The restaurant asks customers to put stickers on their phone cameras to prevent any surreptitious photography. Photo: Hugo Yu

The first rule of Frog Club is you must talk about Frog Club. Like so many things designed to be discussed, it expresses this ambition by misdirection. Frog Club is reservation-only, by email, and that email address has, after a short time of semi-public availability, been removed from the restaurant’s website. The unsaid wants saying. You can try explaining this to the very unanimated bouncer who stands outside its green door on Bedford Street in his fur trapper hat, consulting an iPad to see if you are expected inside. If you are, he will peel off branded Frog Club stickers — Frog Club loves branding, as you will see — and place them over your phone’s cameras, front and back. The unseen wants seeing. There are no photos allowed.

This is apt. 86 Bedford Street, the former Chumley’s, the site of the world’s most famous Prohibition speakeasy. Lore (okay, Wikipedia) suggests that the term “86’d” was originally coined in reference to the eviction of a raucous Chumley’s patron, although surer sources are silent on the matter. The OED wonders if it originated as rhyming slang for “nix” and finds its first usage in 1936 in reference to the now-more-common restaurant meaning of being out of a menu item. Green’s Dictionary of Slang gives no etymology but notes it was in pretty common usage from the 1940s onward, as in a Washington Post mention in 1948: “The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board eighty-sixed two Ninth st. [sic] grog centers yesterday – cut off their taps.”

Whatever the case, Frog Club wishes to 86 the uninvited in advance, which has naturally made it one of the hottest reservations in town. (This, and the whiff of notoriety, that chef Liz Johnson brings with her — she was one of the married partners of L.A.’s Horses, the site of l’affaire des chats.) The memes are percolating. Nolita Dirtbag compared it to Señor Frog’s. The night I went, Ryan Murphy was holed up at a table on one side of the room with a few friends; at the other, an old, L.A.-based friend of mine celebrated the day’s announcement that she and Kim Kardashian had sold a thriller, with Kim to star, to Amazon after a five-way bidding war.

The room itself is warm, dim, and eye-popping. (For a very brief glimpse, you can watch this YouTube video.) Murals of hectic, carousing frogs cover every wall: frogs boozing, frogs smoking, frogs laughing. It is the froggiest, most mind-altering vision you can have outside of, I assume, a psychedelic toad experience. La Grenouille would take one look and croak. Frogs on the walls, frogs on the ledge, frogs on the menu — sort of. The Dirty Kermit, a green bloody Mary on the cocktail list, was, alas, 86’d by the time I got there at 9 p.m., along with a goodly number of other menu items.

Nevertheless! The roaring fire charmed, and Frog Club did have, I must admit, the ineffable charge of a place that is enjoying its cool. “This would be a great place for drinks,” one of my companions said, and while there is a bar, I can’t say whether or not it’s bookable — I don’t know. I contented myself with a waiter-recommended Cosmopolitan in lieu of my preferred Dirty Kermit, into which a twist of orange peel was flamed but which, for better or worse, tasted a bit like cough syrup.

I confess I am not immune to the contrived charm of the unbookable. I was prepared to enjoy myself. But as a restaurant — rather than as a clubhouse or a thing to brag about — Frog Cub didn’t offer much to recommend. The menu is made of up of sort-of chop-house-y classics: a very decent (and, at $52, reasonably priced) filet mignon on the bone with a sticky slice of bacon draped on top; creamed spinach turned into a “New York, New York” (?) spinach soufflé; pre-shucked oysters in shot glasses with a too-vinegary beet mignonette; a saddish burger on a too-plush bun served with a little cup of whipped butter, if you’re feeling suicidal. I might not have minded the lobster pierogis — a kind of upcharged crab rangoon — if they had tasted more of lobster and less of their creamy filling, but even more than that, I couldn’t quite make out where they fit into the mix. “We call it the new nostalgia,” said our waiter, natty in his white jacket and green tie, when we asked what brought the restaurant’s offerings together. Aha! A faint suggestion of Houlihan’s. Hence the frozen fries (gimmicky, but tasty) and a dessert that was advertised as the house take on Eton Mess but was really mostly a pile of extruded sherbet. Whose mess? It appears on the bill as Tutti-Frutti Spaghetti Sundae.

Nostalgia, regression; potato, po-tah-toe. It’s too soon in Frog Club’s existence to call the whole thing off. I want to believe; I’d go again, if they’d have me. (Somehow I doubt it.) But the vertigo-inducing mix of adult privacy and kiddie cuisine — baby-carrot crudités, an after-school snack — feels unsettled at present. I do not expect that Johnson or her team will care. They have parbaked a response to any criticism in the form of a cringe manifesto printed on the back of the dessert menu. “Here, the customer isn’t always right,” it reads in part. “Frog Club is brash, but you love it.” I may not love it; I will still talk about it, as intended. And it is memorable. But just in case, collect a souvenir on the way out: A commemorative-coin-stamping machine sits by the door, like the ones you’d beg your parents to try at any highway-side rest stop.

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