Phone Number: 212-375-0665
Address: 50 Avenue B
Cross Streets: 3rd and 4th Streets
Closest Trains: F to 2nd Avenue
China 1 was a well known spot among some nightlife natives, but I never went there when they were opened. I suppose other spots in the LES lured me in before I could get to Alphabet City. When I heard they were dumping the Asian theme for something more Continental, I was curious. New European style spots like Salon Milleseme left a good impression on me last year and and the proposed Paris Burlesque Club might open soon, so I invited a friend out to see if the trend would continue.
When you enter Affaire looks like a cozy spot for an illicit rendezvous. The interior of the ground floor is a cross between a French salon and a cocktail lounge speakeasy. High backed chairs will hide you from prying eyes. The seating is intimate without being cramped. The lighting isn’t the pitch black cavern of Underbar or USL, but the overall effect is very poised and collected.
The staff is quite friendly and they look after you from the moment you walk in. All of them go out of their way to be attentive, knowledgeable and quick on their feet. Sean Baker, a veteran operator who runs Affaire with China 1 founder Andrew Krauss, told me that he only brought in staff that could give good service. He wondered out loud how so many venues in New York got away with being mean and condescending to their patrons. I think many local patrons are masochist, but good service is a nice change of pace.
Affaire has a cocktail menu that is varied in their ingredients but very biased in their names. The cocktail list is dominated by drinks like the French 75, the French 69, the French poodle, the French maid…you get the idea. The one notable entry in the drinks menu is the mimosa kit that is served with brunch. For $25, you pretty much get a pitcher of mimosas. Some assembly is required, but the staff will help you put that together to make sure you don’t hurt yourself.
The main eating space actually sits on top of a more substantial venue downstairs. While the décor and the feel of the place is the same throughout, the lower levels are less about cozy couples and more about amorous groups. There are two rooms underground, each one with a separate entrance to the street, a separate DJ booth, and space to roam around looking for love. Affaire could be several separate events or one big party. With all three rooms converted from a restaurant for brunch and dinner to a lounge at night, it could emerge as a major nightlife draw in that part of town.
The music programming has a distinct nightlife feel. Soulful house is pretty much the standard soundtrack for the space, reminding me more of Cielo and Love than any cocktail salon. It’s a sound that absolutely fits a larger, more animated venue but it is a little jarring when you are just sitting back and sipping mimosas. Your body is saying “dance” and your mind is saying “relax”. It takes some getting used to, but practice makes perfect.
The location of Affaire is a bit off the beaten track, but if you are willing to walk a couple more blocks you’ll find that the old China 1 space has been reborn into an interesting combination of pleasant sophistication and soulful house. Whether you show up for brunch, birthday party or a forbidden liaison, Affaire is worth the trip.