There is a room inside Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion that has three televisions in it. The decadence of the arrangement must have been extraordinarily impressive at the time.
The King raised the bar for the television to available wall space ratio. In the modern age, however, standards have changed. The interior designers of the Lansdowne Bar & Grille would sneer at Elvis’ television ownership: “Three televisions in a living room? We have three televisions in the men’s bathroom alone.”
No fewer than 26 plasma televisions festoon the walls of Lansdowne’s main room. That’s one for every booth, four behind the bar and maybe a dozen others strategically situated to ensure that from even the most awkward corner of the pub at least four screens are easily visible. That this overabundance of flat-screen is rendered oddly tasteful by Lansdowne’s clean and stately layout is no small feat. The bar is well appointed and spacious, striking a nice balance between tables and standing room. The lighting receives similar consideration. During dinner hours, Lansdowne is bright enough to maintain the expansive sensation but still soft enough to flatter. In the night, the bar is suitably darkened to provide for evening bar proclivities. The polished wood and brick interior does not push any design boundaries but finds novelty in tradition.
The food follows the same doctrine, albeit less successfully than the interior design. Standard pub fare gets interesting if not revolutionary updates at Lansdowne with somewhat mixed results. The Lansdowne Wedge with crumbled blue cheese, bacon and slivered onions replaces the iceberg of standard wedge salads with leafier Boston bib lettuce. Without the icy crispness of the iceberg, however, the salad is overpowered by the creaminess of the dressing. The hickory burger, a welcome appearance in New Haven, left some things to be desired, possessing the telltale cylindrical shape of a premade patty. The tangy hickory sauce was tasty but nothing to write home about. The chili soup was extremely thick and meaty, lacking the zest of more tomato-based chilies.
Easily the boldest creation on the menu is the buffalo chicken egg rolls. Shredded chicken dipped in buffalo sauce, blue cheese crumbles, slivered carrots and celery are rolled up and fried until crispy. In high concept, this innovative treatment serves to abate the staggering messiness of wings by bundling all the things you love into one easily and cleanly consumed morsel. In practice, alas, the roll attacks the distinctness of the disparate flavors and temperatures that make wings delicious. The carrots and celery get hot and lose their crisp freshness, the blue cheese melts and the tangy spice of the buffalo sauce gets lost in the mix.
The more traditional bar fare comes closer to achieving excellence within more traditional approaches. Lansdowne’s chicken nachos clearly have their heritage in the pub and not someplace south of the border. The only spice to the nachos was provided by a cascade of those ubiquitous and wholly inappropriate sliced marinated jalapenos strewn on top of the chips. The grilled chicken, too, was oddly disconnected from the nachos — moist and delicious, it comes in oversized strips far too large to fit on even the restaurant-sized chips. Nevertheless, the cheese, diced tomatoes, red onion and pinto beans were well mixed with the blue and white corn tortilla chips (although simple tomato and red onion isn’t exactly pico de gallo). Also, the menu’s notation that guacamole and sour cream can be added for a dollar each begs the question, since when did sour cream start adding the same surcharge as avocado? Perhaps Lansdowne’s sour cream is imported.
Two things hold generally true about all Lansdowne’s dishes. For all the food’s inadequacies, the portions are generous. Served on long rectangular dishware, everything is meant to be enjoyed in a communal fashion. The second theme is more dubious for a bar to employ. All the food makes you thirsty. Whether with thick sauces, dry food or general saltiness, most of the dishes demand that something accompany them to slake your growing thirst. Naturally, in a bar this particular facet of the cuisine is somewhat suspect. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), Lansdowne has a large selection of beers on tap, ranging from Bud Light to Newcastle to Guinness, and an expansive and inventive drinks list. Most of this list is peculiarly spent describing ornate $5 “shots,” but a waitress indicated that most of these drinks could be obtained in a full size for a few dollars more.
Ultimately, few people will fall in love with Lansdowne for the food. A vibrant scene of Karaoke Thursdays, DJ Fridays and live music Saturdays are the best thing about Lansdowne, even if this scene is largely untrammeled by Yalies. That and the TVs.
Lansdowne is open seven days a week and observes normal bar hours.