"We are the oldest restaurant on our block. We try to keep a low profile while doing the best we can, and every day we appreciate that we are living in this country,” said Guadalupe, who has been married to Rafael Rivas — affectionately known as Papa Bear — for over forty years.
The restaurant was founded by three Cuban cousins, who took Rafael under their wing when he came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in his twenties. With their encouragement, he started out as a dishwasher, then a lineman, and eventually ran the show up front. When the cousins decided to retire in the mid-1980s but could not find a buyer, Rafael stepped up to the plate and asked if he could take over Margon.
With years of hard work and small payments, Rafael has upheld the cousins' tradition of serving Cuban favorites, such as roasted pork, oxtail, fried sweet plantains, and rice and beans to the line of customers that stretches out the door on any given day. Little by little, each member of Rafael's family was brought from the DR to join the fold. Guadalupe — who met her husband while they were both on a tour of the Statue of Liberty — along with Rafael's brother, sister, sister-in-law, and many of their children — are all part of this warm and loving family affair.
Papa Bear's smile lights up Margon — and his entire family smiles with him. They work like a well-oiled machine, serving a constant flow of customers ranging from construction workers on break, to ladies meeting for a leisurely lunch, to a gentleman in his eighties who never misses a day to sit down and enjoy his usual. According to Guadalupe, “We have the best customers. They come from all over the world. We have every accent. They visit once and then they tell their friends.
Perhaps not as old an institution as some of the clubs on 44th, but this cafe has certainly had a long run, and I have enjoyed being one of their patrons for several of these decades. Occupying space on 44th since 1977, Un Deux Trois has hosted generations of artists and theater district figures. "We were very hot in the '80s, " explained manager Pierre, name dropping celebrities from Andy Warhol to Meryl Streep and Al Pacino. And Pierre went on to say that today, long-time regulars who grew up eating in the restaurant are now bringing in their own children. Breakfast is served from opening at seven thirty until midnight every day of the year. The food is traditional French brasserie style, with a prix fixe menu available for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Steak tartare continues to be a popular choice, as does the quiche lorraine, but on my visit while walking 44th, I opted for another typically French favorite, a spinach and cheese stuffed crepe with a simple side salad. The decor remains from a past life as a hotel lobby, with a mosaic-tiled floor, stained glass windows and Corinthian columns amid all the festivities. Now appearing in various travel guides to Manhattan, it plays host to tourists, theater-goers and locals alike.
Opened in 1992 and originally located on the Upper East Side, Oceana moved to 49th Street in 2009. The Livanos family sowed the seeds for the glorious Oceana long ago when they ran a diner and realized their ambitions to develop it into something more. Having worked hard to make their dreams a reality, Oceana continues to pride itself on the freshness of its food and makes a point to have direct relationships with the fish mongers and farmers. Although some have called Oceana the Mecca of seafood, the restaurant's menu is notably diverse. The executive chef, Ben Pollinger, takes to the broad reaches of American cuisine and mixes elements of different dishes together, often in an unexpected way. The Manhattan Sideways team eagerly sampled a few of the marvelous dishes, including the Copper River Sockeye Salmon Crudo, featuring pickled ramps, parsley oil, and Amagansett sea salt, and the Sea Scallops Ceviche that is topped with peaches, ginger, and cinnamon basil. I was pleasantly surprised by the incredible vegetarian dish that the chef also prepared - Summer Squash & Cranberry Bean Salad, consisting of zucchini, gold bar and pattypan squash, pignoli, purslane and drizzled in lemon vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious. The last member of the Oceana team that we were introduced to was their wine director, Pedro Goncalves. Pedro, who began working at Oceana in 2001, makes a concerted effort to develop drink pairings to accompany the delectable food menu. Standing near the white marble bar, he proudly told us that Oceana has 1100 wine listings and 600 spirits. He went on to report that with forty-seven different gins, Oceana has one of the largest selections of in the city. "There is something to fit every personality, " Pedro said.
How nice it was to literally bump into David Rabin - one of the owners of the magnificent rooftop bar, The Skylark, on 39th Street - when I first entered the luxurious, historic Chatwal Hotel where the Lambs Club is located. He explained to me that this, too, was his. After the hotel was re-envisioned by father and son, Sant Singh and Vikram Chatwal, the team behind the restaurant decided to bring back some of the old world charm of the original Lambs Club. Comprised of a group of the creme de la creme in theater that began in London in 1868 came across the ocean to New York in 1874. The restaurant is a standout of modern American cuisine. Executive chef Eric Haugen is an up-and-coming superstar in the New York culinary scene, as he works alongside renowned chef Geoffrey Zakarian. The wine list has garnered the attention and approbation of Wine Spectator magazine, and the jazz shows enliven Sunday brunches. The simple, but delightful salad that the team assembled for us to photograph was a work of art. On the plate was "Gem" lettuce, sliced asparagus, peas, pickled red onion, shaved radishes, candy cane beets with a fresh spring herb dressing of ramps, chervil and tarragon. Although we did not dine at the Lambs Club while walking 44th, we certainly look forward to it one day soon, as the ambiance, the food and the professional staff were enticing.
One would not think, walking into Gleason’s Tavern, that one were in the middle of Times Square. The Manhattan Sideways team were quite surprised to find Gleason’s to be a welcomed reprieve from flashing neon lights and electronic billboards. Gleason’s is a traditional bar that serves breakfast, as well as pub fare for both lunch and dinner, and craft cocktails. The bar is intimate, with an event space in the back that can accommodate a small party. The bar is the fourth establishment from owners Mike Droney, Tom Cames, and Colm McGuickian. Unlike their other bars, Punch Restaurant, Wined Up Wine Bar, and Cassidys, Gleason’s is not known for specialized food or signature cocktails. As Tom says, “A cheeseburger is a cheeseburger and a beer is a beer, but it's the people that make a bar. "The owners worked in tandem with the newly opened Shocard Hotel, which is adjacent to Gleason’s, to bring this project into fruition. Black and white photographs of classic New York City line the walls, transporting visitors back to a different age that people today only get to experience in movies or stories. When Tom, Mike, and Colm were deciding on this location for their new bar, they could not resist being a part of a project to restore aspects of vintage 1970s Manhattan. According to Tom, “It takes you back a bit to old seventies Times Square, but with a new day twist. ” Both the hotel and Gleason's want to reestablish what has been lost in the Times Square community. Tom mentioned that the bar in the center of the room was built to be a noticeably lengthy fifty feet long so that customers from around the globe can more easily communicate. The staff is friendly and eager to talk when someone new walks through the door: Everyone is a part of the mission to make Gleason’s a place that anyone can call theirs. The bartender on duty, Chris Trindade, attested to the laid back feel as he poured an Negroni. “You want to work somewhere you want to invite friends to. ”And the people are exactly why Tom loves being in the restaurant industry. For him, the personalities coming into the bar are what will make a place successful or not. Businessmen in the area, Broadway cast members looking for a place to unwind, and men sneaking away from families for a drink during the Aladdin intermission are all what give their bar its particular character. No matter who comes in, Tom is happy to start chatting with customers to find out their story and what brings them to what is, in his opinion, the center of the universe.
I love Little Beet and there is no doubt that many others do as well. It has been a rare occasion that I have come by without seeing a line winding out the door. A hugely popular lunch spot, this gluten-free eatery prides itself on using local, fresh and healthy ingredients while preparing simple and flavorful recipes.
Not only does Barbetta profess to be the oldest restaurant on Restaurant Row, it is also one of the oldest Italian restaurants in New York. Opening its doors in 1906, in four adjoining townhouses built in the late 1800s by the Astor family, Sebastiano Maioglio began his long restaurant career. The emphasis has always been on Italian dishes and wine from the Piemontese region, where he was from. Sebastiano’s daughter, Laura, took over in 1962, and immediately began to remodel the restaurant in the style of 18th C. E. Piemonte. With her passion for collecting art, great sense of personal style, frequent visits in Piemonte, and an art history degree from Bryn Mawr College, it is no wonder that Barbetta’s exquisite interior has become as highly regarded as its food. The dining room demonstrates its old-world opulence, with ornate chandeliers, chairs, and tables meant to evoke a palazzo of the eighteenth century, during Piemonte’s cultural height. The baroque interior serves as more than just a reference to its heritage; it is a part of it. The great chandelier in the main dining room initially came from a palazzo in Torino, where it belonged to the royal family. Laura negotiated to obtain this 18th C. E. chandelier for two years. Other highlights of Barbetta’s extensive collection include the harpsichord in the foyer - crafted in 1631, as well as hanging wall prints from Piemonte - part of a distinguished set crafted in 1682. Items that could not be authentic, such as the numerous chairs and barstools, are reproductions of museum pieces that were specifically chosen by Laura to be reproduced in Italy. The garden, available for dining in the summer, holds trees dating back over a century ago, and, in line with the interior, holds the atmosphere of refined European aristocracy. Barbetta, while serving as a cultural landmark, remains focused on the excellence of its ever-changing list of dishes while serving classics such as risotto and polenta since its founding. Every dish on its menu since 1962 has been approved by Laura, and celebrating its long history and heritage, each menu item is marked with the year it began to be served, while dishes from Piemonte are in red print. Although esteemed for its dishes, Barbetta is also famed for its 72-page wine list, which has won numerous awards. Barbetta has also transformed the Italian dining scene through its numerous examples of “being the first”- from its conception to the present day. A few highlights include its beginning as the first Piemontese restaurant in New York, its status as New York’s first elegant Italian restaurant after its 1962 transformation, as well as its usage of numerous ingredients that at the time, were not commercially available in America and which had to be specifically imported by them from Italy. A particular example of one of these imported ingredients is white truffles. Years ago, Barbetta’s own truffle-hunting dogs became so well known that they were asked to perform a demonstration at Carnegie Hall in 1992. Barbetta is also unique in its emphasis on low sugar and low salt dishes - Laura even decided that Barbetta would smoke its own salmon to ensure it would not be too salty. Laura described Barbetta as “an institution, much more than a restaurant, ” due to the extensive culture that has been built around it and that it has created. The description as “much more than a restaurant” struck us as particularly apt, due to Barbetta’s long list of famous regulars - from The Rolling Stones to Jacklyn Kennedy - its exceptionally elegant and unusually spacious interior, variety of phenomenal food, and historical significance.
Joe Allen, founded in 1965, is the archetypal post-theater restaurant. With one of the longer histories on Restaurant Row, Joe Allen has been serving classic American cuisine in a brasserie setting since I was a little girl. I was always happy to come here with my parents and be able to order a hamburger rather than having to go out for a fancy meal. Mr. Allen - who also owns Orso, an Italian restaurant next door – had an initial concept to provide a comfortable, dynamic atmosphere with good food. And while the restaurant continues to serve some of the best comfort food around, spending time at night in the bar area, shows Joe Allen's real appeal. The high energy level from the post-theater crowd is contagious. The manager explained to us on one visit that they are the first phone call that people make after they have secured their seats for the next Broadway show. And, while he remained hesitant to divulge names, he shared how many actors and actresses have continued over the years to head immediately to Joe Allen after they perform - "here, " he elaborated "you're surrounded by theater, and we do all we can to promote that culture. " I can attest to the numerous actors who grace their tables, as I have had the pleasure of meeting a few over the years, as well as a highlight one evening when Barbara Walters sat right next to me. It is hard to say something new about Joe Allen, so long has it been a staple for theater goers. While the menu remains updated and contemporary, Joe Allen does not take any risks. Rather, it thrives on its reputation among patrons based on its long tradition of casual dining. Seeing the last of the pre-theater crowd during our visit, we were struck by how Joe Allen seemed appropriate equally for a quick burger and glass of wine in half an hour before a show, or a long, late into the night dinner where no one wants to head home.
Alongside numerous restaurants and bars, The Church of St. Mary adds a European influence to the Times Square area. With vaulted ceilings and glorious stained glass windows, the church offers a level of contemplative splendor to an otherwise busy area. When I stepped inside for a few moments on my walk across 46th, I was in absolute awe. I could not wait to watch the reaction of other members of the Manhattan Sideways team when I brought them by a few days later. The 45th Street church was founded in 1868 and built on ground donated by John Jacob Astor, with the understanding that the church would remain “free” - meaning visitors did not have to pay pew rents. Radical in its time, this Episcopal Church could open its services to people from all walks of life while remaining dependent on contributions from wealthy parishioners. In 1893, after one of these contributors, Sara L. Cooke, left the church a large amount of money in her will, the church leaders decided to move to a larger location one block north on West 46th. Built in the French Gothic style, this building was the first church made with an iron skeleton rather than stonework. While walking through this breathtaking piece of architecture, I checked in with one of the Manhattan Sideways photographers, who was looking a little shaken. She told me that the sheer size and beauty had simply taken her breath away. St. Mary’s keeps her doors open everyday so that passersby can share in this experience.