The Big Little Mermaid

After going into hibernation, the gleaming Mermaid Inn Chelsea opened back up several months ago

| 21 Dec 2021 | 02:20

In case you thought mermaids were imaginary, this expanding mini-empire’s Chelsea location is here to steer you straight. While it does feel a little magical inside, especially with its gleaming silver balls and glittering tinsel sprucing things up for the holiday season, it’s as real as real can be, and even has some real deals to offer as business has been good.

As Chelsea News reported back in October 2019, The Mermaid Inn Chelsea was just on the verge of opening up, this third address to join their already well-established and wildly popular Greenwich Village and Upper West Side locations, but the pandemic had more nefarious intentions.

Along with the the original in the East Village address that started it all, the Chelsea site went into hibernation, but lucky for us, The Mermaid Inn Chelsea opened back up again with a flourish just a few months ago. The East Village location remains closed for the moment, but is slated to reopen in full force. And keep your eye out on that West Village Oyster Bar, as they are taking over a nearby address for a complementary, yet-to-be-disclosed concept.

The Mermaid Inn is exactly what you’d expect from such nomenclature, a seafood-strong but not strictly limited menu; you’ll find a few non-aquatic options on hand, and the gracious kitchen can accommodate many dietary restrictions within reason. That kitchen is run by Executive Chef Sunny Bang, under the guidance of Chef Michael Cressotti who oversees all the Mermaid menus.

General Manager Andrew Booth has been thrilled with business ever since the opening, not even all-things-COVID-considered, but even in comparison to normal (remember what that was?). “We’re very busy,” which he attributes in part to notorious popularity of the address’s predecessor, The Red Cat. “It feels like we’re carrying on a legacy,” he remarked, with a troupe of carry-over regulars and a very strong bar crowd.

In fact, business is so good they will soon be expanding into the adjacent space that used to be The Drunken Horse. Currently, a fire hydrant directly in front of the restaurant prohibits building an outdoor dining shed (something that played into their inability for remain open in the months of shutdown). But with the added real estate next door, outdoor dining will be accommodated as well as adding a good 40 seats of diners as well as a dazzling raw bar.

Expansive Happy Hour

Until then, the space can serve up to 90 diners, including 14 at the bar. And while the full menu is available at the bar, The Mermaid Inn’s Happy Hour is more expansive than most. First of all, the “hour” runs for two, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., extending the window of opportunity to many who might otherwise not be able to make it in time. Even better, the deal extends to the entire dining room, so one can partake in the festivities seated in the dining room as well as at the bar. That means you could get a glass of a vivacious Spanish white, a couple $1.25 oysters of your choice and a plump shrimp and avocado slider for under twenty bucks. Or maybe a refreshing Montauk pilsner, sumptuous spinach and artichoke dip and two frisky mini fish tacos.

The combinations are vast, and being able to enjoy them properly seated à table presents an affordable date-night opportunity that is almost unthinkable in New York City. The cocktail program is strong as well, all just nine dollars, some of the most popular being the Hot & Dirty, a vodka martini zipped up with fruity peppadew and hot sauce, and the Pink Flamingo, a refreshing gin concoction with basil and strawberry.

Aside from their self-proclaimed Happiest Happy Hour, some crowd favorites off the dinner menu are the Chatham cod nestled into a puree of butternut squash with chard and brown butter, and the signature fish tacos, featuring beer-battered catch-of-the-day, red cabbage and pickled jalapeño pico de gallo.

Most of their seafood is locally sourced, from the cod fresh from Massachusetts, lobster from Maine, fluke from Long Island, and the majority of their oysters showcased from the east coast. As stated on the menu, they are “committed to purchasing and serving responsibly sourced seafood without compromising the future of our oceans.”

Speaking of commitment, the original location offered no dessert menu, but instead graced every table with a simple demi-tasse of chocolate pudding, on the house. This is still their modus operandi, which is both quaint and unique, and definitely marks the occasion both memorable and satisfying. They originally didn’t even have coffee or tea when they opened up 18 years ago, but now offer espresso - a welcome accompaniment to the pudding. Those kinds of things are the mark of true hospitality, the gestures that make you feel welcome and appreciated, and maybe even gives you a little story to tell. The Mermaid Inn has these things in droves.

They will host a four-course $85 New Year’s Eve prix-fixe in which decadence abounds: roasted sea scallops, rock shrimp risotto and their “Almost Famous” lobster roll (the full menu will be featured online). They’ll even surprise with a special, local favorite dessert offering. And as good things tend to prosper, they plan on opening up a fourth Mermaid in Times Square come springtime, a big 500-plus-seat venture which will add another great dining option in that area in which those are historically few and far between. Because you can never have too many Mermaids.