The colorful masks that line the walls evoke Mardi Gras and are a stunning introduction to the alluring Masq Bar. As she walked past the candelabra of topaz lanterns, Nora, the restaurant's owner, described the menu as "New American Cuisine with a splash of New Orleans." This characterization is true both of the food served and the restaurant's aesthetic and personality. Having managed many restaurants and "grown up in the kitchen," Nora has much to do with the delectable dishes offered, which include a beet salad with apple, and fried goat cheese and an authentic po' boy.
Beyond the food, Nora and her husband, George, offer a wonderfully versatile scene. In one of the rooms, the couple has set up a stage, where they host live music at least once a week. While a show is going on in that room, there may also be a party in the next, with regulars still sitting at the main bar. In telling us of the adaptable nature of the space, Nora explained that none of the titles - restaurant, lounge, or nightclub - really suits the Masq Bar environment. "This is who we are," she claimed, gesturing towards the wall bearing a wild mural painted by the bartender. The artwork covering the restaurant's walls is a testament to the fact that Nora and George aim for Masq Bar to be a place that "gets the creativity flowing."
About a year and a half after Masq Bar's opening, Nora admits, "The biggest obstacle in New York is being on a side street." With a generous and scrumptious lunch special, a variety of entertainment and an innovative flare, Masq Bar should in no way be downplayed. If anything, it is a place that should draw people off the avenues for, in Nora's words, "the fun of it."
For Sammy, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, walking into the Overlook, and "being hit by the smell of burgers and beer, was a feast for the nose and an appropriate cologne for any watering hole worth its salt. " For me, I was initially intrigued by the back walls filled with what were clearly drawings by an accomplished cartoonist. In chatting with the owner, we learned of its storied past. Inspired by James Thurber who, in the 1940s and 50s, use to draw on the walls of a nearby bar in an effort to reduce his drinking tabs, the Daily News cartoonist, Bill Gallo continued this tradition and made his mark, decades ago, on the walls of what was then called Costello's. Years later, he was asked back to add more of his illustrations on the other side. Today, both walls are filled with entertainment, particularly to those of us who remember many of the characters being depicted. A bar's bar, ultimately named the Overlook offers ales galore and TVs aplenty, enough to serve as host of New York's Chicago Bears fan club. A rooftop deck offers a place to unwind during the warmer months. The Overlook is helped by the steady flow of customers from the hotel on one side and apartment building on the other.
A traditional Irish bar, The Perfect Pint has an impressive variety of beers on tap - forty to be exact. Gold lettering and dark woods are reminiscent of British pubs and give the bar a warm and homey feeling. Inside, beer-themed decor reigns supreme, with the tap knobs as faucet handles and re-vamped kegs as the base for bar stools. Sandwiched between the two black-and-white pictures of the old Guinness wagon is a flat-screen TV, the perfect juxtaposition of the Irish bar culture with that of today. The hidden gem, however, is the rooftop bar. Going up the three flights of stairs, we found outdoor seating overlooking 45th Street. Bookended by exposed brick walls and a thatched roof, it can easily transport one back to a quaint Irish village. Below the cast-iron gas lamps, guests sit at tables made from old casks of beer that showcase international coins, beer memorabilia, and other odds and ends. Even the bathrooms are consistent with the theme.
Patroon is filled with leather-backed chairs, wood-paneled walls, and pictures of cowboys, boxers, and hunters. Although it initially appears to be a well-preserved vestige of an older civilization, with a sense of refined masculinity, we were told by members of the staff that the restaurant is not merely an updated version of its neighbor, Sparks Steakhouse, but rather a place of innovation and growth, bringing a youthful sensibility to a neighborhood frequently determined by old-school finance. However, our first impression was not completely errant as we went on to learn that the three-story building, which is owned by Ken Aretsky, was built as a steakhouse and cigar parlor. Since its beginning, in 1999, Aretsky has adapted the townhouse building to fit more modern needs, but some of that original clubby atmosphere still lingers in the architecture. After touring their event spaces and conference rooms upstairs- filled with stuffed birds, old books, and other regalia of a past age - we visited the rooftop terrace and bar, a modern garden space overlooking central Manhattan that seems to be a hip and growing hotspot in Midtown. While we left before happy hour, we passed by several groups of twenty-something's heading up to the rooftop. We stopped by the bar downstairs before heading out, and while observing the bartender flitting around the room refilling tall glasses of iced tea, we overheard a casual discussion on the problems of inequality in modern capitalism, alongside conversations on the day's trading. This convergence of old business and new leisure makes Aretsky's Patroon into something of a quintessential New York restaurant - adeptly bringing together the traditional and the innovative, the corporate and the social into a single space.
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.
If the sight of a regular lunch rush doesn’t convince you to try La Bellezza Pizzeria, then their pitch-perfect, classic New York slices will. After a trip in to try their signature pepperoni and tomato slices (a well-seasoned combination of cheesy, crunchy and savory, the Bellezza team has mastered the elusive sauce-to-cheese ratio), we got a chance to check in with the Dedvukaj family who have operated the East Midtown pizza joint for the past 23 years. Founded by Bronx-based Marko Dedvukaj, son Frank Dedvukaj — who started slinging slices in the shop at just 20 years old — took over the business so that, as Marko put it, “I can focus on the most important job of all — spoiling my grandkids, ” he told us, surrounded by visiting family members, some of whom also used to work at La Bellezza. As groups of grateful office workers filed in and out of the intimate storefront for a slice of pizza or La Bellezza’s famous chicken parmigiano hero — “at one point we were voted the #1 Chicken Parm on Yelp” Frank told us, he added that the biggest change he’s seen in business is a post-COVID slowdown of daytime visitors to the block. “The area is quieter, ” said Frank, noting that they still maintain a set of loyal regulars. “We’re still here! ”