The legendary Neary’s has been a staple of New York City dining since its opening on St. Patrick’s Day in 1967. Its founder, Jim Neary, continues to grace his customers with the same, unique dining experience - in 2019 - that they have enjoyed since the beginning. The classy dress code, classic red booth seats, walls filled with an assortment of beautiful and often historically significant pictures, and knickknacks around the restaurant such as two Super Bowl rings, are only a small part of why Neary’s is so special. Neary’s is embodied and defined by its founder, Jimmy Neary, whose compassion and famous “Jimmy Neary smile” has made Neary’s the kind of place where there are “no strangers... no matter if it’s their first time walking in, everyone talks to everyone. ”Jimmy was born on a farm in Ireland, and his first job coming into America was at a swimming pool. He eventually moved on to become a bar tender at P. J. Moriarity’s, another Irish-American restaurant, where he met his eventual business partner Brian Mulligan. When Jimmy found his 57th street location - 57th street being the two-way street in the city that runs river to river - he “knew it was the place for him and never looked back. ” Over the years he has slowly added to the décor, and stated that “every picture has a story behind it. ” With the care that Jimmy has put into every aspect of Neary’s - along with the presence of Jimmy himself - he has managed to make his restaurant an important fixture in the lives of many for generations. Offered the opportunity to expand over the years, it is no surprise that Jimmy has refused, for in his words “it would never be the same. ”Jimmy considers Neary’s a family-oriented place, with many of his staff having worked with him for over forty years. Essentially, they have all grown up together. His daughter Una, who works on Wall Street during the day, has worked at Neary’s part time for close to forty years and ascertained that “the food is wonderful, the staff is amazing, but people come for my father. ”Jimmy works seven days a week, and in Una’s words, “to get him to take a day off is a major, major feat. ” While every day at Neary’s is a special day, its devoted following especially looks forward to St. Patrick’s Day, which for fifty plus years was counted down to by a special clock, and the celebration of Jimmy’s annual surprise birthday party. As a place where everyone is not just welcomed, but also family, it is no surprise that when asked what he liked to do to relax, Jimmy responded that he is “relaxed right here. I come through the door and I’m at home and I walk out happy. ”
The name of this tavern that opened in the fall of 2013 pays homage to Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Irish novelist James Joyce's Ulysses. Each year, on June 16th, the date on which Ulysses takes place, the pub hosts a large 'Bloomsday' party, complete with a dramatic reading of excerpts from the book with local theater artists. The tavern's namesake is also evident in the decor, featuring Joyce memorabilia alongside literary quotes on the walls. While chatting with owner, Noel Donovan, I learned that he had been the general manager for nine years at Eamonn's Bar & Grill on 45th Street, before deciding to take the plunge and open his own Irish tavern.
When legendary bartender Doug Quinn parted ways with his longtime employer P. J. Clark's a few blocks north, he marched right over to 53rd Street and began creating what he describes as "an iconic New York saloon restaurant. " Doug's goal is to make Hudson Malone, named after his two young boys, the kind of neighborhood spot where people can feel at home. Whether the customer is twenty-one or ninety, "I like people to mingle with one another, " Doug told me. His hope is to build something that he believes New York lacks at the moment. A big part of this is Doug himself, as I witnessed while visiting. His warm greeting to familiar faces and new customers was genuine and charming as he quickly ran behind the bar to fix them their favorite drinks. It is also in the small details of Hudson Malone, particularly the decor, where Doug has collected photographs of New York sports legends including the 1938 Yankees, a twinkling jukebox by the front of the bar, and a chalkboard displaying Quinn's Laws - "They're all things your Grandma should have taught you, " Doug demurs. I was particularly drawn to the upstairs room, which has its own private entrance and features an intricately carved nineteenth-century center-piece serving as the backdrop to the bar. This is just one more example of the classic saloon decor. In addition to a wide selection of beers and cocktails, Hudson Malone offers a traditional American menu held to Doug's high standards. "I like putting on a show every night, " Doug excitedly told me. "I want the food coming out of my kitchen to cause people to turn their heads. "
Chances are that any local stopped on the street would know about P. J. Clarke's. One of the oldest saloons in New York City, it was established in 1884 to attract the neighborhood's copious Irish laborers. One such immigrant named Patrick Joseph Clarke began bartending there around 1902, and devoted himself to the barroom until he earned enough to buy it a decade later - and give it his name. Through two World Wars and Prohibition, through economic boom and devastation, the little brick house has remained. Starting in the 1940s it became popular among celebrity figures, but its local loyalty never faltered. Despite its legendary status in New York history, P. J. Clarke's maintains a straightforward self-presentation as the simple, classic American pub it has always promised to be. When I entered the building, my eyes were quickly drawn to a baseball game on the TV screen overhead. Red-and-white checkered cloths were spread over the tables, and at the bar, a crowd vastly dominated by men in pastel button-downs shoved and clamored. One quieter pair of fellows engaged me in a friendly chat. They were both visitors to New York, and had heard that P. J. Clarke's was an obligatory stop. As I was about to leave, their burgers arrived. I stayed just long enough to see their eyes shut in focused satisfaction as they bit down.
It's her first venture in Manhattan and she's had to pick up some new skills along the way too, but hospitality veteran Nicola Campbell is feeling right at home in Hell's Kitchen as she opens brand-new Jamaican eatery Cafe 424 on W54th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue. Currently in soft-launch mode and open from Wednesday to Saturday 10am to 7pm, the team at Cafe 424 are planning a grand opening September 15 to 17, after which they will operate from 8am to 10pm Wednesday through Saturday, serving Jamaican-themed pastries, coffee, lunch and dinner. Nicola, known as “Chef Mom” grew up in Willowdene Estates in the parish of St Catherine, Jamaica, where she learned to cook alongside her grandmother. “I used to be in the kitchen with my grandma all the time, ” said Nicola. “Back then I didn’t love it — it felt like punishment, but as I got older I realized that I had natural talent. ”She moved to New York City in 1999, opening several Caribbean restaurants in Queens and earning a degree from the prestigious Institute of Culinary Education. “I started using the skill sets that I got from my grandmother, ” said Nicola. “I decided to go to culinary school to sharpen those skills, and the rest is history. ” Her professional nickname “came from culinary school and when I was graduated — my kids said, ‘What should we call you now? ’” All of her children have helped with the business through the years, including daughter Zhana Clacken, who works as her partner and technology expert at Cafe 424. After closing one restaurant in Long Island City due to damage from Hurricane Sandy and selling another establishment in Jamaica, Queens in 2016, “I swore that I would never do this again, ” said Nicola. But when she got the chance to collaborate with non-profit co-op Prime Produce, an organization dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs and artists with their multi-use space on W54th Street, Nicola decided to take the leap. “I met these fabulous people from Prime Produce who want to do good in the world, ” said Nicola. “Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of it? ”After signing on as the organization’s in-house concession provider and operator of the public-facing café, the next challenge for Nicola was to build the kind of environment that she hoped would attract regular neighborhood patrons. “We wanted to create a homey, relaxed vibe, ” she said. “We want you to stay — we offer free WiFi so that you can come on down and chill with us. ”Used to commercial kitchens, she was happy to find a convection oven to fit the smaller space, allowing her to develop a full menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner options cooked onsite. “I'm used to a full kitchen, ” said Nicola. “But from experience working in colleges and hotels, restaurants and catering, I've had to pull all those things together. ”Nicola and her team are happy to be able to offer freshly-baked, in-house seasonal pastries, including treats like apple pies, bread pudding and, come holiday time, a rum raisin fruit cake featuring raisins that Nicola has been lovingly tending to and soaking for five years. For lunch and dinner, she’s developed a small, constantly rotating seasonal menu with Jamaican classics like jerk chicken, oxtails, curry goat, seafood and jerk fried rice. Everything is cooked to order and they offer vegan options in their lunch, dinner and dessert menus. The process has allowed Nicola to experiment with Jamaican fusion cuisine, she added. “I try to mix up my Jamaican side and my culinary-training side and bring a little bit of French and a little bit of Italian-style to different dishes — oxtail cooked French-style and combinations like that. ” But when it came to creating the café’s beverage program, Nicola had a lot to learn. “I was challenged because I've never actually done a coffee shop before, ” she said. She got to work researching the coffee brewing process, and landed on using premium Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee for the café’s offerings. “I wanted specifically to stay true to my heritage, and Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is what I was raised on — growing up back home in Jamaica with my grandmother, that's all we used to have, ” she said. “I wanted to go back to that tradition, so I went to a company called Jamrock Coffee to work with them and try different roasts. We’re offering dark roast because that's where the flavors were the most intense. ” Working with head barista Dovi Akouete, Nicola trained herself on the art of brewing, and proudly declares that while “it used to just be coffee to me, I learned so much about the beans and the roasting process and making these drinks that now I really know the difference between a Macchiato and a Cappuccino. ”Nicola is so well-versed that she’s proud to offer fully-customizable drinks (and dishes) based on a customer’s needs. “If you’re hungry or thirsty for something, we’ll make you a drink or dish especially for you, ” she added. “We don’t want to be cookie-cutter and we consider ourselves a boutique, niche café. ” Keeping in the spirit of experimentation, Nicola hopes to implement a private chef’s table tasting menu every Sunday starting in October, featuring a four-course, prix fixe menu perfect for group gatherings and special events. Nicola is excited for the road ahead, and bolstered by the amount of community support already shown to the café. “People are super excited we’re here, ” she said, just as several Hell’s Kitchen residents walked by and shouted “We can’t wait to come by! Welcome! ”. Reception from the local business community has also been warm, added Nicola — they’ve already connected with the owners of Jaz Indian Cuisine and Mamasita. “It’s on our list to circle all of the nearby businesses, ” she added. “It’s all about unity — we can’t do this alone, and that’s our model with Prime Produce too. We are a strong team, not just as a café, but as a community and a co-op. It’s all about team members. ” For now, Chef Mom is focusing on the lead up to their official opening weekend, and taking in the joyful, fast-paced energy of all it entails. “It’s a lovely space, with great people and a great mission, ” she said. “I’ve never operated in Manhattan, and this is a lovely neighborhood, so I was open to taking on the challenge, and as they would say, ‘jumping off the cliff! ’” This story originally appeared on W42ST. nyc as "Enjoy a Flavor of Jamaican Cuisine and Hospitality as Cafe 424 Opens in Hell's Kitchen" in August 2022.
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.
The Neighborhood Playhouse is both a great community resource and an old-fashioned reminder of the timelessness of great theater. Virtually invisible from the street, the only clue to its existence is a red, unmarked door and a modest sign. Once inside, however, I discovered that this almost one hundred year old building holds within it a proscenium theater, a full-size dance studio, and plenty of dressing rooms and classrooms. What a fascinating tour I was treated to by Emily Duncan, the admissions administrator, where I learned about their history and mission. The lobby, with its shabby elegance, features photos of famous graduates, as well as scenes from plays over the course of the school's history. The top two floors of the building are devoted to a beautiful dance studio with wood floors and soaring ceilings. A lover of dance, I was particularly moved when Emily announced that I was standing in the former domain of dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham, who taught at the Neighborhood Playhouse alongside actor and teacher, Sanford Meisner. I was also enrapt by Christine Cirker, the librarian, who proudly discussed their vast collection of plays and theatre criticism. Incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the world of theater, she told me that she also teaches classes on script interpretation. Christine went on to explain the playhouse's claim to fame: the Meisner Technique, a method of acting that emphasizes that one should "live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances. " Sanford Meisner developed his famous improvisation-based technique at the Playhouse in the mid-1940s, which continues to train actors to this day. It counts among its list of prominent alumni names: Gregory Peck, Robert Duvall and Steve McQueen; and more recently, it has added to its roster, Allison Janney and Chris Noth. The playhouse trains about one hundred students at any given time, seventy-five first-years and twenty-five second-years who have been invited back as a result of a unanimous faculty vote. According to Emily, graduates have an easier time finding work than most aspiring actors due to their alma mater's extensive network of influential writers, directors, and actors. Much of the faculty is closely involved in the theater world, and as Pamela Moller Kareman, the playhouse's executive director, shared, "It's a big leap to become a professional actor; we want people to know that you can do this with your life. " And from the time that I spent here, it became apparent that the staff at Neighborhood Playhouse is there to guide and support students every step of the way.
Billed as "New York's Premier Gay Gentleman's Club, " TownHouse is home to three attractive bars: The Club Room Sports Bar, the Main Bar, and the Piano Room Bar. When it opened more than twenty years ago, TownHouse was described as the "only truly elegant gay bar" in the city, and it continues to attract a steady New York and international crowd. With a dress code and more formal vibe, the bars cater to a clientele of gentlemen favoring a classier decor. The Piano Bar has talented pianists performing every night, and even offers the opportunity for singers to join and be accompanied on the piano during their open mike hours.
Sofia Wine Bar is, in a word, intimate. A post-work favorite, its dim lighting and relatively small space makes Sofia’s the perfect place for a quiet night out. Owner and designer Antonia DeGrezia, along with his wife Tomasso, wisely chose to keep some pieces from the spot’s previous life as a chandelier gallery to add to the ambiance. Although the emphasis is on their extensive wine list, Sofia has a short menu of “Italian inspired” tapas and thin crust pizzas with a variety of toppings. For a complete old world Italian meal, the couple’s DeGrezia Ristorante is only a few doors down.