I thought I'd been alone in my distaste for Wet Willie's restaurant. For years it occupied a 7,000-square-foot space at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Market Street. It dispensed pre-fab slushy cocktails to downtown tourists who didn't realize life was too short to worry about a Slurpee headache while you enjoy a cocktail.
The signs for the new resident of the space at 555 Market St. had been in the windows for months: Blush Ice Bar + East-West Kitchen. The distance from Blush to my place of residence can be measured in a few dozen steps. Hallelujah, because in my ideal world there's an oyster joint halfway down the block.
I counted the days until the opening party. Apparently, so had hundreds of others. It was packed and the crowd was sweaty. In close quarters I struck up more conversations than usual, and was mildly surprised to hear so much bile about ol' Wet Willie's. Nobody was sorry it was gone. Some party guests were relieved the interior was no longer a ghost town. One woman I chatted with waved her fist and spewed vitriol about how it had been an eyesore for too long. I nodded, far too vigorously.
That's when I spotted the slush dispensers behind the bar. I nearly dropped my tray-passed, blue crab-stuffed mushroom (topped with Humbolt Fog goat cheese), which was warm and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
Blush kept some of the Wet Willie's machinery? Noooo. I tried to get closer to the bar, but was intercepted by a waitress bearing tiny takeout cartons of "secret recipe" house-special garlic noodles. The thick, hearty noodles reminded me of one of my all-time favorite dishes from New York City, cold sesame noodles from Noodles On 28th. So far, so awesome with the Asian/American cuisine. Thumbs up to executive chef Daniel Barron (formerly of Blue Point Coastal Cuisine and La Valencia), and chef de cuisine Stephen Gage.
Kudos, too on the décor—light, minimal and open. But what are those slushy machines doing here? Blush, it turns out, is a fledgling chain started in San Jose, and co-owner Taylor Kim had invented Blush cocktails, which include a float of blended ice atop drinks based with gin and other spirits. While I stopped hyperventilating, it was pointed out that Wet Willie's served artificially flavored gush. Blush cocktails are topped with frosted ice that's mixed with fresh fruit.
Um, okay. As long as the oysters are good.
The oysters are legit. Blush installed a raw bar in one corner (in nearly the identical spot where Visions—pre-Wet Willie's, circa 2007—had one). Blush will regularly feature half a dozen different oysters daily, and I'm promised a $1-each Happy Hour will be implemented.
Speaking of Visions, years ago I attended a packed pre-opening party for that night clubby iteration here, only to see crowds dwindle precipitously. Blush will have to stay on its toes, especially with with price point, to get people to walk off crowded Fifth Avenue and into its doors.
Meanwhile, hand me a plate of oysters and some house cocktail sauce with just the right amount of horseradish, and I'll coexist with the Blush cocktails.
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