Photo Credit: Hitesh Dewas, Unsplash.com
HAGS, A New Queer Fine Dining Experience In NYC
HAGS restaurant opened July 20th as New York’s only self-described queer fine dining restaurant that aims to reimagine what luxury, comfort, and representation looks like, and who it’s for. The restaurant had its opening night this month, where co-owners Telly Justice (she/her) and Camille Lindsey (she/her) welcomed guests with two tasty five-course menus, one made regular and one vegan. With their intention in mind to re-define fine dining, Chef Justice purposely chooses to stay away from traditional tasting menus with 10-plus courses that “bore people and run past their bedtimes,” as Justice puts it. HAGS’ simple five-course prix fixe menu aims to reduce pedantry and eliminate food waste. Additionally, the restaurant has just 20 seats allowing them the opportunity to get to know each and every one of their guests — think queer potlucks!
The Menu Inspo is Queer
The menu is inspired by the many picnics and Queer potlucks for which the couple has many fond memories. Chef Justice and Lindsey “wanted to carry that feeling of intimacy and closeness into their new space.” Queer people in the restaurant industry “are rarely seen as people next in line to be New York City restaurateurs and executive chefs,” Justice told Bon Appetit. “It was easy to believe, having worked in fine dining, that we would never be ready. That we would never be good enough to open something here,” Lindsley (the beverage director at HAGS) adds. Justice with over 15 years of experience recalls working in restaurants as a “notoriously rough, male-dominated, abusive, toxic, extractive industry” as she was routinely told she couldn’t present femme in the kitchen or in front of guests. Years later during the pandemic on 2020, after being furloughed from her job, Justice finally found herself with the time to re-imagine a different fine dining experience. This opening is nothing short of inspiring and well-deserved.
Both co-owners are originally from the South and both gained their restaurant experiences there. HAGS’ menu showcases reminders of Chef Justice’s young adulthood in suburban Georgia but with a ‘New, New American’ twist. HAGS omnivore tasting menu costs $155 and the vegan option is $145 — uncommon in NYC for fine dining. At HAGS, the menus will also offer all types of substitutions to meet dietary restrictions. Additionally, Sunday dinner will be pay-what-you-can.
Inclusive Design For All Bodies
Next up after the menu is the restaurant’s inclusive design for all bodies. The space was designed by architecture company Carpenter and Mason’s Sarah Carpenter. Dining chairs accommodate the physical needs of many different bodies, including larger people and those with chronic health problems. The restaurant is described as “warm and womb-like” with soft pastel tones and leather-padded corners to avoid shop corners. The kitchen, where Justice works as head chef, is painted bubblegum pink; the walls are lined with artwork, including pieces made by Chef Justice. The rounded green bar, reserved for walk-ins, will serve an à la carte menu. A super thoughtful and cool feature is the mirrors in the gender-neutral bathrooms that go a step further in making all bodies feel accepted. Justice and Lindsey installed a funhouse mirror in the bathroom, typically a carnival attraction that distorts reflections into fun shapes, to serve as a “campy commentary on the trans experience of dysmorphia,” Justice says. “We want people to feel a sense of play and joy at HAGS.” When diners enter the space they will also be offered pronoun pins.
The restaurant’s name alludes to both “witchy, haggard women” and a middle school yearbook sign-off…Have a Good Summer! The couple shares the name is a nod to Justice’s “Rocky Horror Show”–esque design sensibilities and the “witch’s-brew-style cocktails” Lindsley regularly whips up.
On the topic of drinks, HAGS joins the list of bars in NYC that offer non-alcoholic options to their patrons. A growing trend amongst millennials as many choose more wellness-conscious lifestyles sans alcohol. At the bar, Lindsley serves natural wines that highlight queer winemakers and curates a non-alcoholic menu with “botanical magic potions” like hemp-infused, non-alcoholic spirits. “The dining public is interested in seeing cuisines and perspectives of folks that have largely been swept under the rug. It’s important to note that queer folks have always been a meaningful part of this industry,” Justice says.