New York City means a lot of things to a lot of people. For many members of the Sideways team, it means nothing if not basketball. But while the game historically flourished in and even helped define life in (parts of) the City, it is nowhere near its historical apex these days.
Perhaps the playground ‘ball is as lively as it ever was. But the New York Knicks, the currently flawed tenants of Madison Square Garden, have not won an NBA championship in thirty years. Once beloved for its prowess, the team now seems more beloved for its power to inspire griping and grumbling among its loyal fans. Throughout it all, though, the Garden has remained a hallowed basketball ground, a place that has inspired basketball luminaries to some of their most electrifying performances. It is, perhaps, basketball’s most storied arena.
The Garden wears many hats. The New York Rangers, the City’s NHL team, also calls this arena home. Musicians and stage performers come through here on tour (with Billy Joel recently being named the Garden’s first entertainment franchise, essentially a musician-in-residence), college basketball tournaments (and Saint John’s home games) are played, even wrestling events.
Underneath, meanwhile, lies the transportation hub that is Pennsylvania Station. Once upon a time, this station was a beautifully built, high-ceilinged architectural masterpiece, an elegant way to arrive into Manhattan. It was torn down, however, in 1963, replaced by a much less grand iteration. (This loss of a great landmark was perhaps inspirational in the movement to preserve the beautiful Grand Central Terminal.) Now, the future of the entire complex is up in the air as many are pushing for a new Penn Station. The Garden, meanwhile, has a ten-year operating permit, at the end of which, it may be forced to move.
Originally known as the Manhattan Opera House, 311 West has had an interesting history. Oscar Hammerstein built the theater in 1906, but after a few short years, the Metropolitan Opera House came to him requesting that he not compete with them, and made him an offer that he could not refuse. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Hammerstein sold the building to the Shubert brothers where they continued to feature a variety of shows and concerts. In 1922, it was sold again, and this time a Grand Ballroom was added. Unbeknownst to the builders, they had created an outstanding acoustic setup where musicians from Harry Belafonte to the Grateful Dead have performed and recorded. Over the past twenty plus years, construction has been on-going as more multimedia studios have been added and a refurbishing done to the Hammerstein Ballroom to accommodate large private events.
Manhattan has dozens of superb steak houses and Nick & Stef's certainly ranks up there with some of the better ones. Although I have not dined at this location, I recently had an excellent meal at their L. A. restaurant. Beginning with a great salad, as usual, I shared in the sides that everyone chose. I loved the cream spinach (sans bacon breadcrumbs), and I indulged in the numerous potato dishes. My husband was a happy guy having been served a perfectly prepared filet mignon, cooked exactly the way he likes it - charred on the outside and medium on the inside.
Middle Branch rebranded itself as LB33 in 2022. The concept behind Middle Branch is simply explained by manager, Lucinda Sterling. "It stems from drinks created before Prohibition while also utilizing the new ingredients on the market, " but Lucinda emphasized that they adhere to the classics as much as possible. Equally intriguing to me was Lucinda's own story and how she came to run this bar. Eight years ago, she set out on a whimsical cross-country road trip, looking for a "bigger destiny. " Stopping in Manhattan, and having a drink at the bar, Milk & Honey, she struck up a conversation with owner, Sasha Petraske. And as she says, "I never finished that road trip. " She went on to tell me how many inspiring people she has met on this journey and how she has learned to love and appreciate the craft of a good cocktail. "There is so much integrity in what we do here. " So when Sasha decided to open yet another bar, Lucinda was eager to stand behind him. Dimly lit, brooding, and brimming with mystery, Middle Branch is a sophisticated milieu to take a cocktail seriously, impress a date, or even to have a peaceful, uninterrupted evening with friends of all ages. Pineapple lights hang from the ceiling and cast their warm glow over the proceedings, while plush leather seats upstairs let customers sip in languorous comfort. Downstairs, where jazz is played on Tuesdays and bluegrass Wednesdays, standing tables encourage a more active approach to imbibing. We would not have been surprised to run into Voltaire and Montesquieu clinking glasses. But it is hardly all style, the substance is substantial. In addition to classic cocktails, a “bartender’s choice” option lets drinkers tell bartenders (do not make the mistake of calling them “mixologists”) what flavors they like, and then letting the pros perform their magic. Really, it is more poetry than prose. A “something new” section on the menu showcases recent drinks the bartenders have been working on... with wonderful results. There were quite a few of us drinking one Friday night, and we were appreciative of each of the recommendations. Did we like spicy, sweet, ginger, coconut??? Lots of questions until our waitress smiled and quietly walked away. Each time she came back with something unique and splendid. Some favorites were the Chin Chin (made with bourbon, apple cider and fresh ginger), the Cobble Hill (a cheeky spinoff of a Manhattan) and a drink that was yet to come out officially, the Pear Necessities. We were also pleased to have a constant bowl of handmade pretzels set before us as this along with mixed nuts are the only food options... and soon to be introduced, their secret blend of popcorn. Across the bottom of the menu, they score bonus points with pithy quotes from historical bon vivants. From Mark Twain: “never refuse to do a kindness unless the act would work great injury to yourself, and never refuse to take a drink - under any circumstances. ” If all of our drinks were created at Middle Branch, I am quite sure that none of us would.
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.
Since August 2010, Le Parisien has specialized in exactly those dishes the French specialize in, while adding its own je ne sais quoi. Escargot. Onion soup. Steak frites. Duck Confit. Oui, monsieur. Locals aplenty turn Francophile to flock to this eatery, cozily tucked into a tight space but overflowing with personality-per-square–foot. In place of the usual butter and flour-heavy culinary techniques, the menu focuses on reductions to keep patrons a bit healthier. Merci, monsieur. In addition to having what they assured us is the best chicken in the neighborhood, the mussels are prominently featured on the menu, as they are "wildly popular. " Wine from France and the monde over complements the cuisine nicely. Whether looking for a lovely spot for an indulgent lunch or an amorous rendezvous, we found Le Parisien to be tres magnifique.
When I mentioned to my friend that I was up to 33rd Street, she reacted immediately, "You know that this is the street that Wolfgang's is on, don't you? " I loved the description that she and her husband shared with me. "It is an old world man-cave that has incredible charm and certainly appeals to the serious eater. " Situated in the former historic Vanderbilt Hotel with magnificently tiled low vaulted ceilings, my husband I agree that this is a splendid restaurant to dine. Wolfgang Zwiener spent some forty years digesting the world of steak by working in the iconic restaurant, Peter Luger's. Think of it this way, Wolfgang received a veritable master's degree in meats in Brooklyn, and now has earned his doctorate in his own restaurant, where he has written a top-notch thesis. When others might have chosen to slow down a bit or even to retire, he began opening his own restaurants. Over the years, I have been to the three in Manhattan, with the 33rd Street flagship location being the one where we have chosen to celebrate many special occasions. As noted, it is a favorite of friends of ours, and when I asked them to speak to me further about Wolfgang's, the immediate response was, "Personally, of all the steak houses in New York, this is the one to go to. " They went on to describe the menu as not only having excellent steaks, but they also always look forward to ordering seafood, and then brace themselves as the kitchen presents them with a seafood platter appetizer that is "utterly outrageous. " There are jumbo shrimp (my number one oxymoron) and lobster with huge pieces to devour, and thrown in for good measure, some oysters and clams. "Even if you leave the steak out of the equation, it makes for an incredible meal. " But, who can leave the steak out? According to my husband, a man who is passionate about his steak, Wolfgang gets it right every time whether he decides on a filet or a porterhouse. And I, of course, am all about the side dishes and salads, which I think are excellent.