Acme is a fine example of where the East Village ends and NoHo begins. After a twenty-five year history of being the New Orleans-style restaurant that Acme was, it has now undergone a major renovation and re-invented itself as the chic "new Nordic" dinner lounge. With the new owners and a world-famous Danish chef, the menu offers a wide variety of creative European-influenced dishes.
By the time I arrived at Fish Bar on a Friday afternoon, a few regulars had already settled in. They chatted quietly as I explored the bar, which - true to its name - is decorated with fish and undersea creatures of all kinds. As I checked out Fish Bar’s reasonably priced drinks, which attract a diverse group of young people and locals, I wondered why the owner had decided on a nautical theme… and why there were so many dollar bills stuck to the ceiling. Fortunately, John, the owner, was happy to answer my questions. In the mid-nineties, he said, he frequented a bar called the Castro Lounge, which was unofficially known as “Fish Bar. ” When the owner put the bar on the market, John bought it and made the unofficial name official. Fish Bar opened on January 1st, 2000, and regulars immediately began bringing fish back from vacations to decorate the ocean-blue walls. “It escalated quickly, ” John said with a sigh. That explained Fish Bar’s origins, but not the money on the ceiling. According to John, it is a game invented by the regulars, who have a special technique to get the dollar bills to stick. But he refused to tell me anything else. “I guess you’ll just have to come by and check it out, ” he said, and I assured him that I would visit Fish Bar soon - with a wallet full of dollar bills.
A self-described “Sports Nirvana in the East Village, ” this place certainly deserves points for accuracy. Up-to-date standings for professional sports and fantasy league teams are on the chalkboards adjacent to the bar. Though tiny, the relative lack of tables, the collection of sports paraphernalia, and high TV to square footage ratio make this a lively bar for watching the big game. And do not discount the great beer selection. Side Note: If a game runs into overtime, so will Standings.
Hush! Although the name might suggest another raucous East Village haunt, this place expressly forbids such revelry. “No Loud Talking Allowed – Only Whispering, ” reads a sign on the wall. Yet one can presume that burping is not subject to similar statutes. Gary Gillis, who took over Burp Castle in 2005, shared that while some patrons come in to bask in the quiet atmosphere, others visit with the specific intention of shouting to relish the novelty of being shushed. “It’s all in good fun. ”Gary also owns the adjacent rowdy sports bar, Standings. When asked if he would ever combine the two, he dismissed the idea, underscoring that each has “separate personalities and audiences. ” Uniquely, Burp Castle’s theme does its best to mimic a Belgian Trappist monastery in both its beer and ale selection and decor. The bar’s famous mural — for which the artist was paid in beer — depicts monks imbibing spirits in various medieval environments.
A unique hybrid between a bar and an arcade, this space attracts gamers and beer enthusiasts alike. Among all the Barcade locations, there are 300 games. The gaming selection is balanced between standards, such as Asteroids and all three original Star Wars games, and more oddball finds like a maze game called Anteater and the desert-themed adventure Slither. Patrons compete for a hallowed place on Barcade’s high score board, which keeps track of the best of the best for each game. While many come for the games, they stay for the beer. Barcade features twenty-five rotating taps of all-American craft beer. Their selection is all draft with no cans of Bud Light to be found. Each day, a new beer menu is printed, complete with in-depth descriptions of each brew, encouraging everyone to try something new.
Reed Adelson, owner of the American restaurant Virginia’s, was trained by the best in the industry. He learned about wine at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, interned at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, then returned to his Manhattan roots to work under Jean-Georges to open the Mark Hotel, and finally worked at Locanda Verde. Riding in a car with industry legends Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller, he was presented with the answer to his doubts about working in the restaurant business, "If this is what you’re passionate about, there is nothing else you can do. It’s more of a vocation than a job choice. "Reed brought all of this expertise to open his first restaurant in 2015. Named for his mom, Virginia’s has become known for its burger, with bone marrow aioli, cabot cheddar, and house-made pickles, but there are more sophisticated dishes that deserve equal praise including the wild king salmon with red cabbage slaw and golden beet puree. Reed focuses on consistency for his menu, with a few seasonal dishes, such as the corn ravioli with fontina cheese and crispy shallots. With his eye on the future, Reed is contemplating moving a little closer to the city’s center, while admitting, "there’s something romantic about the side streets. "
Kenkeleba Garden, named for an African healing plant, is simply magical. We followed the densely forested greenery around to the back, arriving at a clearing that transported us to another world far from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. We were completely surprised when we landed in front of the sculpture garden, which is only visible from 3rd Street. From large African sculptures to collections of scraps or bricolage, a specialty of the Lower East Side art scene, we could not help but linger before doubling back and re-emerging onto the concrete sidewalks of 2nd Street. It was not until many months later, when we had the pleasure of meeting Joe Overstreet and his wife, Corinne Jennings, that we learned that this is affiliated with their gallery next door, Kenkeleba House. It is their life-long dream to someday use these grounds to build a museum that would house their massive collection of African-American art. It has an entrance on both 2nd Street and 3rd,
Book Club isn’t just for the suburbs anymore — as a new bookshop, bar and coffeehouse gives East Village denizens and beyond a new place to pore over and pour over their favorite reads. Married proprietors Erin Neary and Nat Esten, East Village residents themselves, had longed for an independent bookstore to serve the Alphabet City area, they told the Manhattan Sideways team when we popped in to see dozens of happy customers enjoying a read and a latte one sunny Friday morning. “We always thought that the neighborhood needed another bookstore, ” said Erin, “and we also kept wondering, ‘Wouldn't it be so cool if you could drink wine while you were shopping for books? ’” They decided not only to open a bookstore and bar, but to additionally add in the day-to-night-element of coffee into the mix. While both Erin and Nat had worked in hospitality before, bookselling was new to them. “I started doing research in 2017 and worked with the American Booksellers Association’s consulting program to help new bookstores get off the ground, ” said Erin. “I met with them as well as other bar owners and bookstore owners in the neighborhood and did as much research as I could without actually doing it. ” The duo launched Book Club in November 2019, enjoying an enthusiastic community reception until COVID-19 forced them to pivot. “Nate started doing bike deliveries — as many as 20 miles a day! ” Erin told us. “He’d go out to Harlem to drop off books and then all the way out to Bushwick — so a lot of people learned about the store that way. ”Once they were able to reopen to the public, Book Club forged full steam ahead in engaging the community in “book club”-esque events — from author talks to poetry readings to creative writing workshops, with additional unique offerings like an adult spelling bee and a “drink and draw” sketching class. They’ve also recently received their full liquor license, and plan to roll out literary-themed cocktails like an In Cold Bloody Mary or the Murder on the Orient Espresso Martini, Erin told us. More than anything, she added, she enjoyed having customers back in the store to guide them toward their next favorite book. “Our staff are not just really good baristas, but they’re avid readers as well. So between myself and the rest of the team, we have a really good handle on the books here — it’s fun to be able to curate not just what we stock, but to get the right book into someone’s hands. ”
Around the corner from the well-regarded traditional restaurant, Il Buco, is Alimentari & Vineria, the market and wine bar that sells imported Italian foods. Up front, there is counter seating for a quick bite as well as more leisurely, contemporary dining down a few steps in the back. The food not only looks enticing, but it tastes amazing, and the people who work here are helpful and knowledgeable. Shortly after they had opened in the fall of 2011, we sampled some sandwiches on their house-baked breads - Tuscan Kale Panini with Stracchino cheese spread and a Soppressata panini with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Simple and delicious. Garnering instant popularity and acclaim from The New York Times to Zagat, we are confident in adding our enthusiastic support and highest recommendation to this authentic hotspot.
Upon entering this simple but warm restaurant, you cannot miss the heavenly smell of baked bread. When we met the owner and chef, Esberanza, on a recent visit, she and her niece were eager to tell us their family story. Apparently, Esbranza and her sister, who is a co-owner, married two brothers, who they met decades ago at Roseland Ballroom. Originally, they had taken this space for Esberanza to work on her custom-made lingerie for Victoria Secret, Baby Phat and her own line called Epy, but she tired of this after many years in the business, and decided to pursue her other passion - food. Fortunate for us, she is now sharing her talents in this quaint restaurant.
Il Buco is like stepping into another universe tucked away from the already tranquil Bond Street. The copper pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, antique plates on the shelves, and wooden tables and chairs complement this rustic Italian restaurant. On the day that we were here, artist Chuck Close was as well... supposedly this is his "favorite haunt, " as he lives just a few doors away. Always a fan of his artwork, it was great fun to see him sitting at a table nearby. The hostess was kind enough to suggest that we take a peak downstairs at their impressive wine cellar. We descended the stone stairway where we encountered bottles upon bottles of wines lining the walls.
Biking with my husband on a beautiful August day, I stopped short when I noticed something new and picturesque on 5th Street. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, but I had been holding out until I discovered the perfect place to grab a bite to eat, and I certainly landed in an ideal spot. The rustic charm indoors, with replicas of the farm equipment used in Italy hanging from the ceiling, captured our hearts immediately, but it was the food – the outstanding rice dishes – that solidified Risotteria Melotti indefinitely on my list of top restaurants to recommend. Since the restaurant was quiet at this odd hour, we were able to chat casually with the staff throughout our meal, and we learned not only about the history of the restaurant, but also about the world of rice. Back in 1986, a couple began producing rice on one acre of land in Verona, Italy. Almost three decades later, together with their three sons, Rosetta and Giuseppe now farm 544 acres of land, all devoted to growing award-winning rice that is sold the world over. There are basically two different textures of the grain that they produce. Vialone, the more traditional rice, is rich in proteins and vitamins and, because it absorbs liquid better, is used for their delicious risottos. Carnaroli rice, “considered one of the best in the world, ” is more readily used in salads because it remains al dente when cooked, adding a chewiness to the superb insalata di riso that we shared. We both marveled at the combination of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted red and yellow peppers, capers, fresh mozzarella and, of course, brown rice. When we first sat down, a bread basket was placed on the table. Their take on focaccia was very good, but I could not stop sampling their rice cakes throughout our meal – the basic recipe is made in Italy and then flown here to be tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary and then baked for fourteen minutes. I cannot say enough about how amazing the second dish that we tried tasted. We never knew that you could make polenta from anything but cornmeal, but we had our eyes opened to something new and wondrous when we had our first taste of polenta fritta con caciottina – a fried rice polenta with mushrooms and cheese that was perfectly moist in the middle with an added crunch on the outside. Every mouthful was rich and heavenly. This brand new restaurant – the first outside of Italy – serves about thirty people, making for an intimate setting, especially when evening falls, the lights are dimmed and the candles are lit. Up front there is a little “shop” that sells many of their rice products. The staff explained that the family has made an across-the-board decision to only offer Melotti’s gluten-free rice merchandise in the States. Thus, anyone eating gluten-free can come to their restaurant and be served a carefree, excellent meal. Anyone fortunate enough to live in the area can either have their food delivered to them in their home or office, or stop by, browse the menu, and take it to go. I have no doubt that we would be eating a lot more rice if we lived in the East Village, but we will visit as often as we can.
Vicki Freeman and Mark Meyer are an accomplished couple in the New York restaurant business. They are the creators behind Cookshop, Hundred Acres, and the latest addition to the family, Rosie’s. Their story as restaurateurs goes back to 1993, when Freeman opened her first restaurant, VIX Café, in SoHo. She hired Meyer as her head chef, and as they say, the rest is history. Vic’s opened in 2014 in the space that used to house Five Points, another restaurant by Freeman and Meyer. While the owners emphasized that Five Points was not struggling, they felt it was time for a change. Opening Vic’s allowed Freeman and Meyer to bring their restaurant group full circle, its name a nod to those early beginnings with VIX Café in 1993. When I visited Vic’s, I was struck by the bright, open décor. Sitting in the back dining area, with natural light spilling in from the skylight overhead, I was allowed my favorite view - that of the kitchen. Chatting with general manager, Hely, I learned that Freeman and Meyer used to live in an apartment just upstairs, and that their son works for the restaurant group. In addition to speaking with Hely, I also had the pleasure of spending some time with Hillary Sterling - the head chef of Vic’s. “Hillary’s food is the easiest thing in the world to sell, ” said Hely, and then Chef Sterling went on to elaborate about her inspiration for the restaurant’s culinary concept and menu. “It’s all about history and honoring tradition, ” she told me. She prepares the restaurant’s traditional Italian and Mediterranean cuisine using food sourced from American farms, and admits that it is a challenge to create authentic flavors with local ingredients - It is a challenge, however, that she proudly declared that she has met with the exceptions being seven imported ingredients: 00 flour (for their famous Borsa), capers, anchovies, pecorino, calabrian chilies, and balsamic vinegar. As Hillary presented a few of her favorite dishes, she went on to say that traditional Italian and Mediterranean cuisine requires “a lot of herbs and acid, ” adding that it is all about achieving the perfect balance and appreciating the ingredients themselves. The heirloom carrots, served with dill, capers, and roasted shallots, were tangy and bright, with a complexity of flavor. As she set the "cheeseless" anchovy pizza with tomato, spring garlic, oregano, and fresh orange zest, Hillary told me that making good pizza dough is just as demanding as making homemade pasta, but it is clear that she has mastered it. The crust was perfect – thin, but bubbling up around the edges, and ever so slightly charred. Finally, I tasted the famous Borsa, the homemade pasta served al dente, with a lemon ricotta filling. The soft and creamy center of these amazing "little purses" with hazelnuts sprinkled on top is definitely the signature dish at Vic's. Chef Sterling said that the Borsa and the bathrooms are the most instagrammed things in the restaurant, and joked that her food has to "compete with the lavatories. " The facilities are whimsical and fun with pink flamingoes decorating the room for the ladies, while the men's room is wallpapered in zebras. In my mind, however, there is no competition: Chef Sterling’s food is what truly stands out.
Le Petit Parisien alludes to a nineteenth-century French newspaper. Started by Jean Dupuy in 1884, the paper achieved the largest media circulation of its time before retiring in 1944. The sandwich shop under the same name, which opened in 2015, is owned by Jean’s great-great-grandson, also named Jean Dupuy, in partnership with his nephew, Paul. Its narrow storefront is outfitted in copies of its namesake paper, and the menu offers a total of nine entrée sandwiches, including the deliciously simple "Parisien" - a ham and cheese sandwich. Others are named for historical French figures. The Brigitte Bardot contains artichoke, goat cheese, kale, and tomatoes atop a French baguette from Orwashers, while the Louis XIV, befitting the royal name, gets foie gras and fig confit. Other menu members include the Gainsbourg, the Charle de Gaulle, and the Marie Antoinette, which contains decadent, sixteen-month cured ham.