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.
Greeting guests with a small taste of their Spanish mulled house wine, we immediately knew that we had discovered a small wonder. Aytac and Zaf, both from Turkey, are the owners. They lived in New York for many years, working in other restaurants before the two friends decided to embark on their own adventure. They opened their doors in 2007 and have had a steady flow of customers, drawing from both the locals living in the neighborhood and the strong tourist population that surrounds them. Nothing is made from scratch on the premises, as the kitchen is minute, but what they bring out of there is absolutely scrumptious. We managed to eat every piece of chocolate made by either renowned Jacques Torres or Xocolatti. Small chunks are served on a wooden platter, similar to a cheese board. Delving into their signature dessert, "21 Layer Crepes Cake" was like indulging in a piece of heaven. Thin crepes and whipped cream, topped with burnt sugar. We watched as others shared the dark chocolate fondue, dipping into their melted land of wonder with bananas, strawberries, marshmallows and finger cookies as Frank Sinatra was singing in the background. Although we did not order anything else, there is a menu filled with savory treats - Angry Chicken Lollipops, White Truffle Pizza, Goat Cheese Brulee and, of course, a cocktail menu of Chocolate Martinis and wines from around the world.
“Liquor-wise, whiskey is the greatest expression of America.” So said Jessica, bar manager at American Whiskey at the time that I visited. Opened in September 2013, the bar immediately attracted a large industry following with its nearly two hundred varieties of bourbons and rye. The bar is more versatile than that, however, with a southern, French-inspired food menu and full bar to complement, because, as Jessica says, “even us cocktail nerds want a beer and a shot sometimes.” Here, highbrow meets reality. Tans and grays line the space, with rough distressed wood showing through. Numerous flat screens are generously located throughout the bar, between giant busts of beasts.Following our conversation with Jessica, we spoke with Casey, an owner of American Whiskey. As simple as the story is, we found it fascinating and truly applaud the dedication that it took for a bunch of friends to follow their dream. Between the five managing partners, they have trained behind the bar, managed a restaurant, cooked and even washed dishes – “you name it, we have done it,” Casey, told us. “We always knew that our end goal would be to open our own place. Once we graduated college and began to mature a bit, we got out of the beer mode and moved into the more refined and sophisticated world of alcohol.” Their vision from the beginning was to find a space large enough to accommodate their sport-themed bar, as they are avid fans of multiple games. One of the partners is a University of Georgia graduate, and managed to bring in several hundred Georgia football enthusiasts on a recent weekend. Casey said the place was electric.Mimicking the theme of a vodka service, the guys came up with “barrel service.” Served right at the table are buckets of ice, glasses and one or three liter barrels, which are whiskey-based with a variety of mixers, ready to drink. Duane, one of the several in-house whiskey experts, spent time with us sharing his passion for Bourbon. It was quite interesting to hear him speak of his experience in Kentucky, this past spring, when a few of the partners went on a trip to gain further knowledge. “What better place to go than right to the state that is famous for this,” Duane said. However, he did go on to tell us that there are a number of states that manufacture their own whiskies – Iowa, Oregon and Montana were a few mentioned.Duane chatted about the surrounding landscape where the whiskey is produced, saying “it breathes into the barrels” and emphasized the importance of the water source – “all combined, it makes for an outstanding whiskey.” The enthusiasm for the drink was contagious. Having only had tiny tastes over the years, I broke down and took a few sips of Duane’s signature “Strike Me Dead.” Templeton Rye (dating from the Prohibition), black pepper, maple syrup and maple bitters were combined and finished off with some orange zest and cloves. The result was powerful and flavorful. Following that, I tried Duane's other favorite drink, “Floral Collins,” consisting of Fords gin, cucumber juice, lavender syrup, fresh squeezed lime juice, maraschino liqueur and a slice of cucumber. Esteban, our photographer, was asked which concoction he preferred and answered that they had, “Equal goodness.” Duane has spent the last three years living and breathing whiskey. Although incredibly conversant on the subject, he describes himself as being “humble” and said that he is simply dedicated to delivering the message of our country’s whiskey, “the voice of reason.”
Stout NYC has the magic ability of seeming both like a large fortress and like a cozy cavern. It claims to be New York's largest Irish pub, and yet comfortable seating and cobblestone floors give the bar a warm, friendly atmosphere. With two other locations in the Financial District and near Grand Central, Stout NYC has set itself up as a neighborhood hangout three times over.
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.
Approaching almost fifty years, the American Bartender's School has been teaching mixologists the ‘ology of mixing. Having moved in the ‘80s from their original location on Madison Avenue, the school offers forty-hour courses, with students leaving as certified bartenders with a license issued by the New York State Board of Education. Combining lectures and a “lab” portion, we witnessed students attentively toiling over drinks for phantom customers in a room designed to look like one giant bar. The difference, however, is that unlike a culinary school where one might sample their own creations, students do not imbibe here. In fact, there is no alcohol to be found at this bar. Everything is in the correct bottles and the colors all match their potent potable equivalent. What was explained to us is that everything is about measurements. Students are given a recipe to follow, and provided they do it correctly, they can rest assured that it will taste exactly right in the real world. We left wondering whether phantom customers are good tippers.
This tiny shop tucked away in Kips Bay has been the go-to spot for any and all of one’s footwear-related troubles since it opened in 2014. Manuel Muicela, the owner, came to New York from Nicaragua in 1987 and quickly joined the trade of shoe repair, enduring grueling six-day workweeks. After gaining thirty years of experience in the field, he was finally able to open his own business. “I learned how to repair shoes, and now I work for me,” he remarked proudly. In this residential area, most of his regulars live in the neighborhood. On the loyalty of his customers, Manuel noted, “If you do a good job, people come back.” A few things about Manuel’s shop set him apart from the rest. One of the first things that grabs the eye upon entering is the set of old-fashioned shoeshine chairs, where one can get a shoeshine for $5, cash only. He also has a unique machine in the back of the shop that stitches both the inside and the outside of the shoe. With a chuckle, Manuel warned our team, “You can stitch your finger if you’re not careful.” This machine is so rare that many other shoe repair shop owners throughout the city come to Manuel to use it.
An oasis in a concrete cityscape, this little church doubles as a place of worship and a serene garden in which to rest. The Episcopalian church was founded in 1848 by George Houghton to welcome any and all of the tired masses, in the spirit of inclusivity. Today, the church maintains that inclusive spirit by keeping its gates open all day to parishioners and non-parishioners alike. On any given day, one can find anyone from actors to businessmen seated among the bushes and fountains, chatting, eating or simply sitting in peace. “A lot of people just come in and meditate or chill,” parish administrator Bill Nave shared with us. “It is one of the most welcoming churches I have ever been to.” What a charming discovery in the midst of bustling Manhattan.
When I visited OCabanon in the summer of 2016, it was in the middle of the European Soccer Championship and the whole restaurant was decked out in French flags and each staff member sported a French jersey, including Armel Joly, one of the three brothers-in-law who own the restaurant - which they have dubbed a “cave à manger,” a term that means “cellar to eat.”Armel explained that he and the other owners, Alexandre Mur and Michael Faure, were vacationing together during the summer of 2011 with their respective wives/sisters when they came up with the idea of opening a restaurant. From there, the process accelerated and they signed a lease in Chelsea in December of the same year. As for the name, it comes from a piece of family history. Armel pointed to a picture of his grandmother-in-law on the wall, telling me that she had a house in the south of France in which the whole family has had many happy memories. In the house, the kitchen had a tiny pantry off to the side with a small refrigerator. Though “cabanon” is a word that directly translates to “shed,” the grandmother used the word to describe her little pantry. Every time someone came to visit her, she would say something along the lines of, “It’s so good to see you! Let me see if there’s something to eat in my cabanon.” In French, “in the cabanon,” is “au Cabanon,” which phonetically gave the brothers the name of their restaurant.The cabanon in the south of France often held delicious, fresh food including homemade risotto, mozzarella, and dorado. “She was crazy about fish,” Armel informed me, adding that the restaurant always tries to have one type of fish on the menu in her honor. In addition to dorado, the restaurant does an excellent nicoise salad with fresh tuna. As for other popular plates, Cedric, the wait staff captain, mentioned that the burger, stuffed short ribs, and cherry tomato tarte tatin were frequently ordered. Armel pointed out that the wine is also a “very important focus,” with most bottles coming from small producers.Armel, who was a banker in France before following his family’s dream in opening the restaurant, is very pleased with what he and his brothers have achieved. “We are very lucky, very happy about this,” he said. “What we have received from the American people is something that surprises me everyday.” Americans, I learned, make up 90% of OCabanon’s regulars. A large number of them discovered the restaurant from a surprising source: since Billy Joel began performing one concert each month in 2014 at nearby Madison Square Garden, OCabanon has been packed to the rafters on those specific evenings. The phenomenon, which Armel describes as “totally amazing,” has allowed him to promote France and French cuisine to even more people... And, of course, soccer - for the space has a side room with a giant screen for watching the games. "We are combining the best of France and the best of New York,” he stated.