SOME things in life are unfathomable. Why is today only Wednesday, when by all rights it really ought to be Friday? Why do humans have appendixes? Why is a gall stone not at all like a ruby, but more like an Egyptian olive? (There’s a story here, but I refuse to share on a public forum.)
And why is it that Freemans, tucked into a Lower East Side alleyway, is entirely staffed by gorgeous young twenty-somethings?
Not that I’m complaining. As distracted as I was by the decor (taxidermized animal heads and a wasps’ nest?), I was equally enchanted by the lovely cheekbones of our hostess, the fanatic lipstick of our waitress, the rugged swath of carefully maintained five o’clock shadow on our waiter, and the off-hand physical grace of one of the other waiters. Not to mention their outfits! If this was a fashion blog, I’d look no further for inspiration.
However, Nan and I had convened at Freemans not to ooh and ahh over beautiful hipsters (which we did anyway), but to get to the business of trying out a new brunch spot, testing New York magazine’s profile and finding a quiet moment in the middle of a busy city.
In Nan’s mid-week planning email to me, she wrote:
“i’ve also long had a hankering after (and never been to) this uber-pretentious hipster brunch place off of rivington, but the reviews are mixed, so i think we’d be going for the “exclusive” factor and the atmosphere, which can also be humorous and fun.“
We also agreed, by phone this time, that brunch should (at times) be an occasion that is at once terrifying and awe-inspiring. As in, “we’re terrified of real-life hipsters and their stronghold on urban cool” while yet being inspired to try different styles (not skinny jeans! no, never those!) and, apparently, new brunch haunts.
Tucked into an alleyway populated by graffiti, lightbulbs strung up on the overhanging fire-escape, and a small flower-box, Freemans is at once urgent and complacent. Serving such homegrown classics as “stone-ground cheddar cheese grits,” they have nonetheless transformed the alleyway into a haven for aloof twenty-somethings with their giant plastic glasses and baggy-elbowed sweaters. But somewhere between the amazing cheekbones of the wait-staff, the taxidermied duck hanging above our heads and the ultimate coolness of the people at the tables surrounding us, Nan and I did find that quiet haven in the middle of a bustling city.
Our conversation was brief; Nan was distracted by the waiter, and I kept looking at the constant parade of hipsters in the small plot in front of the restaurant door. Between the lapses in conversation and quiet sips of our coffee, we managed to polish off their waffles (with creme fraiche, bananas, and ample syrup) and the skillet eggs (with spinach, gruyere, and bacon). Nan, the vegetarian, flicked off the bacon and scooped the cheddar cheese grits into its place.
If we’d had room, we would have sampled their desserts, too. But our appetites–both visual and gastronomic–were well sated. We did share a Southern Belle, a champagne cocktail with an orange garnish, but were too filled to even consider dessert or a third cup of coffee. The entire meal came to $56, and included a trip to their very cute washroom.
The experience was delightfully refreshing. Being hidden from view in Freemans Alley gives you the sense of being secretive, of indulging in something blissfully new and somehow vital to the evolution to the city. It’s a facade, of course, but Freemans is, at its core, an actor. Much like the hipster crowd who frequent its quaint shadows, the true Freemans experience is at once a pose and a vulnerable request for acceptance. And I’ll say this for its effectiveness: I’ll certainly be back, if only to see if that cute waiter is still employed and still confusing “plums” for “waffles.”
NOTE: On November 11, 2009, the NYTimes ran an article on the reemergence of a Victorian fashion aesthetic, and referenced Freeman’s as “one of the trends most active petri dishes.” Did I not call that? One point to me!