Enter through the looming stone archway and immense wooden doors and walk inside the Horseman, where the gloomy interior is an aesthetic rather than dreary. The exposed brick, recycled wood from new England barns, and flickering natural gas lamps conjure a communal vibe. In the dark warmth, one can almost imagine a massive stone fireplace roaring with pots of stew simmering over open flames, or moors lying in wait just on the other side of the smoked windows. This rustic, colonial gastropub is one of the latest additions to 15th street. When we asked the bartender why the pub was named after Ichabod Crane’s spooky pursuer, he gestured toward the door and asked us what street we were adjacent to: Irving Place - and local legend claims Washington Irving lived at 122 East 17th Street. His famed character’s namesake bar is anything but sinister. The rotating seasonal beers and atypical comfort food could warm anyone's bones.
A city landmark and a slice of Old New York, Pete's Tavern has been serving food and draft beer uninterrupted since 1864. It does not take much to envision Pete's as it was a century and a half ago. The scarred, carved bar, the high-backed booths, tin ceiling and functional 1950's register are reminders that this was once the favorite haunt of writer O. Henry, a speakeasy, and a pre-Civil War "grocery & grog." Walking through the rooms, one can also discover hundreds of photos of people from our past - James Cagney, Mickey Mantle, and celebrities of today, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Adam Sandler. To drink here is to drink half in the past and half in the present.
In the way that so many Flatiron restaurants are, Hardings is situated in a large and imposing building, yet manages to appear out of nowhere providing a perfectly comfortable oasis for dining. A large, impressive bar dominates front and center, creating a comfortable area to grab a drink or wait for friends. We ate here on a Sunday evening, but have stopped by at various hours during the day to discover Hardings to be a popular lunch or after-work spot for Flatiron professionals. One cannot help but feel patriotic when walking through the doors. Rather than naming this American-themed restaurant after Washington or Lincoln, the owners chose the 29th president of the United States, Warren G. Harding. The entire space -- bathrooms included -- are a tribute to American history. An American flag, that dates back to the late 1800s, hangs impressively from the exposed white brick side wall, and a trip to the restroom leaves one lost in old, authentic newspaper clippings. The entire cocktail, bar, and restaurant menu is domestically sourced, and it showcases a variety of cuisines. The fluke crudo was delicate with citrus, the house salad of mesclun greens, shaved raw artichokes, fennel, radishes, lemon and olive oil dressing was unique and the grilled romaine was perfectly crusted with lemon, garlic, and shaved grana. A vegetarian dish of sauteed baby artichokes, peas, shallots, chickpeas was presented in a simple white wine broth and slices of grilled bread to dip. The flourless chocolate cake was good, but it was the Griddle Cake that was the show stopper. We all agreed that it was reminiscent of a heavenly breakfast. A warm pancake was served with raw maple syrup, lemon and vanilla ice cream melting on top. For creative American food and the ability to brush up on American history at the same time, we found Hardings to provide an entertaining evening.
Javelina opened in the middle of a snowstorm in 2015, and was suddenly inundated with over eighty customers. They are the ultimate restaurant success story, and Matt Post, the owner, says it is all thanks to the Texas network. While speaking to me at the bar of his seemingly always-full new space, he let me know that when Texans would get together before Javelina opened (“we always find each other,” he said), the conversation would steer towards how there was no good Tex Mex food in the city. Despite the fact that there were many places in the 1980s, there has been a noticeable dearth in recent decades. Matt suspects the reason is that people overdosed on cheap, badly-done Tex-Mex. “Any place with a frozen margarita machine called themselves Tex-Mex,” he explained.There was, however, one Mexican restaurant that Matt liked, called Los Dos Molinos in Gramercy, nearby his apartment. When that eatery closed in 2009, Tommy Lasagna took its place and Matt momentarily forgot about it. It was fate, therefore, when Matt started looking for a decently priced space in which to open his very first restaurant, and discovered that Los Dos Molinos’ old home was for rent. He embraced the good karma and opened Javelina.A lot of research and preparation went into Javelina. Matt found an excellent chef in Rich Caruso, who had fallen in love with Tex-Mex on a barbecue research trip to Austin. He grew up in South Brooklyn, however, and so he did not know what “queso” was. Matt informed me that queso is central to Tex-Mex, and the first thing a Texan would ask him when they heard of his plans for Javelina was “Will there be queso?” Rich therefore spent five days tasting forty different kinds of queso before developing four varieties for Javelina. We tried his “Bob Armstrong” queso, made with guacamole, pico de gallo, ground beef, and sour cream. The north easterners who make up a part of the Manhattan Sideways team were delighted by the perfect balance of creamy cheese and zingy spices – we became immediate converts.The décor was also carefully thought out, as Matt brought in a designer from Austin in order to ensure that the ambience would be authentic, without too many of the kitschy southwestern aspects that Tex-Mex restaurants often have. There are, however, many fun quirks that Matt specifically requested. For example, he told me he that he had to fight to get the taxidermy hog behind the bar, and that he was responsible for the “True Tex-Mex” sign. The restaurant also had the clever idea to put pictures of Texans on the bathroom doors. When we visited, we saw the faces of Beyonce and Matthew McConaughey. “We spent so much time on the restaurant design, but people end up instagramming the bathrooms,” Matt chuckled.Taking a seat at the bar, we met the bartender, Adam, who made us “the most contrasting colors on the menu:” The extremely refreshing avocado and prickly pear margarita became an instant hit with us, and, as Matt proclaimed, with his regular customers as well. Matt brought out some San Antonio-style puffy tacos, which were deliciously crispy and piled high with guacamole. With a broad smile, he declared, “I have all regions of Texas represented,” and pointed out the different dishes for each geographic area.When I asked Matt how his experience opening his first restaurant has been, he looked happily exhausted. “It’s been surreal so far.” He has been thankful for word of mouth and the positive press: He has already heard stories of Californians bonding over visiting his restaurant while in New York and a friend backpacking in South America who met a fan of Javelina on the trail. Though he explained that Murphy’s Law is the governing rule of the restaurant business, he said, “It’s been really fun.” He is pleased to have provided New Yorkers (and especially transplanted Texans) with a kind of cuisine that has been missing from the streets of Manhattan. As we were leaving, Matt said, “People keep thanking us for opening, which is bizarre…and wonderful.”
The store is a mosaic in itself. Denes Petoe, CEO, and Graham Barr, president, have laid out their showroom to facilitate the nearly 1,000 varieties of natural stone, as well as to capture the eye of each customer. Style here is in the eye of the beholder, not in the hands of the retailer.
“I really want families to play together. That’s my goal in the store,” said Christina Clark, who has been wowing parents, grandparents, and, most importantly, children for decades with her wonderland of toys and games.Christina worked in a toy store as a young mother and realized she had found her calling. She opened Kidding Around on Bleecker Street, followed by several other locations. Today, it is the 15th Street shop that has survived throughout the years. “I love going to work every day, so it was a good choice for me.”In the shop’s beginnings, its selection of toys and games leaned toward the traditional — “no batteries, no remote controls, and everything that just uses your imagination.” Over the years, however, Christina chose to grow with the times and introduce more modern, automated items into her inventory. Her own children later helped her bring new options into the store. Today, Christina feels lucky to work with her daughter, Kasey Coyle, who uses her background in applied behavioral analysis to stock plenty of books and toys for younger children and those with special needs. Interestingly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Christina found that her clientele went back to the basics — the demand for puzzles and classic board games was revived. “I hope that trend continues,” she said earnestly. “I hope that people remember how much fun they had playing games with their family so it brings us together and off our devices.”
On any given day when passing by, there are legions of young, hopeful actors hanging around outside this building in between classes. Lee Strasberg, known to moviegoers for his role as gangster Hyman Roth in The Godfather: Part II, founded his institute in 1969, almost forty years after he participated in the formation of the Group Theatre (an ensemble of actors that were committed to putting on productions representative of "the life of their times.") As artistic director of the Institute until his death in 1982, Strasberg continued to train his students through Method Acting - a technique that has been recognized internationally. Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Barbra Streisand, and Marlo Thomas are only a few of the actors who were taken under Strasberg's wing and taught to fly. Today, the Institute continues to flourish as it turns out many fine actors both here and at its Hollywood location. For those who would like to watch some of this training in action, there are two theaters (The Marilyn Monroe Theater and the Lee Strasberg Theater) connected to the Institute where students perform.
Traditionally trained sushi chef Noriyuki Takahashi prepares much of his food from the local ingredients that he finds a few steps away in the Union Square Green Market. Guests are invited to select from the Sushi and Sashimi bar menu or order their house-made soba noodles or tofu, but one cannot go wrong with anything served at 15 East. While walking the area, every time we mentioned food and 15th Street together, it was 15 East that people raved about. So many commented on how it is by far the best place to eat sushi. When I began to do my research, it became clear that they have garnered a great reputation having been awarded a Michelin star in 2013 and voted one of the best in several culinary categories by different magazines and websites. The reviews continue to sing their praises. On the day that we stopped in to take photos, the staff was attentive and accommodating, and worked quickly to create a perfect setting for us to shoot.
"Daily Provisions followed a long trajectory," Max Rockoff announced as we sat down to chat about the neighborhood hot spot, an offshoot of the newly opened Union Square Cafe. I met Max, the warm and enthusiastic general manager, in late August of 2017, a few months after the Union Square Hospitality Group debuted their latest restaurant venture."As Union Square Cafe's space grew, ours continued to get smaller and smaller," Max told me. "We weren't quite sure where we were headed, but the space dictated the concept," he continued. When Danny Meyer and his team found this location, a few blocks north of the original Union Square Cafe, they knew that they wished to utilize every inch of it in the most sensible way, but they were always thinking of the community surrounding them. "We had to make an unbelievable place in a tiny footprint," Max explained. They kept asking themselves, "What can we do with this jewel box on Park Avenue and 19th Street?" They were eager to give a "gift" to those who lived nearby.When the group sat down to discuss their ideas, foremost in their minds was, "What are the daily things people want?" They hoped to provide the best versions of what their customers know and love. Max said it had to start with fantastic coffee first thing in the morning, together with some smashing breakfast treats. This would then be followed by salads and interesting sandwiches on freshly baked bread. At the end of the day, the space could provide an outstanding roast chicken that could be picked up on the way home.The final innovation by the team was “cross-utilization.” Within the downstairs kitchen - accessible from both restaurants - there is a shared bakeshop facility. It is here that they make the incredible "house loaf" - a brown sour dough bread that is served in the restaurant and used to make many of the specialty sandwiches all day long at Daily Provisions."There is no redundancy here," Max asserted, "We can feed families all day long. Our breakfast is nothing crazy, it is just the best." In fact, the bacon, eggs and cheese sandwich is one of the most requested items at almost any hour. Therefore, they offer it until 4:00 p.m. every afternoon. "The people demand it, so we provide it. We listen to them." The roast beef sandwich is a classic lunchtime treat, "but it is our version." I also learned about a special sandwich that is not on the menu, but which is proving to be the real "go-to" - herbed ricotta and arugula served on their house-made English muffin. Then there is the Patty Melt - the meat is blended with grilled onions and served on housemade rye bread with melted cheese. Max shared that the team tried all kinds of cheese for their melt, and when they did a blind tasting, it was the classic American that won.The Daily Provisions team also wanted the small cafe to be a place where people could stop by and unwind, sip on some wine, work on their computer, or simply meet up with friends for relaxing conversation. Somehow, although not surprisingly, this talented and well-loved restaurant group has managed to accomplish it all. I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who came by for a glass of wine around 5:00 p.m. She worked upstairs in the building and told me that she makes a habit of coming to Daily Provisions at the end of her day. It was so nice to watch her settle in comfortably, acknowledging members of the staff, as well as other patrons sitting around the white marble counters. When I commented to Max on how extraordinary this was, he said, "She is a microcosm of what we've become."Max was genuinely pleased to tell me that many guests who initially visited when Daily Provisions first opened continue to gravitate back on a regular basis. "They're comfortable here." Gushing, Max said that the best time of day is when everyone gathers on weekend mornings. He loves how the neighborhood utilizes the shop, be it for a cup of good coffee or a full breakfast. It is a place for all ages that has become a routine stop for many. "Everyone uses it in their own way." He has found it fascinating to see how the area denizens have embraced them. "They have made us their own." It was also quite apparent to me how Max and his staff have effortlessly enveloped the community.
We were immediately taken by the Belfry from the moment we stepped inside. There is something very welcoming about its decor and the people; hip, but not over the top. Tables can be reserved, there is a live band some nights, a giant TV screen, a long, attractive zinc bar with a selection of craft beers, and pickle back shots. The only food items available are a few pickled preserves - in the form of string beans, okra, pepperoncini and, of course, sour pickles.
It was certainly a first for me when I walked into Old Town and began a conversation about Manhattan Sideways with the bartender who instructed me to head straight to the back and check out the urinals in the men's bathroom. One can feel the years in the 55-foot worn wood and marble bar, sense the history in the great silver bar mirrors and the 16-foot high pressed tin ceiling, hear it in the ring of the antique registers, and watch it as the food is transported up and down the oldest dumbwaiters in the city, but it was the towering porcelain urinals - monuments really - that resonated with me. Two of the few changes instituted since the 1890s when Old Town first opened its doors is the relaxed policy on women at the bar and the light fixtures, which are still the original, just electrically wired now. Old Town does not just look like old New York, “we are old New York,” owner Gerard Meagher told us. In 1892 the bar opened as Viemeisters, a German restaurant in a predominantly German neighborhood. In the 1920s, the owners renamed the spot Craig’s Restaurant and served alcohol for the duration of Prohibition – a speakeasy complete with hollow booths fitted to conceal bottles of alcohol - booths that people continue to occupy today. Around 1933, Henry and Claus Loden, a German-American father and son, christened the place “Old Town” and began to serve up German food once again. Gerard’s father purchased the establishment from the Lodens in the 1960s, and the rest, as they say, is history. Old Town is a thinker’s tavern, a conversationalist’s dream. “It’s a place you can talk about ideas. The atmosphere attracts people who want to discuss things,” Gerard said. The food and drinks stay moderately priced, contributing to Old Town’s reputation as a favorite hangout for patrons from all levels of the economic strata. “New York bars and restaurants have become segmented – gay bars, working man’s bars, hipster bars,” says Gerard. “Anyone can walk in here and feel welcome. Nobody feels out of place.” Their policy is simple -- no TVs, no cell phones, and no loud music to disrupt the customers. Simple is good here, as good as a chilled beer from the wooden icebox behind the bar. It is a philosophy that everyone can get behind.