Hometown pride is central to every city, whether the population is 84 or 8 million — and that is exactly the message that owner and artist Dave Ortiz strives to communicate through Our/New York Vodka. Our/Vodka is a global brand that has micro-distilleries in eight cities around the world: The “sister cities” include Berlin, Seattle, London, Detroit, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Miami, and, of course, New York. As Ortiz says, “you could sell vodka anywhere” — but the Our/Vodka project goes beyond this to build on the unique sense of community and pride in each of its locations, and New York is no exception. With Ortiz at the helm, Our/New York Vodka screams, “This is our city. I believe in that.” Ortiz told the Manhattan Sideways team that it “could be vodka or women’s shoes — it’s a New York product that I’m standing behind. I’m not faking the funk.”
This isn’t Ortiz’s first New York-centered endeavor. He is a self-professed ‘true blue New Yorker,’ born and raised in New York and schooled in Fine Arts at the Fashion Institute of Technology, right down the block from Our/New York Vodka in Chelsea. Zoo York, a skate brand centered on New York skate culture, was one of Ortiz’s first big projects as employee no. 1, followed by “Dave’s Quality Meat,” which was New York’s first ever concept store, and most recently a bike shop, all before Ortiz received the call from Our/Vodka asking him to get involved and be the local partner in Our/New York — which Ortiz has spent the last four and a half years building to perfection. When he received that phone call, Ortiz recalls, “At first I thought it was a joke because me and my friends always played practical jokes on each other. We worked with Ashton Kutcher when we owned Zoo York — so I was like, I think I'm getting punk’d. And then this person called me . . . my mind goes, ‘somebody wants me to design a box, I do a label, I throw a party, I get a few bottles of booze out of it, I call it a day’ . . . He asked me if I’d be interested in meeting the founders and I said ‘yeah sure, no problem’ and then I meet these three people and I’m still thinking it's a joke, and I'm like, ‘I can't believe that whoever is doing this joke hired three Swedish actors.’ And then they begin to tell me their idea about the Our/Vodka project — and it was quite fascinating. And for me, I fell in love with it immediately.”
The project is dependent on the unique character of each city as well as the local ingredients. Each of the seven Our/Vodka distilleries works from a common recipe. All distilleries share one ingredient, a wheat distillate which is supplied from Sweden and which is then, in its last distillation process, distilled on site in each distillery, and the rest of the ingredients are sourced as locally as possible without compromising on quality, and of course local water, in this case, local NYC tap water. Ortiz dubbed this a “glocal” organization: one that is both global and local, though his focus remains on channeling the energy of New York and his experiences there into his business. In the Our/New York bar, he makes an effort to stock products from other small and local distilleries as much as possible. Ortiz explained to us, “We don’t carry the same spirits that you would find in a regular bar. 98% of our offer is from New York state. We carry many specialty small distillers that are like us.” And even this is part of the Our/New York Vodka mission to stand behind New York as a community, as a place with hometown pride. It makes history as the first distillery in Manhattan since prohibition, but, maybe most important, it represents a throwback to the history of diversity and community in the city.
I’m all about community and friendships,” Ortiz tells us, “and that's the thing that New York is missing right now — Everybody’s to themselves, everybody’s segregated: The bankers hang out with the bankers, the guys with the popped-shirt collars, they hang out with the popped shirt collars . . . the meatheads all hang out with the meatheads over in the meatpacking. When I grew up in the late 80's early ‘90s, everybody was forced to hang out with everybody, you know? You go to a club and there’d be bankers and models, and there was Madonna, and, you know, Andy Warhol’s walking around. And everybody was forced to hang out with everybody because that’s the way New York was . . . I personally want to recreate the fun spot that I used to hang out — where every likeminded [person] hangs out: from skaters to ballet dancers to gay people, you know, Black, white, Chinese, designers, architects, all my friends who I know. All those are the types of people that come in here and just kind of say ‘what’s up.'
Stop in and say what’s up: have a seat, try a cocktail, and have a conversation with whoever happens to sit next to you. Notice the hand-painted walls and one-of-a-kind silkscreen prints, both done by Ortiz, the rawness of the cement floors, the beautifully arranged liquors behind the bar; take a look through the glass window at the back of the space into the distilling room, the first of its kind in almost a hundred years. Within a few minutes, you’ll be feeling the hometown pride, too, no matter where you’re from.
As of March 2022, Eataly's rooftop bar Birreria has been turned into the pop-up SERRA. The rooftop of Eataly changes its concept each season. In 2016, for example, the sky-high spot transitioned from the beer-centric Birreria to a sea-side-themed rooftop bar called Sabbia. Each reincarnation of the bar is equally impressive, which comes as no surprise after visiting Eataly downstairs. Birreria was a sky-high brewery where Fred Avila, the head brewer, created beer in-house for three or four days out of every week. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Fred and talking to him about his experience brewing above Eataly’s impressive food palace. Fred has been working for Eataly since 2011, but he started home-brewing in 2007. He has become a master at blending different flavors together and was proud to tell me about Birreria’s two seasonal beers. Vera is a summery beer with hints of lavender and blood orange, whereas the Wanda is a dark, mild beer for the fall and winter, with a lightly roasted flavor. Fred is very attuned to the weather when he drinks beer. When I asked if he has a favorite, he said that it changes with the seasons and the forecast, though he did admit, “I love to drink Oktoberfest beers. ” He featured obscure sours and saisons (pale ales specifically brewed for warm weather) in the summertime and interesting stouts in the fall. “People used to just drink IPAs or Pilsners, ” he explained to me. It is clear that working in the beer world has become considerably more exciting. Birreria collaborated with a collection of external breweries, including Dogfish Head, a microbrewery based out of Delaware. Because Birreria was part of Eataly, the list of collaborators also included two Italian companies, Birra del Borgo and Baladin. The founder of Baladin, Teo Musso, is considered the “godfather of the Italian brewing movement, ” Fred informed me. He also let me know that he always liked to have one or two New York beers available. The food menu was no less impressive, especially since it was made entirely using produce from downstairs. Unlike other parts of Eataly, however, Birreria often strayed from Italian cuisine. For example, Fred told me about a mozzarella-stuffed quail, which sounds more Northern European than Italian. Everything on the menu was designed to pair well with the bar’s unique selection of beers, creating a perfect culinary balance. I visited Sabbia shortly after it opened in 2016. It was like a taste of the tropical seaside in the middle of Manhattan: Imagine listening to the Beach Boys and sipping on one of their signature summer cocktails while lounging on a beach chair in the cabanas. The menu is filled with seafood specials that continue the seaside resort theme. It is the perfect summer spot for those who cannot leave town, and there is a retractable roof for rainy nights.
There is a lot of space to have fun and be funny at Pioneer's, formerly named Comedy Bar. Well that makes sense, as it is owned by Ali Farahnakian, the man behind the PIT (People's Improv Theater) on 24th Street, which opened a new location just down the street in 2015. We found this place to have a little bit of everything. A fan of pinball? There are several machines; Love playing Jenga with giant size blocks? They have them; Want to dance? The music is playing and there are others who will join in; Like comedy? There are open mic nights; Want to simply drink? The selection is fine, with a variety of beers on tap... and the bartenders are ready to chat; Hungry? There is a menu to choose from and lots of popcorn to go around.
“Liquor-wise, whiskey is the greatest expression of America. ” So said Jessica, bar manager at American Whiskey at the time that I visited. Opened in September 2013, the bar immediately attracted a large industry following with its nearly two hundred varieties of bourbons and rye. The bar is more versatile than that, however, with a southern, French-inspired food menu and full bar to complement, because, as Jessica says, “even us cocktail nerds want a beer and a shot sometimes. ” Here, highbrow meets reality. Tans and grays line the space, with rough distressed wood showing through. Numerous flat screens are generously located throughout the bar, between giant busts of beasts. Following our conversation with Jessica, we spoke with Casey, an owner of American Whiskey. As simple as the story is, we found it fascinating and truly applaud the dedication that it took for a bunch of friends to follow their dream. Between the five managing partners, they have trained behind the bar, managed a restaurant, cooked and even washed dishes – “you name it, we have done it, ” Casey, told us. “We always knew that our end goal would be to open our own place. Once we graduated college and began to mature a bit, we got out of the beer mode and moved into the more refined and sophisticated world of alcohol. ” Their vision from the beginning was to find a space large enough to accommodate their sport-themed bar, as they are avid fans of multiple games. One of the partners is a University of Georgia graduate, and managed to bring in several hundred Georgia football enthusiasts on a recent weekend. Casey said the place was electric. Mimicking the theme of a vodka service, the guys came up with “barrel service. ” Served right at the table are buckets of ice, glasses and one or three liter barrels, which are whiskey-based with a variety of mixers, ready to drink. Duane, one of the several in-house whiskey experts, spent time with us sharing his passion for Bourbon. It was quite interesting to hear him speak of his experience in Kentucky, this past spring, when a few of the partners went on a trip to gain further knowledge. “What better place to go than right to the state that is famous for this, ” Duane said. However, he did go on to tell us that there are a number of states that manufacture their own whiskies – Iowa, Oregon and Montana were a few mentioned. Duane chatted about the surrounding landscape where the whiskey is produced, saying “it breathes into the barrels” and emphasized the importance of the water source – “all combined, it makes for an outstanding whiskey. ” The enthusiasm for the drink was contagious. Having only had tiny tastes over the years, I broke down and took a few sips of Duane’s signature “Strike Me Dead. ” Templeton Rye (dating from the Prohibition), black pepper, maple syrup and maple bitters were combined and finished off with some orange zest and cloves. The result was powerful and flavorful. Following that, I tried Duane's other favorite drink, “Floral Collins, ” consisting of Fords gin, cucumber juice, lavender syrup, fresh squeezed lime juice, maraschino liqueur and a slice of cucumber. Esteban, our photographer, was asked which concoction he preferred and answered that they had, “Equal goodness. ” Duane has spent the last three years living and breathing whiskey. Although incredibly conversant on the subject, he describes himself as being “humble” and said that he is simply dedicated to delivering the message of our country’s whiskey, “the voice of reason. ”
Home to more than 750 whiskeys, the Flatiron Room is an enthusiast's delight... but it is also a nice place for a change of pace for the whiskey amateurs among us. After spending some time in the more typical Manhattan bar scene, this more low-key, conversational venue can be just what the doctor ordered (all things in moderation, of course). Walking in, we were immediately struck by the colored lighting, adjusted throughout the night, and the beautiful stage hung with lush velvety curtains. The main room is candlelit and brings to mind a theater, caf̩e, bar and library all rolled into one. Each evening, a band takes the stage to play live music, typically jazz. Thursdays, however, are devoted to Cuban music for those who crave a bit more rhythm, while Sundays are bluegrass and bourbon night. Among the deluge of whiskeys, ryes, bourbons and scotches, it can be hard to hone in on favorites. For those who do decide what suits their fancy, the Flatiron Room offers a bottle key program, whereby bottles are available to be opened one night, and stored for future visits. A sommelier schools old hands and the uninitiated alike on Tuesdays. Although the emphasis is on the alcohol and music, the food is also worth mentioning. The menu is eclectic with a charcuterie or cheese plate, an interesting variety of flat breads, salads, spicy broccoli (a favorite), and an array of main dishes. For those looking for a bit more privacy or some shelter from the musical stylings, there is a mezzanine sporting tables and additional private rooms in the back. These seats, and most of the house, are by reservation only, with a few spaces for walk-ins. Calling ahead is a good idea. Coming at all is an even better one.
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.
Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti had never been in the restaurant business. She was a law professor and he was in finance - both living in Italy. When a passion burns inside you, however, and a desire to live in NYC is so strong, why not change careers and pursue your dream? This is exactly what the dynamic duo chose to do. Working alongside Elizabeth Roberts, architect extraordinaire, the team created a space built for dramatic floral arrangements and an enchanting atmosphere for dining. Alessandra combined her love of flowers by integrating them into the restaurant's splendid cocktails, specialty dishes and magnificent displays. In 2019, their dream finally became a reality as they opened the doors of Il Florista on West 26th Street.
Crossroads Trading Company now has almost thirty locations around the United States, but even in Manhattan they keep their original relaxed Bay Area vibe. The company began in Berkeley in 1991 and has since become a hub for recycling both men and women's clothing with the goal of helping the environment and working to eliminate waste. Locals are welcome to come in and sell their gently used garments for cash or credit... and while there, hopefully browse for something
If one were to close their eyes and walk into Hill Country, there is no doubt that in an instant they would know what kind of food was being prepared. At Hill Country, they take their barbecue very seriously. The food is prepared in their very own custom meat-smoking room, and everything is done in the style of Central Texas barbecue. The atmosphere is kitschy and relaxed, with live American music most nights of the week.
When Ashley Van Goehring, Hotel Giraffe’s director of sales and marketing, led me up to the rooftop bar as part of a tour of the entire building, I did not expect to find such a quiet nook. Despite being in the middle of the busy Flatiron district, the patio’s height and warm red brick border meant that the sky-high courtyard is reasonably silent. It is also beautiful: every inch appeared to be carefully designed with hanging plants, potted shrubs, and striped deck furniture that hinted at the hotel’s name. There is even a metallic giraffe statue in the corner, named after owner, Henry Kallan's granddaughter, Jesse. The seasonal rooftop does not remain quiet at night. Though the garden is only open to guests during the day, at night it turns into a cocktail bar, run by Bread and Tulips, the restaurant attached to Hotel Giraffe. The tucked-away space is also attached to the hotel’s private event room, which has a little roof terrace of its own. Ashley told us that the room had been used as Big’s apartment in the Sex and the City movie, and pointed out the little details that can be seen in some of the film scenes. The small attached patio shows just as much care and attention to detail as the larger rooftop bar, with potted flowers and warm, giraffe-inspired colors. Staring out at the sunny view, Ashley turned to me and said, “It’s nice to be reminded that this city is not just the place where I live. It’s a magical place. ”
Whenever Rebecca, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, asked her glamorous college roommate from Arizona where she had bought whatever fabulous item of clothing she was wearing, the answer was always the same... Buffalo Exchange. Founded in 1974 by Kerstin Block in Arizona, it was one of the first used clothing shops to open in the country. The store offers its patrons a place to buy, sell, or trade second-hand garments so that they can find a new life in someone else's wardrobe. Today, Kerstin continues to run her company with the help of her daughter, Rebecca, and they have expanded to forty-seven stores nationwide. The company has maintained its funky, fun vibe and reasonable prices even as it has grown so large.