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Ashford & Simpson's Sugar Bar 1 Live Music African Late Night Eats undefined

Ashford & Simpson's Sugar Bar

When the Manhattan Sideways team walked into Sugar Bar, there was an audible reaction. It was unlike anything we had ever seen: the walls are covered in decorations and musical instruments from Africa and a roof of straw covers the full-length bar. Colorful masks adorn the doors and lights peek out of artistic holes in red pipes, giving off a warm orange glow. Everything appears to be made of organic material: even the chairs are made of pieces of wood lashed together. In the back of the main room, a cave is dug into the wall where performing acts usually set up to play. That is what Sugar Bar is best known for: the music. Some truly soulful artists, such as Roberta Flack and Allison Williams, have passed under the straw roof. We learned from one of the servers, who also occasionally plays bass and guitar on Tuesdays, "For musicians, this is the place to be. This is the scene. "Leila, who is in charge of PR for Sugar Bar, told us a bit about its history. It was opened in 1996 by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, also known as the songwriting/performing duo Ashford and Simpson. All of the extraordinary pieces that decorate the space are part of their personal art collection. Their goal was to bring the culture and warmth of Africa to New York City in an “east meets west” fusion atmosphere. The décor of the space represents this mixture of worlds: While most of the pieces – such as the swords, carvings, and statues – are from Africa, there are many American pieces placed seamlessly alongside them. For example, Leila showed us some of the original panels from the S. S. Normandie, a ship that famously caught fire and sank in the Hudson River. I was shocked to discover that the panels were no behind glass and that any customer could go up and touch them. “This is not just a place for music, ” Leila pointed out. “It is a place for culture. It transports you to a different time and place. ”Hugo, who has been working at Sugar since 2005, took us upstairs to the Cat Lounge, which can be used as a private room but also functions as a spillover bar (Valerie Simpson own the whole building, which dates back to the early nineteenth century). Bows, arrows, and representations of giraffes and elephants surround the Cat Lounge, but it was not until Hugo urged us to look up that we understood how it got its name: an enormous cat design is sprawled out on the ceiling. Despite his long career with Sugar Bar, Hugo said that he keeps discovering new things. He pointed out two little carved faces above the stairs as we descended. “It’s a fun place to work, ” he said. “I like it. ” Leila agreed with him, joking that she has tried to leave Sugar Bar multiple times, but keeps coming back, because there is no better place to be employed. Downstairs, we met Terrell, who was manning the bar. He made us the signature "Sugartini" with cherry, peach nectar, Absolut, and peach schnapps, culminating in a not-too-sweet summery cocktail. He brought out an amazing sample platter, featuring fried catfish, jerk chicken wings, and lightly battered shrimp, which the Manhattan Sideways team delved into with vigor. Olivia exclaimed that the chicken was impossibly tender as it fell off the bone, while Tom found the two seafood dishes to be perfectly battered, providing crispiness, but not masking flavor. Nickolas and Valerie are both from South Carolina, hence the southern comfort food on the menu. Terrell then surprised us with a "Passion Island" cocktail made with lime juice, mint leaves, and coconut rum, accompanied by plates of cornbread with strawberry butter, something that is served to every guest prior to their meal. Hugo continued to entertain us behind the bar as he poured a drink of his own making, which he calls "Coquito" or "Little Coconut. " It was deeply refreshing, thanks to the healthy dose of coconut water. As if we had not eaten and drunk enough, Terrell presented us with plates of apple cobbler and bread pudding from the pastry chef, Jenny. The divine bread pudding was dripping in butter and cream, and when I took a bite of the cobbler, I immediately understood why Terrell had been raving about it. "I push the food honestly, " he said. "I can't sell something I don't eat myself, and I eat here three times a week! "The one thing we kept hearing from everyone at Sugar Bar was "You really have to come on a Thursday. " Every night has some kind of music, whether it is Blues on Tuesday or Jazz on Wednesday, but Thursday is when the Sugar Bar really heats up with its open mic. Thursdays are often so crowded that the Cat Lounge fills up right away, and famous faces, such as Stevie Wonder, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Chris Tucker have been known to come by. Hugo mentioned, "Some people have been coming every Thursday since we opened and haven't missed one week. " Terrell also urged us to come back on Thursday, saying that he would be working. "But it doesn't feel like work, " he insisted. "It feels like you're hanging out with friends until four in the morning. "