Meet Lady Blue, a gritty-meets-glamorous cocktail bar with a dramatic flair, named after a character in the classic show Torch Song Trilogy.
The team at HK Hospitality — responsible for House of Brews, Dolly Varden, Mom’s Kitchen & Bar, and Peachy Keen — sought out theatrical inspiration for this latest venture in hopes of minting a tribute to the area’s creative community. Already in a 1970s groove from their research for Peachy Keen, they took a deep dive into the defining plays and musicals of the era.
“We did our homework and looked through tons of Broadway showbills, inspirational Broadway quotes, famous actors and playwrights from the 1970s and 1980s,” said Patrick Schmidt, Executive Director of HK Hospitality. After stumbling on Torch Song Trilogy, Harvey Fierstein’s seminal play exploring gay identity in the early 80s, the team decided to zero in.
HK Hospitality chose one of the minor characters in the show, the torch singer Lady Blue (known as Lady Blues in the show) as the linchpin of their concept.
“We don’t want it to be too on the nose, but it’s a nod to an era of New York past without being too recognizable,” Schmidt explained. “We felt that the name would tie in well with the performing arts sector and Broadway community, while also subtly reviving the narrative of this play and this character and this piece of art that I think is not well known in today’s Broadway scene.”
Working with architectural design firm Wid Chapman (who also helped develop the brand identity at Peachy Keen), Schmidt and the team at HK Hospitality focused on crafting a moody, intimate ambiance at Lady Blue.
“We are drawing off the time period, the show and that character,” Schmidt explained. “It’s designed to be a mix of high-brow and low-brow. It’s not overly done — it’s elegant, but it’s not unapproachable.”
Following the theme of approachability, Lady Blue aims to be a welcoming watering hole to visitors and the Broadway community alike. “We hope that everyone from theatergoers to the actors to producers, crew and theater staff will come in,” Schmidt said.
And of course, Lady Blue’s main attraction is its menu of specialty cocktails and funky shareable snacks perfect for an after-show happy hour.
“We wanted each drink to have its own story — really thoughtful presentation and really fun names, ” Schmidt said, adding that some of the current offerings have theatrical names — like the whiskey-infused Thai iced tea One Night in Bangkok (Chess), while Up in Smoke (which features a mezcal and a lavender joint) is a cheeky reference to the counterculture of 70s and 80s New York.
The food menu, a collaboration between Director of Business Development Kimberly De Jesus and the chefs from their other establishments, will feature a raw bar and elevated takes on classic bar snacks — think Halloumi fries and kettle chips with caviar dip.
“We’re keeping the high-brow/low-brow mix. We’re taking something that’s very elevated and appears fancy, like caviar, but simplifying it in the presentation so that it feels approachable.”
This story was adapted from the W42ST article, "Taking Inspiration from “Torch Song Trilogy”, New Cocktail Bar Lady Blue Brings Drama to Hell’s Kitchen."
FLEX is a new Hell’s Kitchen LGBTQ+ hotspot created in the former home of Posh — one of the original neighborhood gay bars back in the ’90s. Founders James Healy and Jason Wade Mann’s journey to open FLEX hasn’t been without its challenges. The process began with six months of paperwork to obtain a liquor license from the State Liquor Authority. Though they received approval from Manhattan Community Board 4’s Business Licenses and Permits Committee, lingering complaints about the previous establishment set the bar very high for proving FLEX would not fall into the same pattern. However, this meticulous attention to detail set the tone for what was to come. The bar’s design was a collaboration with two architects from Pratt Institute, who worked closely with students to ensure every aspect was carefully considered. James and Jason had the opportunity to shape FLEX exactly as they envisioned, with a focus on creating a visually stunning atmosphere. Local artist Jo Mar crafted the hand-sculpted mural that takes center stage. It is based on a photo shoot he did in the space with local friends who were more than happy to help bring his vision to life. The entire process took seven months to complete, with each of the four panels weighing approximately 250 lbs as the molds were being made. The attention to detail doesn’t stop at the artwork. The bar boasts original 120-year-old “Tiffany blue” glass windows salvaged from a Brooklyn warehouse, adding a touch of history to the contemporary design. The bar beams themselves come from a century-old Brooklyn townhouse, and the woodwork throughout the space is meticulously handcrafted. The dedication to preserving the legacy of the location is evident in the decision to keep FLEX as a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community. As James said: “It was a gay space for almost 30 years and that was one of the main reasons Jason and I decided to take over the space. We wanted to keep it as a safe space for the gay community, but very much welcome for all. Our theme is come alone and meet friends, come with friends and make more friends. ”But FLEX is not just about creating a visually appealing space; it also aims to be a hub for community events. With large screens and projectors installed, the bar can host gatherings, presentations and even screen major sporting events. This versatility ensures that FLEX will be a vibrant and dynamic addition to the neighborhood. Beyond the interior, the owners have also made significant efforts to enhance the building’s infrastructure and exterior. Extensive plumbing work was completed and the façade has been meticulously restored, with broken tiles fixed and a fresh coat of paint applied. A new awning, adorned with colorful PRIDE flags, further adds to the bar’s vibrant presence on the block. FLEX aims to be a highlight of the neighborhood, both inside and out. This story was adapted from the W42ST article, "Reviving PRIDE: New Bar FLEX Honors Posh’s Legacy with a Modern LGBTQ+ Twist. "
Beer Culture opened in the summer of 2013, offering beer, cider, whiskey, and bottled sodas. Customers can come in to pick up a bottle – or growler - of beer to take home, or grab a seat at the bar to chat with the friendly staff while noshing on some charcuterie. The record player behind the bar is usually going and if the owner, Matt Gebhard, and bar manager, Peter Malfatti, are around, they are bound to strike up a conversation and offer to guide patrons through their extensive beer selection. The beers are organized by region. The first door of their huge, glass-front fridge is full of beers from New York State, while the second is full of east coast beers, and the third and fourth is full of central and west coast beers. A bit further back into the room is their international fridge, proudly boasting selections from the UK, France, and three shelves worth of Belgian beers. For patrons who just want a nice, cold, familiar beer, grandpa's fridge is the place to go. Customers often mistake the old Kelvinator across from the bar as a prop and are always surprised when they open it up and realize that it works and that they recognize all of the brands inside of it. Matt included grandpa's fridge because he thinks that there is a place for all beers (except lite ones, which are not sold on the Beer Culture premises) and that some brands hold emotional value for customers. True to its name, the beers in the old Kelvinator are those that Matt had seen in his own grandfather's fridge growing up. Matt's first true exposure to beer and its culture was during a year he spent studying abroad in Belgium. When he came back home to upstate NY, Matt was nineteen and decided to pursue his newfound passion by working in a local Belgian brewery. He remained here for a few years until he met Peter, his future bar manager, who was living in Rochester, NY. Before opening their own place, Matt came to Manhattan and worked in a Belgian bar in Midtown. Although he enjoyed it, Matt told us that he wanted to do things his own way and fulfill his vision of what a bar should be. The bar that these two terrific guys opened is one that is dedicated to the simple, comfortable and unpretentious beverage that they adore. Nestled between Eighth and Ninth Avenue in a residential part of 45th Street, Beer Culture, is a hybrid bar and bottle shop offering its customers over 500 different types of beer. Although at the time of this write-up, Beer Culture had been around for less than a year, both Matt and Peter already feel like part of the block. As Matt stated, "We pride ourselves in being an establishment of beer nerds, not beer snobs. "
"We are the oldest restaurant on our block. We try to keep a low profile while doing the best we can, and every day we appreciate that we are living in this country, ” said Guadalupe, who has been married to Rafael Rivas — affectionately known as Papa Bear — for over forty years. The restaurant was founded by three Cuban cousins, who took Rafael under their wing when he came to the U. S. from the Dominican Republic in his twenties. With their encouragement, he started out as a dishwasher, then a lineman, and eventually ran the show up front. When the cousins decided to retire in the mid-1980s but could not find a buyer, Rafael stepped up to the plate and asked if he could take over Margon. With years of hard work and small payments, Rafael has upheld the cousins' tradition of serving Cuban favorites, such as roasted pork, oxtail, fried sweet plantains, and rice and beans to the line of customers that stretches out the door on any given day. Little by little, each member of Rafael's family was brought from the DR to join the fold. Guadalupe — who met her husband while they were both on a tour of the Statue of Liberty — along with Rafael's brother, sister, sister-in-law, and many of their children — are all part of this warm and loving family affair. Papa Bear's smile lights up Margon — and his entire family smiles with him. They work like a well-oiled machine, serving a constant flow of customers ranging from construction workers on break, to ladies meeting for a leisurely lunch, to a gentleman in his eighties who never misses a day to sit down and enjoy his usual. According to Guadalupe, “We have the best customers. They come from all over the world. We have every accent. They visit once and then they tell their friends.
Not only does Barbetta profess to be the oldest restaurant on Restaurant Row, it is also one of the oldest Italian restaurants in New York. Opening its doors in 1906, in four adjoining townhouses built in the late 1800s by the Astor family, Sebastiano Maioglio began his long restaurant career. The emphasis has always been on Italian dishes and wine from the Piemontese region, where he was from. Sebastiano’s daughter, Laura, took over in 1962, and immediately began to remodel the restaurant in the style of 18th C. E. Piemonte. With her passion for collecting art, great sense of personal style, frequent visits in Piemonte, and an art history degree from Bryn Mawr College, it is no wonder that Barbetta’s exquisite interior has become as highly regarded as its food. The dining room demonstrates its old-world opulence, with ornate chandeliers, chairs, and tables meant to evoke a palazzo of the eighteenth century, during Piemonte’s cultural height. The baroque interior serves as more than just a reference to its heritage; it is a part of it. The great chandelier in the main dining room initially came from a palazzo in Torino, where it belonged to the royal family. Laura negotiated to obtain this 18th C. E. chandelier for two years. Other highlights of Barbetta’s extensive collection include the harpsichord in the foyer - crafted in 1631, as well as hanging wall prints from Piemonte - part of a distinguished set crafted in 1682. Items that could not be authentic, such as the numerous chairs and barstools, are reproductions of museum pieces that were specifically chosen by Laura to be reproduced in Italy. The garden, available for dining in the summer, holds trees dating back over a century ago, and, in line with the interior, holds the atmosphere of refined European aristocracy. Barbetta, while serving as a cultural landmark, remains focused on the excellence of its ever-changing list of dishes while serving classics such as risotto and polenta since its founding. Every dish on its menu since 1962 has been approved by Laura, and celebrating its long history and heritage, each menu item is marked with the year it began to be served, while dishes from Piemonte are in red print. Although esteemed for its dishes, Barbetta is also famed for its 72-page wine list, which has won numerous awards. Barbetta has also transformed the Italian dining scene through its numerous examples of “being the first”- from its conception to the present day. A few highlights include its beginning as the first Piemontese restaurant in New York, its status as New York’s first elegant Italian restaurant after its 1962 transformation, as well as its usage of numerous ingredients that at the time, were not commercially available in America and which had to be specifically imported by them from Italy. A particular example of one of these imported ingredients is white truffles. Years ago, Barbetta’s own truffle-hunting dogs became so well known that they were asked to perform a demonstration at Carnegie Hall in 1992. Barbetta is also unique in its emphasis on low sugar and low salt dishes - Laura even decided that Barbetta would smoke its own salmon to ensure it would not be too salty. Laura described Barbetta as “an institution, much more than a restaurant, ” due to the extensive culture that has been built around it and that it has created. The description as “much more than a restaurant” struck us as particularly apt, due to Barbetta’s long list of famous regulars - from The Rolling Stones to Jacklyn Kennedy - its exceptionally elegant and unusually spacious interior, variety of phenomenal food, and historical significance.
Joe Allen, founded in 1965, is the archetypal post-theater restaurant. With one of the longer histories on Restaurant Row, Joe Allen has been serving classic American cuisine in a brasserie setting since I was a little girl. I was always happy to come here with my parents and be able to order a hamburger rather than having to go out for a fancy meal. Mr. Allen - who also owns Orso, an Italian restaurant next door – had an initial concept to provide a comfortable, dynamic atmosphere with good food. And while the restaurant continues to serve some of the best comfort food around, spending time at night in the bar area, shows Joe Allen's real appeal. The high energy level from the post-theater crowd is contagious. The manager explained to us on one visit that they are the first phone call that people make after they have secured their seats for the next Broadway show. And, while he remained hesitant to divulge names, he shared how many actors and actresses have continued over the years to head immediately to Joe Allen after they perform - "here, " he elaborated "you're surrounded by theater, and we do all we can to promote that culture. " I can attest to the numerous actors who grace their tables, as I have had the pleasure of meeting a few over the years, as well as a highlight one evening when Barbara Walters sat right next to me. It is hard to say something new about Joe Allen, so long has it been a staple for theater goers. While the menu remains updated and contemporary, Joe Allen does not take any risks. Rather, it thrives on its reputation among patrons based on its long tradition of casual dining. Seeing the last of the pre-theater crowd during our visit, we were struck by how Joe Allen seemed appropriate equally for a quick burger and glass of wine in half an hour before a show, or a long, late into the night dinner where no one wants to head home.