“Compleat” is an archaic way to say “expert,” and wow do these guys live up to it. Opening in 1975, two brothers and their dad originally sold military and travel books, but this was because “There weren’t that many games at that point in time,” according to owners Mike and Danny Kilbert, “So we grew up with the industry.” They dealt in Dungeons and Dragons, mastered Magic: The Gathering, peddled Pokemon and greeted gamers with gusto. Certainly Candyland, Monopoly (in a variety of versions), Scrabble, and so many other wonderful classics line the shelves, but it is the role playing games, cards, and European-style board games that dominate. Stacked to the ceiling from chess to Catan and so, so far beyond, “Anything you might call a game,” said Mike, “we have.” Indeed. In addition to strategy and tact, all of their wares, unlike video games, require social interaction. They are out to build minds and communities, too. The sideways team walked in and was instantly brought back to another time - childhood has to end, but, for us, and certainly for Mike and Danny, imagination never will.
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.
In its third generation of family ownership, Quality House is a throwback establishment, an “old-school wine merchant,” with all the mystery that comes with that territory. We spoke with affable owner Gary Fradin, who assured us that “there aren’t a lot of stores around like us anymore.” Gary started working for his father Bernard, at the age twenty-three. He described his father as a “legend in the business.” He reminisced about watching customers interact with his dad: “they loved him. I watched successful people listen to him talk about wines, and it was like he could do no wrong.” Throughout (and even before) his tenure, Gary tasted wines to develop his palette. Eventually, he was charged with finding a good wine and selling it. His first was the 1970 vintage of the Chateau La Tour de By Bordeaux, which he bought a thousand cases of and sold at $3.99 a bottle. People loved it, and Gary suddenly realized that "this is what I am good at, I AM worth something.” He continued his father’s trend of focusing more and more heavily on wines, which now make up the large majority of the inventory. Spirits are indeed available, however, with Scotches being especially well represented.Most of the wines in the store are French and Italian; bottles run from the finest of finery to very economical. “What we look to do,” Gary explained, is this: “there are wines that are fifteen dollars a bottle that taste like ten dollar bottles of wine. There are fifteen-dollar bottles of wine that taste like a fifteen-dollar bottle. And there are fifteen-dollar bottles that taste like thirty-dollar bottles - that’s what we’re after. We’re the value added.” To that end, Gary loves when customers come in looking for recommendations, letting the experts be the experts. Indeed, he offers to stock wine cellars for those with a budget in mind but an inexact idea of how to put it to use. We can dream, anyway. In the meantime, our perusal of his well-stocked shelves gave us a good sense of where to turn next time when we had guests to impress.
The concept behind LB33 (formerly 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.
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.
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.