When Rabbithole closed in the fall of 2022, after 15 years of holding it down on Bedford Avenue, we lost what has become an increasingly rare sort of beast in this part of Williamsburg: the low-key local hang, a place where you can pop in for a drink and/or a meal, maybe run into someone you know. No fuss, no spending a fortune.
So it comes as more than a little bit of relief that this sprawling space — lively bar area up front, comfortable dining room in back, super cute patio in the way back —has been transformed by a trio of charming young hospitality veterans into a new restaurant and bar equally committed to becoming a neighborhood favorite.
“We just want to create a home away from home, a neighborhood place where you can feel comfortable on your own or with a group,” co-owner David Lacey tells Brooklyn Magazine. “We understand the Rabbithole had a big role in Williamsburg, we get that, and we’re here to continue that in our own way.”
Lacey, who’s originally from Dublin and now lives in Greenpoint, runs Layla along with Sam Lynch, who’s from Adelaide in Western Australia, and Stef D’Orsogna, from Perth. Lacey and Lynch met before the pandemic while working at the Aussie chain Ruby’s; D’Orsogna used to own Sonnyboy on the Lower East Side, where Lacey slung to-go cocktails during the early days of Covid.
The three of them started scheming about running a business together in the fall of 2020, and after a couple of false starts, they finally signed for this place last March. “We were looking all around the city, and a lot of the prices landlords were putting up were just a bit mad,” says Lacey. “But when we saw this place, we were like ‘that’s a sick space.’ We loved it.”
You could call Layla a wine bar, and that wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate — a tight list of reds, roses, whites, oranges and sparkling wine gets a prominent place on the menu, with prices hovering around $16 for a glass and $65 for a bottle — but other boozy beverages get at least as much play.
House cocktails and multiple martinis, negronis and spritzes all cost around $17, and you can get a bottle of beer for six bucks. And the zero-proof cocktails are awesome, especially the refreshing, ginger-beer-based “ghia mule.”
The food at Layla is also pretty awesome, a short but nicely varied selection that ranges from snacky small plates to full-on entrees. The menu is a joint effort of Alex Valle, who did “consulting and curation,” and his brother Stephen, who’s the acting head chef. The Valle brothers have experience in restaurants like Il Buco, Le Crocodile, Otway,and Flora Bar, and, as Lacey says, “they are absolute legends.”
There are oysters bathed in a lovely cucumber mignonette, some creamy stracciatella with roasted squash and — a nice touch — pickled raisins.
There is also an excellent crab salad piled atop a pair of crisp crostini.
For something heartier, the juicy prawns in a rich romesco sauce should satisfy, and the spinach-ricotta ravioli is a delight.
Grilled squid, chicken Milanese with coleslaw and pickles, fennel salad, and a good looking plate of French fries are among your other options.
The design, by Aimée Allsop, an Australian based in Sag Harbor, is comfortable, tasteful and homey–the undulating banquettes in the dining room, built by “our friend Joe Duffin from Glasgow,” are standouts — and the general vibe put forth by the partners is effortlessly convivial.
Layla is located at 352 Bedford Avenue, between South 3rd and South 4th Streets, and is currently open on Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and from Friday through Sunday from noon to midnight. The kitchen is closed on Tuesdays.