The first time I walked by and saw a black awning with virtually no signage I thought that perhaps the space was vacant, but when I returned later in the day, I realized that I was onto something, as there were people lined up outside eagerly awaiting entry to Raines Law Room. On busy nights, they will have one host standing outside the nondescript doorway, who takes your number and calls if and when a table opens up. The basement bar is classy all-around, consisting of four parts: a front with elegant couches and chairs, semi-private areas clothed in sheer curtains for those fortunate groups, a gorgeous bar in back where the bartenders chat away, and finally, a garden where one can sit amongst many of the herbs and spices that Raines grows for their drinks. Raines provides a beautiful, simple and classy respite from many of the incredibly noisy bars and its quality drinks can stand up to any in the city. The alcohol menu is helpfully grouped by descriptors -- "Bright and Crisp," "Stirred and Strong," and the ever-changing list of "What We're Drinking" from the staff. Sure, it is another neo-mixologist haven, but it is just different enough to make a night's conversation with friends that much better. A helpful note: reservations can be made on line Sunday - Tuesday, but it is first come the rest of the week.
Four generations of the McManus clan have operated this jovial Irish tavern, making it among the oldest family-run bars in the city. Its originator, Peter McManus, left his quaint Irish hometown and disembarked in Ellis Island with “basically five dollars and a potato in his pocket, ” as the story goes. He opened the first McManus as a longshoreman’s bar in 1911 on West 55th Street, which he then converted into a thriving general store during Prohibition while migrating his liquor business into a number of speakeasies. Once the restrictions ended in 1933, the shop was so successful that Peter kept it going and found a new spot on 19th Street in which to revive his bar. Peter’s son, James Sr., spent close to fifty years working in and later running the pub. It then passed into the hands of James Jr., who now stands beside his own son, Justin, serving beer and cracking jokes over a century later. Knowing that they will find pleasant conversation and an intriguing cast of characters at McManus, people often come alone to see what the night holds for them. The atmosphere at McManus is merry, but patrons still respect the history and charm that suffuse every corner of the space. Much of the bar is original, including the stunning Tiffany stained glass windows, the hand carved woodwork and crown molding, and the terrazzo floor that can no longer be made today. “We try to preserve it and are pretty protective of it. This bar was built to last, ” Justin said.
Perhaps the attitude of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, ” works well at Society Billiards. They seem to know that sometimes a classic pool hall is just what people need. Extremely spacious and stocked with countless pool tables, anyone looking to get lost in the game will be sure to love this dimly lit, relaxed, yet classy spot.
We stumbled into BXL on a blisteringly hot day and were met by their refreshing air conditioning -- reason enough to stay. But even more, BXL is a splendid space, with warm wooden floors, banquette seating indoors and tables set up outside when the weather cooperates... and a very kind European owner. We spoke to Klaas about his restaurant and learned that having grown up in Belgium, and completing his training, he became the private chef for their ambassador. He was disarmingly charismatic and kind as he told us about BXL’s menu – he emphasized the "all you can eat" mussel pots that come with a cold Stella for $22. 00 and the array of different sauces to choose from: white wine shallot broth, white wine and cream, endive and cream, wheat beer, cream with bacon and onions, coconut milk with lemon grass and curry. Mussels are not the only food choice. There are other great Belgian dishes, plus simple burgers, pasta and salads. Without a doubt, stopping by BXL for a cold beer and some friendly conversation was exactly what our team needed.
Desire a little bit of the Hamptons in New York City? Sagaponack Bar & Grill might be a perfect restaurant to visit. Named for a small village in Southampton, their menu revolves around fish and their setting is beautiful, involving a nautical theme. The classic menu of brunch, lunch and dinner includes a raw bar, omelets, salmon eggs benedict, goat cheese salad, lobster rolls, fish tacos and hamburgers. Sagaponack brings that beach town vibe to the side streets of Manhattan without a big crowd and lots of noise. Rustic wooden floors, white furniture and ocean-themed decorations provide a calm setting for a pleasant dining experience.
It was certainly a first for me when I walked into Old Town and began a conversation about Manhattan Sideways with the bartender who instructed me to head straight to the back and check out the urinals in the men's bathroom. One can feel the years in the 55-foot worn wood and marble bar, sense the history in the great silver bar mirrors and the 16-foot high pressed tin ceiling, hear it in the ring of the antique registers, and watch it as the food is transported up and down the oldest dumbwaiters in the city, but it was the towering porcelain urinals - monuments really - that resonated with me. Two of the few changes instituted since the 1890s when Old Town first opened its doors is the relaxed policy on women at the bar and the light fixtures, which are still the original, just electrically wired now. Old Town does not just look like old New York, “we are old New York, ” owner Gerard Meagher told us. In 1892 the bar opened as Viemeisters, a German restaurant in a predominantly German neighborhood. In the 1920s, the owners renamed the spot Craig’s Restaurant and served alcohol for the duration of Prohibition – a speakeasy complete with hollow booths fitted to conceal bottles of alcohol - booths that people continue to occupy today. Around 1933, Henry and Claus Loden, a German-American father and son, christened the place “Old Town” and began to serve up German food once again. Gerard’s father purchased the establishment from the Lodens in the 1960s, and the rest, as they say, is history. Old Town is a thinker’s tavern, a conversationalist’s dream. “It’s a place you can talk about ideas. The atmosphere attracts people who want to discuss things, ” Gerard said. The food and drinks stay moderately priced, contributing to Old Town’s reputation as a favorite hangout for patrons from all levels of the economic strata. “New York bars and restaurants have become segmented – gay bars, working man’s bars, hipster bars, ” says Gerard. “Anyone can walk in here and feel welcome. Nobody feels out of place. ” Their policy is simple -- no TVs, no cell phones, and no loud music to disrupt the customers. Simple is good here, as good as a chilled beer from the wooden icebox behind the bar. It is a philosophy that everyone can get behind.
Today, Shareen Mitchell is a bicoastal business owner, a sought-after entrepreneur with fourteen employees and a celebrity following. But no one would have guessed it eleven years ago, when Shareen was, in her own words, “broke, in debt, and selling at a flea market. ” That flea market booth soon grew into a 7, 000 square foot vintage warehouse in LA, and within a few years, Shareen had expanded to New York City. In spite of her success, Shareen’s location on West 17th Street is one of the best-kept secrets in Manhattan. Hidden away on the second floor of an old walk-up, the only sign of its existence is a red dress hanging from the fire escape, and sometimes—like the day I visited—not even that. Fortunately, a friendly employee from the salon next door pointed me in the right direction, but if I had not been in the know, I would have missed Shareen entirely. This secret location may seem like a bad business decision, but it is actually one of the keys to Shareen’s success. Her stores have always fostered a sense of exclusivity, and Shareen told me that her warehouse, especially in the early days, was not only the hottest vintage store in LA, but also a gathering place for a society of hip young women. “It was a crazy, fun secret, ” she told me. “No one knew where they were getting their vintage. ”Because there are no dressing rooms at Shareen—women change out in the open—both store locations have the same “no boys allowed” policy. But the resemblance between Shareen’s two stores ends there. While the LA warehouse is constantly buzzing with youthful energy, the New York location has a quiet, sophisticated feel that caters to a slightly older crowd. The reason for the difference, Shareen explained, is that by 2009, many of her original customers at the LA warehouse were now young professionals living in New York City. “They told me there was nothing like Shareen in the city, ” she said, “so I decided to test the waters. ” She opened a shop in a train station parking lot on Long Island, above an auto shop. “People like Ivanka Trump would get off the train, ” she told me, laughing, “and walk into this auto shop with their dogs and babies and everything. ” But after a while, the trip to Long Island became exhausting, and Shareen decided to open a location in the city. “It was kind of a secret, ” she said. “I had no money for a sign, so I put the red dress out on the fire escape. ”Though she did not put much effort into the store’s exterior, Shareen transformed the inside. The former apartment is now an elegant retail space, filled with ornate mirrors and old-fashioned couches, and yet it still manages to feel warm and welcoming. One large room is devoted entirely to wedding dresses, while another two rooms are filled with vintage clothing of all kinds, from evening gowns to 1950s prom dresses. When I asked Shareen about the bridal section, she told me that the store is in the process of transitioning. “A lot of my clients are starting to get married, ” she told me, “but they don’t want to look like traditional brides. ” These young women, many of whom get married in unorthodox venues—upstate farms, Brooklyn lofts, and Manhattan rooftops—are looking for unique dresses that will express their personalities. Over the past few years, the demand for these “indie wedding dresses” has grown so much that Shareen predicts that the store may soon be entirely bridal. “A year ago, we were half bridal and half vintage, and now it’s more like seventy-thirty, ” Shareen told me. “We’re double-booked on the weekends with brides. ”The New York location may be transitioning into bridal wear, but Shareen insisted that the store will not abandon its vintage roots. Along with her bridal collection, which is all under $2, 000, many of the wedding dresses for sale in the store are reworked vintage. Shareen added that her collection is designed to flatter all kinds of body types, to celebrate women rather than inhibit them. She always tells her brides, “I want to see you looking beautiful, not you in a beautiful dress. ”
The third time was the charm for Mohamed Jamal, who cycled through several business ventures before settling on the perfect one. He first opened a candy store on 17th Street in 1989, which he then transformed into a juice bar, before finally arriving at the space’s current iteration: Rainbow Falafel. Mohamed used the recipes he learned at his grandmother’s knee during his childhood in Syria to create a healthy, Middle Eastern menu. “We stick to all of the old-fashioned, classic foods and never change them, ” Mohamed affirmed, adding that the freshness and preservative-free nature of everything he serves is key to his philosophy. Offerings include the eponymous falafels served in veggie-filled sandwiches and platters, as well as stuffed vine leaves, spanakopita, hummus and other spreads. Impressively, most of the spices and special ingredients are imported, such as tahini from Lebanon, olives from Greece and mango juice from Egypt. To Mohamed, who runs Rainbow Falafel alongside his wife and son, the restaurant’s prosperity is easy to explain — “We are always here and we are always happy. ”
This little urban oasis provides families and individuals acupuncture treatment for a wide range of ailments – infertility, stress, and muscular and skeletal pain. Husband and wife founding team Jill Blakeway and Noah Rubinstein have been a functional medical and media presence in the world of acupuncture for years, publishing a number of books, appearing on Bravo, CBS, The Today Show, and lecturing on the benefits of Chinese medicine.