Take 2: The ‘20s Roar Back

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAt a new Ninth Square restaurant, you find three blue ladies up front, strutting in red. At the bar, a frothy orange mademoiselle.

That’s “Lady Marmalade”, a new cocktail on offer at The 9th Note, which has opened at 56 Orange St.. Click the video to see bartender Jessica Lundy whip one up.

The blue ladies? They’re part of a work in progress, a mural of three voguing “flappers” that artist Kwadwo Adae is painting on wall by the bar.

Both offerings—the drink and the mural—help define The 9th Note’s theme: The Roaring ‘20s. Christian O’Dowd, the owner has been outfitting the place with vintage glassware and some furniture from the decade, along with live jazz four nights a week and a burlesque show on Sundays. It’s his second try at making the space work as a restaurant.

The 9th Note’s menu of cocktails is inspired by the Prohibition-era popularity of mixed drinks. In those days, O’Dowd explained, bootleg alcohol was often cut with other liquids to stretch it out, the way illegal drugs are today. To cover up the inferior taste of the liquor, cocktails became quite popular.

O’Dowd (pictured) is hoping his cocktails will be a hit, too. The menu of custom cocktails includes a Hemingway daiquiri, made the way Poppa liked it, with maraschino liqueur.

Lady Marmalade features grape brandy, orange liqueur, egg whites, lemon juice, orange bitters, a dollop of marmalade, and a Meyer lemon peel garnish. The drink is shaken twice, first without ice, to get some air into the egg whites, and then with ice, to chill the drink. The result is a complex, frothy, piquant citrus cocktail.

The 9th Note entered recently Lady Marmalade in a 9th Square cocktail contest. The winner will be selected on April 4.

The 9th Note takes the place of Palmeira, the Brazilian restaurant that occupied the same site until recently. O’Dowd took over Palmeira a year ago, but the restaurant never really worked out.

“People wanted a churrascaria,” O’Dowd said, referring to the traditional Brazilian barbecue, where you can get heaps of meat. Palmeira wasn’t that..

O’Dowd was stumped about which direction to take the place, until he decided to just make a restaurant that he’d want to hang out in.

He took out the flowing “cloud” paneling that obscured columns and an “industrial chic” ceiling, and converted Palmeira’s bright color palette into a darker space, accented with red. He added a full-size red-felted pool table, and installed a working 1930s-era rotary-dial phone booth. In a side room, he’s planning a special lounge decorated with vintage furnishings.

Near the front windows, Adae’s mural is slowly taking shape, with nearly nightly painting sessions by the artist himself. “It’s the best marketing tool ever,” O’Dowd said. People walk by and see a guy painting and come in to check it out.

Joshua Bradley, the restaurant’s chef, said his entrees are nearly entirely made from scratch, using all natural meats, local produce, and very little gluten. The dinner menu includes fancy favorites like filet mignon, lamb peppardelle, and lobster mac and cheese.

The restaurant is also open for lunch, and O’Dowd is trying to lure office workers on midday break. The “30 & Out” menu offers sandwiches and salads, for people with only a half-hour to spare.

Palmeira and 9th Square mark a return to New Haven for O’Dowd, who was born on Elm Street. He ran a catering company in Fairfield County for years, before getting into the New Haven restaurant scene almost a year ago.

He hasn’t joined the 9th Square he remembers from his childhood, O’Dowd said. “This area is really coming alive.”

O’Dowd raved about the diverse community of 9th Square stores and restaurants, and the monthly On9 events, when shops and restaurants spill out into the street and, in April, decide who makes the best cocktail. Lady Marmalade will be strutting her stuff.

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posted by: DingDong on March 27, 2014  10:42pm

I really hope this place works out and it seems more promising than previous efforts in what is a tough spot.  They need to do something about the lighting or the windows so that the place doesn’t look empty; for example, put more lighting over the bar so if people are sitting there and the rest of the space is darker, the space won’t seem so empty because the best lit spot is full.  They’ve also got to be really serious about the quality of the cocktails with 116 Crown around the corner.  The way to compete is to make cocktails that are almost as good as 116 Crown, but less expensive (like what the Ordinary does).

posted by: Seth Poole on March 28, 2014  4:56pm

Extremely accurate assessment Ding Dong.  I must check it out, because no place other than BAR had a pool table downtown.

What is it with New Haven and it’s aversion to Billiards?