The holiday season is always a wonderful time to visit businesses, as they are decked out in lights, bows and greenery. I was most impressed by the decor at Angus Club Steakhouse where the grand rooms and lobby with decorated with garlands and evergreen. It added an extra layer of hospitality to a restaurant that already has a substantial element of warmth throughout its large rooms.
Elizabeth, the hostess, was my guide through the space. She took me down into the main dining room, which, despite being subterranean, was still airy and bright. “A lot of people don’t like basements – but we convince them it doesn’t feel like a basement,” Elizabeth commented. Sure enough, I soon forgot I was underground, admiring the different seating nooks and the glass-encased wine cellar - “We carry a little of everything," Elizabeth said of the wine.
Elizabeth went on to speak of the four owners - Dino Gacevic, Margent Maslinka, Zef Makaj, and Edward Avdyli - and how each one added their own special touch to the design. “It’s all their flavors together,” Elizabeth said with a smile. The walls shifted texture, adding a subtly different atmosphere to each corner of the large space. There is the cork room, the leather room, and the chef’s room, which can be used for private parties, though the leather room is the only one that completely seals off from the main dining room.
When I returned upstairs to the bar and smaller dining room, I congratulated Dino on the restaurant’s layout, to which he replied, “We didn’t know we could design things, but I’m glad we did.” He elaborated by telling me that he and the other owners had met while working at Benjamin Steakhouse, where Eddie was the sous-chef. They struck out on their own, opening Angus Club Steakhouse in 2014.
Tom and Olivia, members of the Manhattan Sideways team, sampled the Porter House steak, which arrived on a sizzling plate with accompanying dishes of creamed spinach and home fry potatoes. Dino expertly served it, joking as Tom took photos, “I could be a hand model.” He placed a glass of the house Malbec in front of them saying, “Everyone loves it, let’s see what you think.” Tom and Olivia were in agreement with the masses and commented on how well the wine accompanied the steak. Dino mentioned that the meat is aged a little longer than in most other steakhouses: thirty-five days as opposed to twenty-eight. “It works – people love it,” he said, adding, “The food is really what we’re here for.”
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. "
The Manhattan Sideways team is always excited when they discover a shop that specializes in chocolate. On this particular day, we were also delighted to spend some time chatting with owner, Kamila Myzel. We learned that this heavenly little store has resided on 55th for over two decades, and has an old-fashioned candy shop charm to it. Kamila makes every effort to be sure that anyone who steps inside her door feels welcome, and she went on to say that she uses her grandma's recipes for the many different sweets she sells. She bakes all the cookies herself, right on the premises, with her signature being the "Ultimate Cookie, " a chocolate chip cookie that is then dipped in chocolate. Like many of the store's confectionary delights, Kamila is from Europe; she moved from Poland in 1981, and worked in a few other shops with sweet treats before opening this one. Licorice is a specialty at Myzel's, and Kamila explained to us that she carries over 130 different types of licorice made from licorice root that their loyal customers adore. On one of my visits, Myzel's was decked out for Halloween, with candied skulls, pumpkins, and a number of other appropriate decorations squeezed into every nook and cranny. Apparently, Kamila decorates extensively for each major holiday, but she said her personal favorite is Thanksgiving, as it has the "most sincere meaning. " Myzel's even makes chocolate turkeys for the occasion! Until recently, Kamila had a partner with whom she decorated, baked, and ran the store: her mother, Lucy. The mother/daughter team worked together in the sweet shop until the summer of 2015, when Lucy sadly passed away. We had the pleasure of meeting Lucy and seeing the love and devotion that the two women had both for the store and each other. What we derived from our conversations with Kamila was the joy the store brought to her and her mom over the years. Together they have put so much thought and love into Myzel’s Chocolate, and it is clear that her mother lives on in the warmth, color, and happiness that the store evokes. “It’s what’s inside that matters, ” Kamila insisted as she spoke about how much she loves connecting with people through sharing candies and sweet treats with them.
Named after a gangster-turned-reformist, a Robin Hood-like figure who redistributed wealth from the rich to the poor, Tanner Smith’s Bar espouses the message that even those most seemingly set in their ways, as the old-school Irish, can reform. And Tanner Smith’s is certainly far from the stereotypical old-school Irish bars that saturate the city streets. The upper floor of Tanner Smith’s is light and laid back, serving mostly craft beers. There is a mix of wooden structures, shiny surfaces, and weathered brick walls. Downstairs, Winona bar, named after a former nightclub under the same ownership, is an entirely different venue with a separate sound system and dimmer lighting. A mix of whim and history, the accents throughout the bar play on an Alice-and-Wonderland-meets-prohibition aesthetic with cute teacups, an intriguing gin bathtub structure, old New York maps, mounted farm animal heads, and alcoholic paraphernalia like whiskey barrels protruding from the wall. The drinks, too, are spectacular, from classic mixes to standard beer brands to unique specialty drinks, and everything in-between. Guests can order them any way they want to without pretension - a Bud Light at the cocktail bar goes unquestioned. And the food menu, featuring a craze-inducing battered-and-fried eggplant chip with a honey drizzle, is more than sufficient on its own. Any eggplant-averted soul will discover a newfound appreciation for the underrated veggie in these crispy bites. But it is not the decorations, inventive drinks, nor impressive layout of this grand Midtown West speakeasy that make Tanner Smith’s a happening spot. While all of these factors, primed and cohesive, greatly compliment the magnificence of the bar, its finest attribute are the dynamic people who work here, committed to making each night a special one. The bar consultant to Tanner Smith’s, Kevin, started out collecting glasses for a nightclub in Ireland at the ripe age of thirteen, and has never left the bar scene. He ventured to America to promote a whiskey brand, Glendalough, which has since taken off. Kevin had also been to every New York City bar we threw at him, so when he told us why this spot stood out, we listened. “We are an entertainment-based bar, ” he explained, “I serve booze - that is literally living the dream. I give people a fun night. ” Sitting bar side on a Thursday afternoon-turned-evening as the space gradually filled up, these words rang more and more true for the fellow Manhattan Sideways members and me. This bar is not about being high-end, but about fun, about “lighting things on fire. ” Literally. Watching Kevin smoke a barrel-aged stevedore cocktail by using a “smoking gun” filled with bourbon-soaked oak chips was a mesmerizing sight. The effect took out some of the drink’s sweetness, and the longer the smoking goes on, the bitterer the drink becomes. The key lime pie martini I tried - citrus vodka mixed with lemon syrup, lemon preserve, and passion fruit, and topped with a smoked meringue - was superb, but the contagious vibes Kevin and the rest of the playful staff gave off made it memorable. “If you want a great drink, you can have a great drink, ” Kevin shared with me, “but, in addition to the alcoholic beverages, this is a place where all the employees are always happy. ”There is no doubt that Tanner Smith's is helping to redefine the city’s standards of bar service, and, therefore, no small wonder that they already have regulars after only being open for a few short months.
Engaging in conversation with Barbara Gerber-Krasner, the president of Or Olam, I learned that they have not always been on 55th Street. The synagogue, founded in 1906, started out in a storefront on Second Avenue. The congregation, known then as B'nei Leive, came to its current site in 1916. The building dates from the 1870s, and was originally a Baptist church. Barbara explained that, though the ceiling is now "acoustical, " if one were to remove it they would see "the normal structure of a church ceiling. " Originally an Orthodox congregation, in 1966 it became Conservative, followed by the hiring of long time Rabbi Reuven Siegel, who served for over forty years. Upon his arrival, he brought the stain glass windows - representing the twelve tribes of Israel and other Jewish symbols - from the Bronx synagogue where he had been. The congregation remains Conservative and was renamed to Or Olam (Everlasting Light) in 2012. Today, the synagogue's focus is on their older congregants, "empty-nesters" in their 50s or 60s, and suburban transplants. "They want to be able to listen to an adult sermon, " Barbara explained. Though Rabbi Ephraim Pelcovits leads weekly study classes on Torah and Jewish law where "everyone is welcome to attend, " Or Olam does not offer a children's education program. Instead, they encourage families to enroll in the courses offered through the 92nd Street Y. Generally speaking, Barbara characterized Or Olam as "a very open congregation. " A number of members are married to non-Jewish spouses who attend services with them, and Or Olam is home to an active LGBT community. Barbara told me, in no uncertain terms, that at Or Olam, "we don't have cliques. " New members are welcomed with open arms, and are often given aliyot - the opportunity to read from a Torah scroll in front of the congregation - their first time in the synagogue. Or Olam also offers financial assistance to younger congregants through a program called The Legacy Campaign, another way in which they hope to not have to turn anyone away. "So far we've been managing, " Barbara said. "We hope we can continue. "
While walking along 55th Street, a bright pink and white awning caught my attention. The entrance beneath the canopy was marked with a sign that said “A La Mode” with the 'A's and 'O' stacked like ice cream scoops. Inside was a cute handmade ice cream shop that could be the setting of an Eloise story. Catering to those with nut and dairy allergies, A La Mode is also a quaint, yet spacious boutique that sells children’s clothes, shoes, and toys. Additionally, the ice cream store hosts storytelling and seasonal arts and crafts events throughout the year. “We just always loved the space and so we decided to finally buy it and make A La Mode! ” said Sandy Roth, the California children’s clothing designer who founded A La Mode in 2015. The A La Mode team is also composed of her husband Marc and friend Marie Ann, both of whom are equally devoted to the business and love the work they do. The handmade, nut-free ice cream is created by Marc, who trained at the Ice Cream university in Switzerland. The Manhattan Sideways Team was given a chance to sample a few of his innovative flavors, including bubble gum and vanilla pretzel crunch. There are also always three dairy-free flavors available: chocolate, vanilla, and a rotating third flavor. A la Mode has various ice cream sizes, including a little three-inch scoop for $1. 50 that is perfect for toddlers. “It’s great to experiment with the flavors. When seasons come around we try to change it up, ” Marc told me, adding, “Right now Salted Caramel is one of our big sellers. ” A La Mode also distributes its ice cream to local ice cream stores and supermarkets. The family friendly location and the nearby schools have given A La Mode a lot of successful business, to the point where no advertisement was needed. Their events during after-school hours include music events in collaboration with ABC Do-Re-Me!, a program that provides music classes that kids and parents can both enjoy. Sandy has become a recognizable neighborhood face, to the point where young children see her on the street and say, "That's the ice cream girl! " “We have a lot of after-school rush, and its great because they can also see that we also do events and not just ice cream, ” she pointed out. She hopes that A La Mode will eventually expand, maybe even to California, where she still spends time working. “I will be living in Texas soon, ” says Marie Ann, “But I will be still involved. Maybe we can open a location there too! ” Their future plans look bright and cheery, just like their store.
There are many reasons to dine at BLT Steak, tucked discreetly between The Dorchester and an antique jeweler. Having dined here on varied occasions over the years, I knew visiting with Manhattan Sideways, that we were headed towards something special. As we entered the restaurant, we were greeted warmly by the affable staff and took a seat at one of the dark wood tables. We spoke with John, the Venezuelan maître d', who told us about BLT's secrets for success. "The company feels like family, " he said by way of opening, "I've been here for nine years, which is an eternity in the restaurant business. " BLT has built a following of regulars who come back repeatedly because they are "infallibly made to feel like they're the only ones in the restaurant. " In addition to this impeccable service, the food at BLT is consistently top notch. It is, therefore, not difficult to understand why people keep returning for more. While chatting, the chef prepared a succulent variety of meats, perhaps most famously the enormous Porterhouse steak – a dry-aged masterpiece served with maître d'hOtel butter and a side of roasted garlic. Although meat certainly takes center stage, the restaurant also offers a "sublime" Dover Sole and a Tuna Tartar that, according to John, is the best in the city; "I dare someone to find me a better one, " he said. My favorite moment, however, was when the chef presented Yelena, from our team, her first popover. Hailing from Swaziland, she had never encountered this doughy puff of goodness before. I, on the other hand, have had popovers on the top of my list of favorites since I first tried them as a little girl on Long Island. And I can attest to the fact that the ones served at BLT are perfectly prepared.
Steakhouses are a dime a dozen in New York City, but 212 sets itself apart with a unique offer: authentic Kobe beef. Proudly displaying its official Kobe certificate and golden statue at the entrance to the restaurant, there is no doubt that the exclusive steak on offer is at the core of the establishment. Claiming to be the only East Coast restaurant authorized to sell Kobe beef, 212 Steakhouse opened in the summer of 2014, and has made it a mission to make the limited product available at reasonable prices, offering a substantial discount on a permanent basis. The restaurant also has a wide selection of wine, liquor and cocktails - including the aptly named “Gold”, a champagne-based drink served with 23k gold flakes on top – to accompany the steaks. While this is his first restaurant, Russian owner, Nikolay Volper says he has “always been doing business. ” Starting as a waiter at seventeen, Volper was interested in the food industry from an early age, and with 212 Steakhouse, he hopes to bridge the gap between exclusivity and affordability, offering “premium steaks at affordable prices. ”
My family has never been known to turn down the opportunity to indulge in a meal that includes perfectly cooked - charred on the outside and medium on the inside - filet mignons. Thus, I smiled as l shared Bobby Van's amazing creamed spinach, onion rings, Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes, while eyeing the others as they bit into their three "heavenly" steaks.