The Little Mermaid

The Mermaid Inn swims into town

Jimmy Bradley and Danny Abrams at the Mermaid Inn

Jimmy Bradley and Danny Abrams at the Mermaid Inn.

Photo By Kyle Ericksen

NEW YORK — Either the gods are conspiring against them or restaurateurs Jimmy Bradley and Danny Abrams just have a knack for opening restaurants in turbulent times. In 2001, six days before the scheduled debut of their TriBeCa restaurant, the Harrison, they and their staff witnessed the horrors of 9/11 unfold firsthand. And tonight, as the war wages on in Iraq, the duo opens the Mermaid Inn, a casual, no-reservations fish house located at 96 Second Avenue in the East Village, where the only thing missing is a crashing surf and the smell of the sea.

"Lucky in business, unlucky in love," cracks Abrams as he leans on the bar on a recent morning. The staff is huddled in a corner undergoing training.

"We have an uncanny sense of timing," adds Bradley, 35, the more smart-alecky of the two, with a cigarette in hand. "Opening a neighborhood restaurant before a national tragedy was part of the plan all along."

However, for Bradley, the chef/owner who grew up in Narragansett, R.I., opening a New England-style clam shack like the ones he knew as a child really was part of the master plan. Finding the right place to do it proved to be more of a challenge — that is, until they discovered a space just three doors down from Frank, the beloved Italian joint that routinely has waiting lines topping an hour.

"The East Village has Italian, Indian, Mediterranean, Thai, sushi — you name it," says Bradley, "but it has very few chef-driven, hospitality-driven seafood restaurants. There’s a void here."

But don’t expect a replica of, say, the West Village’s Pearl Oyster Bar. The Mermaid Inn is less expensive, for one, and the menu has no lobster roll. Rather, its menu covers a range of North Atlantic seafood recipes, including lobster risotto balls, blue crab spinach dip, a Catalonian stew and spaghetti with green salad on top. The wine list features 34 bottles, and Bradley promises he’ll only charge $15 above the wholesale price of any bottle. "A steal!" he growls.

Better yet, dessert is free. "No selection at all," he says. "There’s one a night. Maybe a cup of tapioca, a cupcake, or a slice of watermelon. You can accept or decline." The check arrives in a sardine can.
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