The new Margaritaville restaurant in Times Square claims that it “instantly transports guests to paradise” — but take that with a few more grains of salt than you’d sprinkle on your wrist for a shot of cheap tequila.
Manhattan’s brightly lit bow-tie area is full of jumbo venues such as Carmine’s, Junior’s and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. that are struggling to survive until Broadway audiences return. The last thing it needed was another, near-500-seat tourist eatery. Sporting tacky, fake palm trees, blocky wood tables lined up mess-hall style and a 32-foot-high Statue of Liberty replica raising a glass of its namesake cocktail, Margaritaville reigns as the city’s Most Unnecessary New Restaurant.
But if you insist on having a taste of the new, $370 million Margaritaville Times Square Resort — hey, anything for laughs in a pandemic! — heed Rule No. 1:
Eat at the sixth-floor LandShark Bar & Grill, not in the mammoth second- and third-floor restaurant that’s supposedly the “heart and soul” of the 32-story, 234-room tropical-themed hotel.
The food’s mostly the same at the two venues, but the much smaller (140 seats) LandShark sits astride an outdoor swimming pool full of splashing kids and canoodling couples. The lower-floor venue looks down on the grungy, none-too-tropical corner of Seventh Avenue and West 40th Street.
Inspired by the played-to-death Jimmy Buffett song, the Margaritaville eateries hit all the wrong notes.
Except for a nicely seared “Burger in Paradise” and luscious, fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs, bad dishes outnumbered successful ones by a 4-to-1 margin. Lava Lava shrimp featured more gummy mayo than “Thai chili sauce.” A cut of overcooked grilled salmon was flavorless and minuscule to boot. Black beans stuck to rice that seemed cemented to the plate.
There are a mere three desserts on the menu, and they had run out of the only one claiming to be made from scratch in-house — the Key lime pie. Instead, we were left with a molten chocolate cake that was not actually molten and chalky “New York Style Cheesecake” that was anything but New York.
The LandShark “surf shack” can be — only by comparison and only if you sit at pool-facing windows — something like fun. The al fresco terrace pool is for hotel guests only, but you can take in the scene from adjacent tables on warm days when they roll up the windows. (Seats in the back, behind the bar, are a remote Siberia far from the waters.)
The crisp-battered “fish” part of the fish and chips was better than decent. But limp and lame french fries need washing down with one of 50 tequila cocktails.
I watched a lunchtime family of five, with luggage in tow, go to town on liquid libations before they even checked in. You’ll want to get sloshed, too, before viewing the menu’s terrifying health stats, like 1,630 calories for fried shrimp.
Our dinner waitress declined to recommend any particular cocktail, cheerfully saying, “I’m on my 201st day of sobriety.” She had the right idea. “Boat drinks,” which focus on spirits beside tequila, tasted mainly of sugar. A tall glass of “Tranquil Waters” with rum and curaçao gave me less buzz than an Amstel Light. If you want a real margarita, have one without fruit or juice, or you might taste no tequila at all.
Margaritaville is a global outfit with more than 20 hotels in the US, the Caribbean, Mexico and Costa Rica. Many more are in the works, but it has a lot to learn about New York. Video screens played the Chainsmokers’ and Illenium’s “Takeaway,” which shows a guy pursuing a woman up and down the Hudson Yards Vessel and gaping over the edge as the camera plunges into the sculpture’s void.
Of course, the Vessel was recently closed after four visitors leapt to their deaths. A fake Lady Liberty is one thing, but the place needs a crash course in current events — and better taste.