glass, delivers plates and swings by your table to offer advice probably will be different each time—and that’s just fine because this big happy team is focused on fostering an enjoyable experience.
The Lawrence was conceived to be “a neighborhood staple,” says Simpkins. “Come in flip flops or a tux and either way feel welcome and at home. Think about it as ‘neighborhood fine dining’—though we’re not white tablecloth in any sense, but definitely try to execute service by fine dining principles and techniques from the bar to the kitchen to the floor.” Since its 2012 opening, it’s evolved to be more approachable; renovations two years ago added booths, a communal bar table and other design elements. Simpkins says, “We’ve added a little more warmth while updating.”
As the dining room fills, the vibe can grow loud and boisterous, matching knockout flavors. It’s solid advice: Pace yourself. You’ll want to come back for more.
Meet Managing Partner Eric Simpkins
What’s your personal favorite cocktail on the bar menu?
My current favorite is the Café Racer #3. It’s a little lighter in alcohol, but it’s got a lot of complexity. It’s a really refreshing cocktail with great herbaceousness, bitterness and spice. As I’ve gotten older, I drink less boozy cocktails.
Is there any one thing you’d never put on the bar menu?
A beet cocktail because it’s one of those foods I still just can’t eat. I say that knowing our bartenders will want to prove me wrong—and I love being proven wrong by our bartenders; Taylor did a corn milk cocktail a few seasons back that sounded slightly odd, but she absolutely nailed it. This will be a challenge. Bartenders are stereotypically great listeners with sage advice.
What’s your advice?
Don’t be [a jerk]. Take what we do seriously, don’t take yourself seriously—that’s what it boils down to. What really matters is people and how you do things consistently.
Who would you most like to serve a drink to?
Greg Best [who’s now at Krog Street Market’s Ticonderoga Club], because we both work so much, but I love hanging out with him. We can talk about cocktails and lots of other things. I don’t get to see him as much as I’d like.
905 Juniper St., 30309
Recommended: Trois cocktail ($12); Old Fashioned cocktail ($12); steak frites ($25); Larry burger ($14).
Bottom Line: The Lawrence serves upscale contemporary creations at competitive prices. Servers are friendly, knowledgeable and attentive, and they work as a team and aim to please. The neighborly atmosphere is casual and can be loud.