Photo by Ori Harpaz, courtesy of Only Love Strangers

The RundownNew York

All About Only Love Strangers, Opening Soon on the Lower East Side


Nightly live jazz, a brilliantly blue interior, and cocktails galore are touching down in the Lower East Side of New York when Only Love Strangers, a new bar and restaurant from the team behind MáLà Project, opens on Saturday, April 13.

In this edition of the Resy Rundown, we sit down with Christian Castillo, co-founder of Only Love Strangers Hospitality Group, Fabrizio Argiolas, the beverage director, and Tabitha Yeh, the culinary director, to chat Chinese pop divas, inspirational T-shirts, and flavored ice. Here’s everything you should know about Only Love Strangers before you go.

Photo by Ori Harpaz, courtesy of Only Love Strangers
Photo by Ori Harpaz, courtesy of Only Love Strangers

1. This isn’t MáLà Project 2.0.

But many of the folks behind MáLà Project, a Chinese dry pot spot that has expanded across the city, are behind it. The two restaurant concepts, however, couldn’t be more different.

“We had brought up that we wanted to open up our path,” Castillo says. “We’ve been a monolith for a long time, and we wanted to step outside that. We wanted to have a bit more of an upscale bar experience.”

To launch Only Love Strangers, Castillo, along with MáLà Project founder Amelie Kang and three other partners (Simona Petrovska, Irene Li, and Yishu He), formed a new hospitality group, called Only Love Strangers. The name started as a bit of an inside joke (as these things often do) that just happened to stick.

“Faye Wong is an iconic Chinese pop diva. We listened to her a lot, and she has an album that translates roughly to ‘Only Love Strangers,’” Castillo notes.

Photo by Ori Harpaz, courtesy of Only Love Strangers
Photo by Ori Harpaz, courtesy of Only Love Strangers

2. The design is just as thoroughly thought out as the menu is.

The team didn’t overlook the design at all and, in fact, every inch of the space was carefully designed and executed by Brooklyn’s Studio Omar Aqeel, who also designed Greenpoint’s Lowdown Tattoo. When everything comes together, the effect is a striking display of ’60s and ‘70s modernism that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

One of the most striking aspects of Only Love Stangers is its bright, bold color combination of blue, black, and white, for example. For that, you can thank an old Sonic Youth T-shirt worn by Castillo that featured those same colors. Those shades appear in plenty of places throughout the restaurant, like the cobalt tiles behind the bar, the black-and-white upholstered banquettes, and the limewashed, plastered walls.

The space is split into two levels: a main dining area that seats 24, with an additional 15 seats in the area by the bar. There’s also a private dining room with room for 10, with a handpainted mural, private entrance, and a vintage dining table.

Photo by Heidi’s Bridge, courtesy of Only Love Strangers
Photo by Heidi’s Bridge, courtesy of Only Love Strangers

3. Do not sleep on the cocktails.

Only Love Strangers is first and foremost a cocktail bar. Fabrizio Argiolas, the beverage director, has developed a unique menu that has 14 different drinks in total.

“I developed the beverage program based on fresh, crisp, and colorful cocktails. We’re making everything from scratch, with a very low percentage of sugar,” Argiolas says. “We want you to have a clean, fresh, and immediate understanding of the cocktail you’re drinking.”

Many of these cocktails, however, stand out because they feature aromatized ice cubes. The ice in several of the cocktails is flavored, meaning that the drink will evolve and change as the ice melts. “It starts with one profile, and during the drinking time you get a second one,” Argiolas notes.

One such drink is the Nu (“It’s the new espresso martini!,” Castillo adds), which features vodka, white crème de cacao, Frangelico, and an espresso ice cube. “The presentation [of that drink] is super interesting, because it’s a clear cocktail with a dark ice cube,” Argiolas says. There’s also the Bossa Nova, with a pineapple ice cube surrounded by mezcal, pink grapefruit, and yellow peppers.

All of the cocktails are named after various jazz styles and terms, like the Groove, with lemon vodka, pineapple, sage, and citrus, and the Fusion, with gin, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry.

Additionally, there’s a variety of martinis, including a pickled martini made with housemade brine and an ouzo martini. While the mixed drinks are the star of the menu, Only Love Strangers also has also several wines by the glass and beers, if you feel so inclined.

Photo by Heidi’s Bridge, courtesy of Only Love Strangers
Photo by Heidi’s Bridge, courtesy of Only Love Strangers

4. But also, don’t overlook the food.

Only Love Strangers’ menu of 15 or so dishes is best described as Mediterranean inspired. Tabitha Yeh, formerly of Noma and Per Se, acts as culinary director, with Alberto Gomez, formerly of Prohibition and the Williamsburg Hotel, as chef de cuisine.

“The food is really spotlighting three countries: Spain, Italy, and Greece,” Yeh explains. “We’re not doing anything super ‘out there,’ but we’re [trying to] stick to tradition by using really high-quality ingredients.”

That means using anchovies sourced from northern Spain and imported Sardinian bottarga, for example. There’s also pan con tomate, served with those aforementioned anchovies and pickled Fresno chiles. Little gem lettuce comes doused in lemon parmesan, black olive, sunchoke, and pink peppercorn. There’s also a highly Instagrammable Osetra caviar cannoli and a squid ink tagliatelle with sea urchin. A seafood tower features oysters, little neck clams, and shrimp cocktail, as well as salmon rillette, scallop tartare, and razor clams with chorizo.

“We elevated [the seafood tower] in a way where it’s more composed. It’s our take, and our version. We’re having fun, just using what’s available at the market,” Yeh adds.

Photo by Heidi’s Bridge, courtesy of Only Love Strangers
Photo by Heidi’s Bridge, courtesy of Only Love Strangers

5. Come ready to dance — or just listen.

On the bottom floor, Only Love Strangers will feature a rotating cast of live jazz performers nightly. Charlie Roman Castelluzzo, whom the team knew from his performances at Dante and other venues around the city, is acting as the talent booker.

“We’re going to try to keep it to the same people, relatively, every week, but featuring different styles of jazz,” Castillo notes.

The performances will take place from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and even if you’re dining on the upper level, the show will be visible from the “balcony,” Castillo says.

Only Love Strangers is open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 5 to 11:30 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.

Ellie Plass is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Follow her on Instagram and X. Follow Resy, too.