“I have lived on the Upper West Side for several years, but it was not until I walked on 70th Street one evening that I discovered Shalel. It is tucked away down a set of stairs with no signage during the daytime. Curious what this was, I descended the steps lined with rose petals and herbs, and entered what seemed like a magical cave, decked out in Moroccan décor and candles. There were secret nooks behind curtains and around corners filled with pillows, couches and tapestries. In the back, erupting from a mysterious darkness, was the fountain for which the restaurant is named – Shalel means ‘fountain’ in Arabic … ‘It was terrible,’ he said, describing an uninhabitable, dark piece of real estate that apparently had never been used for anything except storage. He began by lowering the floors by a foot and exposing the sheet rock, which he cleaned. The waterfall, he explained, used to be a pile of dirt. Despite the difficulty of the project, Vasilis greatly enjoyed the endeavor, since he considered it a labor of art.”
NY Mag Nightlife
“A candlelit stairway leads down to Shalel's cavernous, Moroccan-inspired space. Arabesque lanterns and lots of votives provide perfect illumination for couples nestled amongst sequined pillows on low banquettes… The variety of wines is thankfully more inspired than the usual Merlot and Chardonnay choices, and starting at $12 a glass, they ought to be. Dishes like Moroccan lamb tagine are best enjoyed in one of the individual cave-like rooms in the back of the lounge and—if you're lucky enough to snag a room early—you'll have supreme privacy all night long.” — Amy Allison
Serious eats - date night
“If we hadn't been looking for the entrance, we'd have missed it. An illuminated menu abuts a set of metal stairs, festooned with rose petals. We followed the flowers through a narrow alley lined with tables and couches to a doorway, but we could just as easily have smelled our way there, lead by plumes of vanilla incense. Eventually we entered what might be the darkest restaurant we've ever visited. "Is this a game?" a woman asked, referring to the number of tables half- or wholly-hidden in dimly lit corners and cozy caves. A more appropriate question might have been, "When did they open a New York branch of the Playboy grotto?"
“Dim lighting? Check. Cocktails? Check? Rose petals?! Hel-looo! A WATERFALL?!?! You heard me! Shalel Lounge seems dropped straight from a romantic fantasy, but yes, there really is a sultry Moroccan date night spot right here on the Upper West Side! Slip into this subterranean hideaway and feel whisked away as you and your date bat eyelashes at each other over lamb kebabs and heaping tagines.”
“This mediterranean lounge feels like a secret, as it’s not immediately easy to spot from the street; just head down the rose-petal-strewn stairs and into the cave-like dining room, which is lit with candles and red lanterns. Try the baked dates, stuffed with almonds and bacon, and the firm, salty halloumi. It’s a little on-the-nose, romance wise, but that’s part of its charm. Lean into the feeling, order a Scheherazade -- with rye whiskey and peychaud's bitters -- and start spilling your most intimate secrets.”
NY TIMES, 2001