The building that houses Flute Bar & Lounge was once home to a speakeasy called Club Intime, run by the notorious chorus girl Texas Guinan. Today, Flute's owners pay homage to their predecessors with 1920's music and drinks served in mugs, as was the custom during Prohibition. The underground champagne bar has no windows and dim lighting, and its seating - plush sofas and ottomans clustered around low tables - give it a far more intimate feel than a traditional lounge. With countless brands from which to choose, champagne may be the focus, but Flute also serves a wide variety of cocktails - many of which feature champagne - and small accompanying food plates. Texas Guinan once called the speakeasy business an "essential and basic industry. " Though her Club Intime was shut down after only six months in business, she would certainly be heartened that its spirit lives on in Flute today - especially on the last Saturday of each month when Wit's End celebrates jazz music and dancing with an assortment of talent.
Founded in 1949 and named for Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, Birdland has legitimate claim to its moniker as "The Jazz Corner of the World. " During its heyday in its original location on Broadway near 52nd Street, it became a popular destination during a time of magnificent jazz musicians, regularly playing host not only to its namesake, but also to Count Basie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and, seemingly, the rest of the jazz hall of fame. Celebrities flocked to see them play: Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe among the many admirers. As musical trends shifted and rock n' roll rose to prominence in the 60's, the club was forced into bankruptcy. After re-opening uptown in 1986, the club, ultimately, moved back downtown to its current space, where it has enjoyed tremendous success for almost twenty years. Over the years, Birdland was able to showcase thousands of emerging and established artists, often those from the initial space revisiting the club that had helped make them who they were. Contemporary jazz artists continue to come play the venue, hailed as a haven for connoisseurs, and people from around the world flock to Birdland for a taste of the rich history of jazz.
While sitting comfortably in the lounge area of The Pierre Hotel, I literally witnessed the conception of a "pop-up. " A table and chairs were being rolled out and within minutes set up elegantly with a black tablecloth and rose petals strewn across the center. The staff at Two East were preparing for their Tuesday evening Social Club. Engaging in conversation with executive chef Ashfer Biju, head pastry chef Michael Mignano, Director of Marketing, Emily Venugopal and singer, Claire Khodara, they each offered their personal connection to this very special evening as it was getting ready to unfold. One might think of it as "unusual, " seated at this table, Emily stated, but she assured me that I would feel like I was in my own little world, elevated - propped up on comfortable bar level chairs surrounded by other foodies - where I would be able to watch and listen to Claire, the performer of the evening, while others sat below quietly enjoying a drink, some appetizers and pleasant background live music. The concept behind Chef Ashfer's Social Club is purely to bring people and food together in the best possible setting. His feeling is that people work hard and have little time to socialize outside of the office. Inside the Pierre's lounge area, men and women are encouraged to treat themselves to a mystery night out either solo, with a date, or, of course, book the entire communal table for twelve. No matter the choice, diners are promised to be taken on a culinary adventure. For $95. 00, the kitchen rolls out fourteen different courses with a cocktail to kick it off and wine pairings throughout the meal. The best part, however, was each time the two chefs popped out from the kitchen to explain what we were tasting, what inspired the dish, and to educate us on the wonders of curry and other spices. I enjoyed listening to Ashfer's extraordinary stories of travel around the world. He has cooked with a multitude of chefs who exposed him to tastes and flavors from Malaysia to the Maltese Islands, and from the Middle East to the Maldives. I was, thus, eager to participate in that evening's "Two E Returns East, " a themed meal accenting ingredients from China, Japan and India. Ashfer was born into a family of restaurateurs. His father continues to run two dining spots in Southeast Asia, but it was his grandfather who appears to have had a profound influence on him. Despite his efforts to convince other family members not to go into this business, after speaking with Ashfer for over an hour, I realized that it was this man that instilled the spark of travel and the love of food in him from a very early age while growing up in India. Apparently, the Pierre has a wondrous way of luring its chefs back, as is the case with Michael Mignano, who worked in the hotel's kitchen from 1998 until 2005. In 2011, he heeded the call to return as head pastry chef. For those years in between, Michael worked with the creme de la creme in the dessert world, appeared on Food Network shows, and ran his own, highly successful bakery in Port Washington, NY. As Ashfer referred to Michael, "He is my trump card in the kitchen. " Listening to the two men finish each other's sentences gave me deep insight into how well their relationship works. Together, they explained how they choose not to follow trends, but rather prefer to "create the trend, themselves. " They went on to say that it is always a chef's goal to be recognized, but that most do not realize what goes into preparing an exceptional meal. Yes, it is a science, but to these two men it is truly an art - one that takes a lot to pioneer day in and day out. They then described themselves as "artists of the senses - all five of them. "When discussing what influenced Michael most to pursue a career in cooking, he explained that he grew up in Queens, where food and family were at the core of his existence. He continued on by saying that he had a huge diversity of friends. "Since the age of five, I went to people's homes who were from Vietnam, South Africa, Europe - you name it. " He learned to try everyone's cooking and to appreciate not only the magic that goes into every dish, but also the passion. Today, Michael said that he continues to incorporate slight nuances from his own childhood experiences into each of the delectable desserts he imagines. Participating in our discussion was Claire. I would shortly have the pleasure of listening to her melodic voice while I indulged in course after course of some of the best vegetarian food (specially prepared for me) I have ever had. Although Claire only began her singing engagements at The Pierre in early 2015, she has already established her own following including a large showing of friends and family who come by to support her. Claire has spent a considerable amount of time flying back and forth between the U. S. and England, where she went to university and began her singing career. Moving back to New York at one point, she made it quite far on season nine's American Idol, and then, as she stated, "I sang at weddings and did a lot of the national anthem singing hoping to become a rockstar. " It was not until she returned to England, met her future husband, and was, ultimately, recognized by London's most elite, iconic clubs, including the exclusive Annabel's, that her career took off. Claire, once again, resides in New York, but continues to fly across the pond to perform in London. Upon her arrival back in the States, she put together an album, which Sony described as "country jazz, " though she prefers to call her music "soul pop. "When I asked Claire if she would be able to simply state her mission to me as a singer, she thoughtfully replied, "I honestly want to spread peace. I want to make people feel calm and relaxed. " She stopped herself and asked, "Does that sound dorky? " After listening to her for three straight hours, my answer is, without a doubt, no. Claire's voice was a beautiful backdrop to an evening filled with interesting company, phenomenal food and two extraordinary chefs. Special note: When Claire was searching for someone to "dress" her for her nightly performances on stage, she turned to Zac Posen, who designed the dress that her mother wore to her wedding. Claire said it is such fun to have ten outfits arrive each week from Zac that she can select from - sadly she must return them afterwards - but, in the meantime, she does look stunning as she is a tall magnificent woman, both inside and out. It was interesting to learn a bit about Zac Posen - this renowned designer who, although an international star with his classic, chic clothing, has his roots right here in Brooklyn. Two Manhattan Sideways team members, Tom and Olivia, returned to the Two E Lounge for a special event towards the end of 2015. Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights that occurs every autumn in the northern hemisphere. They found the space to be completely transformed from when we were last there listening to Claire Khodara sing: flower petals, chrysanthemum heads, and candles covered every available space and a tower with cubby holes filled with Indian delicacies occupied the center. The two told me that they have never seen such exquisite saris as the ones worn by the guests. Together with a room filled with guests, Tom and Olivia dined on small shot glasses full of goat cheese, beet, and orange slices as well as rock shrimp with tamarind aioli while listening to the chill sounds of Sa, a group that performs music with Indian root melodies. There was a “Tawa and Chaat” station where cooks served up lamb kebabs, green pea samosas, and more. On the other side of the room, an appetizer table was set up with traditional Indian food reinterpreted, including lamb koftas, biryani bowls, and kulchas. Ashfer proudly told Tom and Olivia that his sous chef, Manjit Manohar, had a large part in the menu for the evening. As Tom was taking a shot of Ashfer, Manjit, and Michael, the plates of mouth-watering Indian-inspired desserts were brought out, decorated with gold flecks. This was the Pierre’s first attempt at hosting a Diwali celebration, but we have no doubt that the beautiful décor, and visibly happy guests will inspire them to continue this tradition in 2016.
Home to more than 750 whiskeys, the Flatiron Room is an enthusiast's delight... but it is also a nice place for a change of pace for the whiskey amateurs among us. After spending some time in the more typical Manhattan bar scene, this more low-key, conversational venue can be just what the doctor ordered (all things in moderation, of course). Walking in, we were immediately struck by the colored lighting, adjusted throughout the night, and the beautiful stage hung with lush velvety curtains. The main room is candlelit and brings to mind a theater, caf̩e, bar and library all rolled into one. Each evening, a band takes the stage to play live music, typically jazz. Thursdays, however, are devoted to Cuban music for those who crave a bit more rhythm, while Sundays are bluegrass and bourbon night. Among the deluge of whiskeys, ryes, bourbons and scotches, it can be hard to hone in on favorites. For those who do decide what suits their fancy, the Flatiron Room offers a bottle key program, whereby bottles are available to be opened one night, and stored for future visits. A sommelier schools old hands and the uninitiated alike on Tuesdays. Although the emphasis is on the alcohol and music, the food is also worth mentioning. The menu is eclectic with a charcuterie or cheese plate, an interesting variety of flat breads, salads, spicy broccoli (a favorite), and an array of main dishes. For those looking for a bit more privacy or some shelter from the musical stylings, there is a mezzanine sporting tables and additional private rooms in the back. These seats, and most of the house, are by reservation only, with a few spaces for walk-ins. Calling ahead is a good idea. Coming at all is an even better one.
“I’ve always been a fan of music, ” Paul Devitt told me as I sat down at the bar surrounding the piano in the back room of Sid Gold’s. He co-owns this amazing concept alongside Joe McGinty, a composer, arranger, and pianist, also known for having started the Loser’s Lounge, a group of talented performers who breathe new life into pop classics. Despite the fact that Joe is the more musical of the two, it was Paul’s idea to open Sid Gold’s Request Room, which is fittingly named after a Broadway talent agent. Paul is a lover of themed bars. He started in Philadelphia and opened his first bar, Silk City, in a vintage diner car where names such as the Roots and Diplo performed. Upon his move to New York, he opened Beauty Bar, which combines a classic bar with a retro salon. He has since opened Beauty Bars in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, Denver, and Dallas. “I’ve never had the drive to open ‘just a bar, ’” Paul emphasized. There is something to delight and astonish in every bar that he imagines. For example, when he ran Coral Room in Chelsea, there was a ten thousand liter fish tank, complete with “mermaids” swimming behind the glass. Paul smiled and said, “I always want to do something interesting. ”Paul met Joe a few times through a karaoke night that Joe hosted. When he came up with the idea to open a piano bar centering around pop songs, he knew that Joe was the man to ask. When I visited in August of 2015, just four months after they first opened, it was clear that his latest brainchild was already a hit. As Paul explained, “The reaction Beauty Bar got twenty years ago is what Sid Gold’s has now – so I know it is a success. ” Sid Gold’s classy karaoke-esque request hour begins at 9pm every night, and even “Monday nights are mobbed, ” he explained, both shell-shocked and pleased. The bar already has amassed a faithful crew of regulars. Paul partially credits the location with Sid Gold’s success, since the Request Room is a unique gem among a row of sports bars. He also pointed out that Sid Gold’s is different from similar establishments because of the lack of Broadway songs being sung. “Joe doesn’t know a lot of show tunes. Occasionally people come in wanting them, and he’ll play a couple, but it’s not his thing. ” I asked Paul what his own go-to song was. He laughed and responded, “Righteous Brothers, Loving Feeling. It’s always good to do a sing-a-long, here. ”Joe is at the piano most nights, but when I visited, it was his night off and a young man named Julian was impressively mastering the keys. Some members of the Manhattan Sideways team stayed to witness the singing and to request their own tunes. The highlight of the night, however, was when Paul himself took the mic and started crooning.
Signaled by a saxophone hanging above the door, we headed down the winding staircase into the basement of a West Village building to find Smalls Jazz Club, which has been honoring New York City’s romantic past with jazz music since its opening in 1994. Named for the Sandlot character, Smalls is an apt name for this intimate, dimly lit space with a charmingly eclectic collection of mismatched chairs and stools arranged around a tiny stage at the forefront. Founder Mitch Borden, who owns the space with partner Spike Wilner, is quick to claim that nothing compared to early Smalls. “I never locked the door and everyone had a key anyways. There was nothing to steal down here - it was like the Little Rascals club, ” he recalled. One particular memory that stood out was their opening: “Our first show was on May 20, 1994. We didn’t have a liquor license and we stayed open ‘til eight am. It was ten hours of jazz with free food and free beer, and the free beer was really awful. ” Since that first show, Smalls has established itself as a central fixture in the West Village jazz scene, featuring a number of notable artists such as Peter Bernstein, Bruce Barth, and Kurt Rosenwinkel, who wrote “Homage to Mitch” about Smalls' beloved owner. At the height of the jazz movement’s popularity, the West Village was home to over seventeen jazz clubs, so Smalls was in good company. In the 1990s, after Mitch opened his doors, many tried to follow suit, but few have endured aside from Smalls. “A lot of people see me doing this without a liquor license and think, ‘Oh, this must be easy, ’” he says, “and it is easy, but it can take a while to make a profit. ” Borden and his staff have also adapted well to the Internet age, being one of the first clubs to live stream their shows, and they now sell an archive of all of their performances since 2007. This type of innovation is reflective of what Mitch describes as the constantly changing nature of jazz music itself, with certain virtuosos coming out with a song that will change the whole scene. He remarks, “That’s something I guess a jazz musician wants to do - make his mark - even though not that many songs stick. ” He cites Kenny Barron’s “Voyage” as an example of this kind of phenomenon.
Nestled among the charming area that is Korea Town, is an eatery with a dual-personality. By day, the business exists as Cup & Cup, an artsy cafe that serves affordable fusion lunch dishes, artistically inserted into giant teacups, and smooth, rich coffee. At night, the same area morphs into Take 31, a dimly lit lounge area, with live music, succulent dinner dishes and a cool, hip vibe. The menu is made of classic Korean dishes with a twist. The dishes are inspired by Japanese, Italian and Mexican cuisine and cater to vegetarians, meat-lovers and those in between. South Korean owner, Kihyun Lee, studied fashion design at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in NYC, and merged his love of authentic Asian food and passion for modern art into each dish. He revived this space in 2011 with the help of his friends. On our afternoon visit, we tried their classic bowl artfully filled with mushrooms, minced beef, rice, chopped egg and carrotsCup & Cup, its daytime persona, was introduced a year and a half after opening Take31. The airy rooms feel clean, with minimal lines. The shelves along the walls are carefully decorated with quirky, vintage memorabilia, but do not feel cluttered. A table with an ice-water cooler is stationed in the middle, for easy access. One statement wall is entirely dedicated to a blueprint of the space, delicately and organically painted by the architects at work. While much of the design is fresh, brightly colored Lego pieces are playfully juxtaposed throughout. Some of those Lego pieces are even inserted within the wall's low-hanging light fixtures and plastered near the giant window at the entrance. During the day, Cup & Cup offers patrons with a few hours dedicated to "Study Time, " as business professionals and students quietly sip green tea lattes and munch on noodles, while using the Wi-Fi connection. At night, locals flock in when the sun goes down, as dinner, drinks and music serves a different, yet equally, artsy crowd.
The owner of this amazing piece of property, Malina, has endless energy and is incredibly knowledgeable about all things related to Chinese culture and tradition. She is very involved in the arts in her native land, and travels back and forth between China and New York on somewhat of a regular basis. If fortunate enough to catch her in, striking up a conversation is well worth anyone's time. The concept behind her latest venture is great, and as soon as the red paint on the walls is dry - believed by the Chinese to keep the evil spirits away - and the menu set, the Yung family will open their doors. Once a part of the Chinese Cultural Society, the imperial loft is marked by its striking entrance, a pagoda of violet with a red iron door, followed inside by prominent murals - each sharing a piece of Chinese history. While the same family has owned the whole building for decades, the purpose of the space has changed over time. What was originally a teashop is now a community space for the arts. Upstairs, a grand room with beautifully embroidered chairs will be the site for comedy shows, live music, and birthday parties. Downstairs, where rows of tabletops display magnificent Chinese paintings, each with its own story, the owners envision an Asian restaurant. Further back, doors open to a garden. Decorative tiles cover the wall and a ring of brick outlines the entrance to a hidden Buddhist temple - simply awe-inspiring. The convertible and advantageous nature of the Imperial Loft makes it, as Malina's son-in-law, Kahli, expressed, "something you hold on to. "
Just down the street from Smalls is their sister club, Mezzrow, hidden underneath Te Company. Every ten minutes or so, one can feel the A Train pass by and shake the entire bar, which only adds to the underground speakeasy feel of the space. On the evening that we stopped by, the staff was preparing for owner and jazz pianist Spike Wilner’s birthday party. Named after famous clarinet player Mezz Mezzrow, this club, which opened in 2014, is described as the more intimate and piano based side of Smalls, both of which are owned by Wilner and Mitch Borden. Mezzrow has hosted the likes of Brad Mehldau and Kurt Elling, among others. Like Smalls, all of the performances at Mezzrow are live streamed and archived. Guests are invited to stop in any day of the week for a relaxing night of live jazz and drinks.
A Harlem mainstay, this jazz supper club was founded by saxophonist Henry Minton in the 1930s. It quickly gained popularity among local jazz artists as a place where they could not only perform their music and experiment freely, but also indulge in a heaping plate of soul food — on the house. Minton’s house band was impressive enough on its own, led by the renowned Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke. Yet its regular performers were just as acclaimed, including musical greats from Dizzy Gillespie to Charlie Parker. The creative improvisations of the band and the star-studded string of visiting artists gave way to a new style known as bebop in the 1940s and helped develop the sounds and methods of modern jazz.
So much of what we had read about Mono was all about their variety of amazing Korean chicken dishes. All that we ordered did not disappoint my group, but what was unexpected was the premise of the décor. The owner has amassed a collection of over 30, 000 vinyl jazz records that line the walls and rotate around the room. It was quite impressive. An eclectic crowd, delicious food and great music - what a terrific find in the middle of this block filled with theaters. After a fire shut them down, Mono Mono will reopen in Spring of 2017.