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.
There is a lot of space to have fun and be funny at Pioneer's, formerly named Comedy Bar. Well that makes sense, as it is owned by Ali Farahnakian, the man behind the PIT (People's Improv Theater) on 24th Street, which opened a new location just down the street in 2015. We found this place to have a little bit of everything. A fan of pinball? There are several machines; Love playing Jenga with giant size blocks? They have them; Want to dance? The music is playing and there are others who will join in; Like comedy? There are open mic nights; Want to simply drink? The selection is fine, with a variety of beers on tap... and the bartenders are ready to chat; Hungry? There is a menu to choose from and lots of popcorn to go around.
Despite his Irish background, having grown up in Dublin and owning a few bars and restaurants there, Nick's bars and lounges in Manhattan are all about America. I am certain that his training abroad did him well, as he has been quite successful in New York for over twenty years. He began with a club in Tribeca and then moved uptown where he now runs four pubs. Nick admits that Stitch is showing its age as it has been around for quite some time, but he continues to try to" keep it fresh. " And Nick went on to say, "we are a user friendly venue. " We found it to be a warm welcoming place to come by for a drink and some solid American food - the hamburgers and wings are the specialty. We shared the Lingerie (the cocktails are each cleverly named for something represented in the fashion district... thus the name Stitch, the main event. ) Filled with vanilla vodka, amaretto, coco lopez, honey, pineapple juice and a touch of cranberry, our drink went down smoothly and was an interesting twist on a pina colada.
As I walk the side streets of Manhattan, I am constantly seeing the destruction of the past. Thus, it was refreshing to find a new establishment, like the Refinery Hotel, embracing, and even perpetuating the city’s history: through its refurbishment, its restaurant, Parker & Quinn and even its branding. The Refinery’s building, (with its own entrance on 38th Street or through the restaurant on 39th) originally named the Colony Arcade, was once the millinery hub of the Garment District and continued as a hat factory until the 1980s. With hat-making tools, sewing machines and other manufacturing objects integrated throughout the Hotel’s interiors, the Refinery bridges materials of the past with a luxury hotel experience. Their rooms feel extra spacious with high-ceilings, custom-made furniture and stunning hardwood flooring, a rarity in hotels for sure. Besides drawing on the building’s millinery history, the Refinery recalls the past in their lobby lounge. Soon after the building first opened in 1912, Winnie T. MacDonald opened a ladies’ tea salon on the ground floor where she offered female shoppers a place to rest, to socialize and to get an extra kick in their cuppa gin or whiskey. Today, Winnie’s Lobby Bar continues as a resting place for weary travelers in need of a drink, conversation or entertainment – as there is an added bonus of live jazz Monday through Friday evenings between the hours of 7: 30 and 10: 30. I was completely enchanted by the lobby, the art and the guest rooms, but the surprises did not stop there. The lovely woman, who showed us around, then took us to the rooftop bar, which offers another breathtaking view of the Empire State Building and its surroundings. I was most impressed when introduced to the in-house mixologist who mentioned that he had worked for NASA. Before concluding our tour, we walked through the other end of the lobby to enter Parker & Quinn, which dresses up American comfort food in a delectable looking menu and atmosphere. With chandeliers of depression-era glass, wide booths and decorative tiles, this restaurant emanates that same vintage feel as the hotel.
Trendy and filled with beautiful people, the Dream Hotel has created quite an aura around it. Sitting in the lobby is certainly entertaining at any hour of the day, but in the evening the action really kicks in. There is a DJ in the lounge area right off the lobby and not far from the entrance is Bodega Negra, with a Mexican menu. Also attached to the hotel is a restaurant called Fishbowl, with a 5000 gallon fish tank behind the bar. On the rooftop, the PHD Club tends to play top 40's music, and downstairs is the Electric Room, which is described as a rock club.
The East Village has notoriously been New York’s counterculture epicenter. It has become synonymous with art, music, grit, and grunge: a good place to let your freak flag fly. It comes as no surprise, then, that this beloved East Village dive bar, built in 1835, was a haunt for people like Frank Sinatra, Allen Ginsberg, The Ramones, W. H. Auden, and legend has it, even Leon Trotsky. It closed its doors in 2012, but resurfaced in the spring of 2015, new and improved and ready to welcome a new generation of creatives over its dimly lit threshold. Pirate Booty’s founder Robert Ehrlich and La Palapa owner Barbara Sibley teamed up to restore the old neighborhood staple. They cleaned the place up, but still aimed to keep some of the grungy charm that kept people coming back; A mural dating back to the 1920s still remains, as well as a wooden phone booth and classic horseshoe bar. Holiday Cocktail Lounge has all the eccentricity of the East Village that people have come to expect from time-honored St Marks Place establishments with just a touch of contemporary chic.
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.
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.
While gazing at the view from the thirtieth floor, some of the staff "fired up" mini cupcakes of mac n' cheese, and the bartender mixed two of their signature drinks for us to sip. We tried the Fort Knox made with bourbon, mezcal, yellow chartreuse, honey syrup, and a large grilled lemon ice block, and The Skylark composed of gin, vodka, St. Germain liqueur, blue curacao, and fresh lemon. Jasmine, the manager who guided us through the three levels, was upbeat and incredibly enthusiastic about her job. Certainly not a surprise, as not only is the view spectacular but so is the retro decor, the food, and the drinks. It sounds like she is meeting many interesting people who stop by for cocktails from the surrounding world of fashion. The lower level has a room where a small group can gather, or another with a billiards table. Up one short flight is the main lounge where the space extends across the entire building and there are different clusters of seating allowing parties to have intimate conversations. Up another stairwell, I ventured outdoors to take in the panoramic view of the city. Jasmine is excited for spring to arrive, as the Skylark opened in the fall of 2013, therefore, they have not yet been able to utilize the outdoor lounge area. I, of course, was more than happy to brave the cold in order to have the full experience of this exceptional location. Bob Savitt, the man behind this venture, owns the building, which is dedicated almost entirely to fashion houses. He decided a few years back that he wanted to add a rooftop bar, and proceeded to add on three more levels. David Rabin and the husband/wife team of Abigail Kirsch catering, Jim Kirsch and Alison Auerbuck, joined Bob to offer a sophisticated, beautiful bar setting. Skylark is only open Thursday - Saturday, as the rest of the days are reserved for private parties.
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. When I visited with the Manhattan Sideways team, I was able to learn the history of the restaurant from the owner. Vasilis Katehis, who hails from Greece, bought the basement space in 2000. “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. “I like anything having to do with design, décor, and poetry, ” he lyrically stated. “I had a vision. ” By the time Vasilis was done with the renovation, the difference between the beginning and end product was “like night and day. ” Even though the nooks and crannies had all existed before - and Vasilis's vision was to do “the unfinished thing, ” - he succeeded in completely transforming a basement into a romantic restaurant. Shalel immediately attracted customers, drawn to the idea of an underground eatery. Initially, it used to be more of “a date place, ” but in 2015, Vasilis told me that he tends to attract an older clientele. He also shared with me that he is the mastermind behind the entire menu, which is Mediterranean with an emphasis on Moroccan cuisine. As for Vasilis’s own background, he recounted, “I grew up as a farmer and a fisherman, ” and then added that he knows how to make both olive oil and wine, thanks to his upbringing on a tiny Greek island without a name. “For us, it was natural. ” Though he had other restaurants scattered around New York, Vasilis has sold them, with the exception of Shalel. He casually mentioned that he hopes to drift into semi-retirement and spend more time in Greece restoring his olive groves. It is unclear what the neighborhood would do without him, though. As he declared, “They know me on the Upper West Side. ” We had a long chat about the local businesses in the area, including those that have had to shutter over the years. After discussing raising rents, fallen culinary comrades, and the future of New York, Vasilis turned to me and added something rather poetic - If worse comes to worst, “We can all just go back to making olive oil. ”