Wallflowers are shy, standing on the outskirts of the crowd, far away from the pulsing core. Those curious extroverts who take a chance on engaging a wallflower often find gems full of life and interesting quirks behind the wallflower’s timid exterior. That is exactly what diners experience when they gamble on entering 235 West 12th Street.
“Half restaurant, half cocktail bar,” Wallflower serves elegant dishes reflecting the French countryside. Rabbit-trumpet royal terrines with celery root remoulade, country pâté with pickled vegetables, and an assortment of fine cheeses all adorn the a la carte menu. Despite the high quality fare crafted by chef Sahara Uy, co-owner and head bartender Xavier Herit assured me that at Wallflower they are "the opposite of pretension and being fancy.” There is no “bling bling,” just good food and good drinks.
Xavier was born in France, where he grew up in a suburb of Paris. He entered the food industry at the age of sixteen, and after attending restaurant school, took naturally to the art of bartending (after burning a few chickens, he knew cooking was not his forte). He spent some time traveling around Europe, studying the culinary patterns of various countries, and then began working at Paris’s renowned Hotel Plaza Athénée, celebrated for its unique alcoholic beverages. When the hotel’s chef decided to open a restaurant in New York, he offered Xavier a position as a mixologist, carrying Xavier across the Atlantic to Manhattan, where he has been ever since.
When I first walked into Wallflower, where Xavier signed on as a partner in 2013, he was overflowing with enthusiasm, having just finished a deal to bring a brand new French wine to the Wallflower cellar. While mixing a selection of cocktails, he giddily buzzed about how Wallflower would be the first bar in New York to carry the product. Watching Xavier mix the drinks, I could not help but notice his passion for his job. He shared that “in this business, if you are not excited about what you do, people see it."
Xavier’s love for his craft showed in the attention to detail he put into each drink. First, the Cornelia, a Mexican influenced mix consisting of Wallflower’s own corn puree, mezcal, and tequila, garnished with fresh basil oil, pressed in the kitchen. Next, he made the No Bananas Today – named mockingly in honor of Billy Jones’s 1923 song about the Brazilian banana shortage. The drink is a play on a banana daiquiri, but the impressive ingredients make it more complex: fragrant Jamaican rum, Brazilian crème du banane, a second rum aged over twelve years, and a house-made syrup constructed from a sugar cane juice derivative. “If you don’t like bananas, don’t drink this cocktail,” quipped Xavier. Lastly, he created the “spiritful” Black Tie, blending Italian Cynar infused with coffee beans, a strong bourbon, and a Wallflower original maple syrup. Xavier explained that by making many of his own ingredients, he can better control the flavor profile of his beverages.
As I rounded the bar and dining room, delighting in the fresh cut flowers and country chic settings, I concluded that the establishment was surely a wallflower worth approaching. Xavier smiled and noted playfully, “It’s the concentrate of many good things in a seventy-five square-foot space.”
Be sure to also check out Wallflower's sister restaurant, The Eddy.
No matter what time of day we have stopped by Grey Dog, the restaurant is pulsing, but in a quiet, relaxed sort of way. Despite the lines to order food from the menu on the chalkboard and the crowded tables, everyone is calm and content. Apparently, this has been the vibe since two brothers opened their first restaurant back in 1996 on Carmine Street. Today they have expanded to four different locations, each one incredibly successful. The formula seems to be quite simple – a chill atmosphere, easy-going but efficient staff, a menu that covers all of the basics with a bit of a flair, hefty portions and, most importantly, everything tastes great. Beginning early in the morning, there are pancakes, French toast, eggs, homemade granola and coffee being served. As the day progresses, lots of sandwiches, salads and other creative dishes are available for lunch and dinner. Without a doubt, if I lived nearby, I would also become a regular.
“We are one of the oldest gay bars in the city,” said Helen Burford. The owner of Julius’ considers it an honor to be a part of this history and to allow others to share in it. Many who stop by are keen to dip their toes into an earlier, more troublesome period. “We are a good reminder of the struggles people went through for those of us today.”What better way for young men and women to learn about landmark events like the renowned “Sip-In,” where gay activists challenged New York’s prohibitions on gay bars? The patrons who have been frequenting Julius’ for decades are happy to provide a history lesson. Every day around 4 p.m., they sit in a corner and share stories of what it was like back in the day. “This is their home. To them, Julius’ is not a bar — rain or shine, they need to be here.” The old group, now in their seventies and eighties, enjoy having a drink and chatting with one another, but they also invite “guests” into the conversation — passing the baton, as this is their legacy. “They are always trying to bring young people into the fold,” Helen commented.
Bell Book and Candle has a rooftop garden where much of their vegetables and herbs are grown, and there is also a “secret” dining area upstairs during the warmer weather months. Our dinner in the springtime offered food that was prepared with all of the freshness one could ask. Each of the ingredients in the different salads and the entire vegetable platter that we shared were creative and reminded us that eating straight from the garden provides a totally different and pleasurable culinary experience. When our meal was being served, my clever husband chimed in to recite the incantation to our friends and waiter - "ring the bell, open the book, light the candle." It was when we were leaving, though, that he caught all of our attention, once again piping in with a smile, "ring the bell, close the book, snuff the candle." We all laughed, applauded him, and left, having had a bewitching evening.
The only genre of music missing in Academy Records is classical....but not to worry, that is completely covered in their shop on 18th. Otherwise, this shop, here on 12th Street, has an impressive selection of rock, jazz, soul, funk, country, and folk. In chatting with one of the owners, he told us that they are always actively looking for "new" records and are constantly receiving inventory. In addition, they host DJ events.
I guess it would be quite obvious to those who have been reading my site since the beginning, that my particular passion, besides Manhattan itself, is books. I have been a frequent customer of the Strand since I was a little girl and my mom made this a destination on a New York City outing. Their stock has certainly increased from the few book shelves that they began with in 1927 on Fourth Avenue - to the 4,000 square feet that they moved to here on 12th Street, in 1956 - to today's space of 55,000 square feet. The "18 miles of books" consisting of old, new and rare books covers several floors. For years I just treated this shop like it a was museum, especially the Rare Book Room upstairs. I would step in and browse for hours, wanting everything, but not being able to justify purchasing it all. Then I opened my own book shop, inspired by the Strand. Despite their avenue address, the Strand has carts of books lining 12th Street rain or shine and a side street entrance. They also boast a Central Park kiosk open when weather permits and a pop-up location in the Club Monaco on 5th Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets.
Considering the multitude of rave reviews that Hearth has received since it opened in 2003, we were pleasantly surprised at the unpretentious and warm greeting we received. Although reservations for the dining room are recommended, especially during peak times, some of the best seats in the house are first come, first served. Pull up a stool at the bar and sample one of the artisanal cocktails made with New York produced spirits, or walk straight through the softly lit, exposed brick and red-walled dining room to the open kitchen and grab one of the four chairs right at the counter where the food is being cooked. During our visit, one of the sous chefs was cutting apart ribs right in front of us.When we visited, we learned that the menu changes slightly each day, always highlighting the freshest ingredients and trying to be as environmentally conscious as possible. However, a few favorites have remained on the menu since they opened over nine years ago, including the Grilled Quail and the Beef and Ricotta Meatballs. Many of the dishes are meant for sharing, like the Whole Roasted Fish of the Day.In 2016, chef Marco Canora upgraded the menu to focus on fewer processed flours, sugars, and oils. There are also many more dishes featuring offal, such as heart and liver. The purpose of the shift is to highlight food that is high in nutrients and does not contain growth hormones. If the resulting cuisine is anything like what we tasted when we visited, diners are in for a treat.Hearth’s extensive and well thought out beverage program is also intriguing, with a wine list focusing on certain grape regions, plus off the beaten path beers. With such an inviting and comfortable dining room, an exciting and ever-changing menu, and an impressively curated beverage list, Hearth presents the total package for a perfect night of dining.
Coppy Holzman moved to New York in 1976, and in the years since has undertaken multiple entrepreneurial projects. Most recently, alongside his daughter-slash-business-partner Logan Mikhly (who used to manage an animal rescue in New Orleans), Coppy opened Boris and Horton, a dog friendly café off of 12th street in the East Village. During our conversation, Coppy said, “I’ve moved away from New York here and there, but New York’s the best city on the planet, so why live any place else?” (Relatable!) But he and Logan had one issue: while walking around the city together, they found that there was nowhere they could stop in to eat or even grab a coffee with their dogs, Boris and Horton. They decided to solve this problem, and Boris and Horton opened its doors in February of 2018, offering great food and coffee, wine and beer in the evenings, and, of course, the opportunity for customers to spend quality time with their dogs, others’ dogs, and fellow dog-lovers. The vegetarian café sources its products from more than 20 local suppliers, including products from NYC staples such as pastries by Balthazar, cheese from Murray’s, Tea Pigs teas, and homemade syrups. The menu boasts both comfort foods and lighter options, and the wine and beer list rotates monthly - so there is always something new to try. But it’s not just humans who can get treats at Boris and Horton. For the pups, there are pupcakes, doggie doughnuts, french fries, beefcheek and other delicious delicacies made fresh by Maison de Paul. And when your furry friend is tired out from all the socializing and snacking, there are Casper dog beds available to fulfill all his napping-dreams.Logan and Coppy realized very quickly that Boris and Horton had become a community space. While half of their visitors are tourists, many of whom learn of Boris and Horton through social media or other news coverage, half of the customers at the café are neighbors of the business who have made Boris and Horton a “stop on their daily routine.” In response to the café’s important role in locals’ daily lives, the father-daughter duo decided to expand their space, doubling it in size. In October of 2018 they opened the renovated extension, which includes an expanded seating area in the front, a colorful bespoke mural on the wall, and, notably, a party room in the back which is perfect for corporate events, human-birthday parties, dog-birthday parties, or any other kind of event you can imagine. Though the small fraction of the café’s space that includes the kitchen and main serving counter is not open to dogs due to health code requirements, the other 75% of Boris and Horton, including the entirety of the new extension, is completely dog friendly. Coppy assured me that New York is “a wonderful place for a dog,” though before Boris and Horton New Yorkers might have struggled to find somewhere they could take their dogs along for Friday-night drinks. In fact, if you’re considering bringing a dog into your own routine, you can attend a weekend rescue event at Boris and Horton, where — just maybe — you’ll meet your new best friend. In collaboration with Muddy Paws Rescue, Boris and Horton has helped to find forever homes for up to twenty dogs in a weekend: pretty doggone amazing. If it’s human relationships that you seek, Boris and Horton may still be the place to go. With weekly events like trivia and bingo, Coppy and Logan are helping to “build up the community DNA.” As Coppy told me, “Dogs are a great way to engage . . . it’s a catalyst for easy conversation.” If customers meet at Boris and Hortonand end up dating, “then that’s even better!” Coppy said. He even admitted that sometimes he’ll do a little matchmaking in the shop. And yes, there have been success stories. Then, of course, any weddings following such successes can be booked for the event space, and can even be ordained by Coppy himself, who is not only a matchmaker but also a minister. “I think people are wonderful, and they’re even better when they have a dog by their side,” Coppy said, smiling. At Boris and Horton you’ll find the best of the best, from comfort food to good company — human or otherwise. On this little corner of 12th street, at least, Manhattan Sideways is happy to report that New York has officially gone to the dogs