Upper East Side mainstay J.G. Melon recently opened a downtown location in Greenwich Village (89 Macdougal Street; 212-744-0585), the first time in 22 years that two J.G. Melons have existed on the isle of Manhattan (an Upper West Side location closed in 1993).
Recognized for having one of the best burgers in NYC, J.G. Melon is also included in the dwindling class of longtime New York restaurants still thriving today. Whether eating at the aged wooden bar or at one of the many green checker-topped tables, the vibe you get here is pure New York, through and through. Patrons flock to the place for that vibe — both well-heeled banker types and old ladies drinking bloody marys — and for the no-frills burgers.
The downtown location was recently opened by longtime manager Shaun Young, along with Magnolia Bakery’s Steve Abrams and Danny Abrams of the Mermaid Inn. The expansion rights were sold to the team by owner Jack O’Neill, allowing them to copy everything from the original. Before we get to the burger, let’s take a look at the place.
The new location on the corner of Macdougal and Bleecker is a little more happening in terms of foot traffic than 74th and Third. The outside looks similar, with the same green awning. Inside, the layout is different, with a smaller (ten stool) bar in the back of the restaurant, along with a much larger kitchen than the cubbyhole of the uptown version. In terms of capacity, a bartender reports they have “about 30 percent more seats.”
The decorations, all Melon-themed, seem authentic to the original location — still kitschy. Wood floors and the same wooden stools are familiar and comforting, but wait — this location has two large booths, while the original has none. The green paper menus and menu board are intact. Even a jukebox stocked with rock ‘n’ roll and Eighties hits sits next to the kitchen, just as the uptown music machine does. And oh: The bathroom is now downstairs.
OK, OK, now to the burger: Don’t worry, it’s just as great. A not-too-large patty sits between the smallest amount of bread that can still qualify as a bun. And, as at the original location, an order of medium-rare comes out a little closer to rare (always a good thing). True to its origins, the downtown burger is juicy and flavorful without an application of ketchup or mustard. In a blind taste test, any seasoned regular would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
And the famed silver-dollar-size cottage fries? Yep, those are also the same, albeit more heavily salted. The desserts, made by Magnolia Bakery, re-create the ones you’ll find uptown. The apple sour-cream pie is slightly dense, but tastes fresh and well-made.
While the menu is almost exactly the same (and the bloody marys on point), the character and warmth of the 43-year-old restaurant is missing. The bar is new, but seems less like a successful replica of a New York classic than something that belongs in a TGI Friday’s — it lacks the soul of the original. And there’s something about waiting in line at the old spot, beer in hand, that the new place could not re-create.
If you’re on the fence, it could be said that the downtown J.G. Melon now serves the best burger below 59th Street. But if you want something a little more authentic, head back uptown.