Only in New York can one hear stories of a couple where one grew up on 44th Street, they met in a bar on 43rd, and now have opened their own tiny, but very special bar on 48th. Suzy Darling and Joe Witham are an adorable and, might I add, very talented pair. Suzy trained with Alvin Ailey as a teenager, went on to become a Rockette for eight years, was a back up singer to Bruce Springsteen, and a dancer with Houston Ballet. And while Suzy was strutting across the stage, Joe was singing opera in Oregon, and today, when not at Pocket Bar, he is the captain at a fine restaurant in Manhattan.
When I asked how long they had been open, Suzy smiled broadly and responded, "87 days!" In less than three months (they opened at the end of May, 2014), this dynamic duo has managed to spread the word on the street and around town, bringing in many to share in their super friendly, 300 square feet of intimate space. There are no TVs, as Suzy's goal was to make her bar "a nice place for women." She did not want to be a sports bar but rather as her gay friends suggest, "They opened a gay bar for straight people, but, of course, all are welcome." The concept is to be an escape from the city and partake in a glass of wine on tap from a boutique vineyard or a beer, both under $10.
On any given night, there will be Hot Pockets filled with pepperoni pizza, four cheeses or meatball mozzarella being served. And when I was chatting with Suzy, a new friend in the neighborhood popped in having just returned from a fishing expedition and dropped off some for Suzy to expand her pocket line up - this time with ceviche. Needless to say, she was thrilled and commented, once again, on what a welcoming community she has found.
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. "
Located beneath a rental apartment building lies Gotham West Market, a space that is home to a variety of food vendors and a kitchen supply store. The restaurants offer a good variety ranging from American fare to Mexican, Spanish, Japanese, and, of course, a coffee shop. The interior is spacious with large windows flooding the concrete floors with light. Although only in their infant stages, crowds have already been seeking them out, where both on the weekends and after business hours the Market comes to life. I have enjoyed stopping by here both with friends on a bike ride, or while walking with the Manhattan Sideways interns. On one occasion, the students tried the albondigas (lamb meatballs) from El Colmado, a Spanish eatery, and watched, enthusiastically, as the chef prepared the bone marrow brulee at Cannibal for us to sample and photograph. This dish was certainly a first for Maria and Lauren, and they marveled at how the plate was so beautifully presented with the bone marrow served in the bone on a long plate with two pieces of toast and some greens on the side. They were giggling as they scooped the bone marrow onto the bread and topped it with the lettuce. And as we get ready to launch 45th Street, Choza Taqueria is getting ready to open. In 2017, we were able to return to sample their tacos and tamales. Gotham West Market has made Hell's Kitchen a dining destination, offering something suitable for every palette and time of day. The Market offers Hell's Kitchen residents – especially those living right upstairs – a great place to come together and enjoy some of New York's notable cuisine.
The wine list scrawled on the large chalkboard, the exposed wine cellar covering two floors, and the marble bar make Ardesia a beautiful place to while away the post-work hours. Damon, Ardesia's manager, says that while the place is sophisticated, "we also want people to feel comfortable, almost like they are in their living room. " This atmosphere has allowed the bar to garner a group of loyal regulars, including local artists and actors and others who work and live in the neighborhood. The rotating wine list ensures they are never bored and, while the main attraction is certainly the broad selection of wines, Ardesia also has a solid menu of small plates.
Initially serving as a resting stop for Scandinavian sailors when they disembarked in lower Manhattan, the Swedish Seaman's Church opened its doors on Water Street in 1873. The neo-Gothic building in which the Church currently resides was constructed in 1921 for "The Bible House" before being sold to the Church of Sweden in 1978. The Church's nautical past is evidenced in the model boats placed among the large collection of Swedish books. With a chapel, a library, and a coffee shop, the Church's doors are always open to Swedes. While tasting their delicious Swedish buns, I chatted with the staff who spoke enthusiastically about the function that the center plays in people's lives. For families, it provides a "wind" of Sweden whenever they miss their homeland. There are also multiple weddings conducted in the chapel each week, and people come from all over to celebrate holidays and shop at their Christmas Bazaar.
Clinton Garden is a striking testament to the power of residential communities in New York. One of the earliest examples of urban agricultural reclamation, the garden was created in 1979 in a lot that had been abandoned for twenty-eight years. Seeing potential in the space and hoping to improve the area around the neighborhood, residents (with the help of Operation Green Thumb, which leased the lot from the city) transformed the VACANT property into a garden using reclaimed and salvaged bricks, concrete, and slate. Finding the gates open on a beautiful spring Saturday, I wandered in and strolled down the paths filled with magnificent flowers and shrubs. I also met committed people tending to their small plots of land, of which there are now over one hundred. I have since been back many times, as I think this is a magnificent retreat on those days that I am in a need of a place to rest while walking the side streets of Manhattan.
Tucked between a Swiss and an Italian restaurant, Scent Elate brings Eastern spirituality to the neighborhood. With the doors swung open, the aromas were an enticing trail that led me into this tiny boutique packed with an array of incense, candles, soaps, oils and lotions. Scent Elate also has books on meditation and yoga scattered among crystals, jewelry, chimes and hanging ornaments. In fact, it might just be "the" place to go when searching for sticks of incense - not only is there a vast selection, but Mo, the owner, makes a special effort to find the perfect scent to enhance each individual customer's environment.
Named after Bible verses in Isaiah (the wolf and the lamb shall feed together), this restaurant opened in Manhattan in 1998, and expanded to Brooklyn the following year. Initially a traditional kosher deli, it later reinvented itself as a steakhouse. The extensive menu ranges from matzo ball soup to salmon burgers, veal Bolognese gnocchi and, of course, includes a variety of steaks and chops. Drawing on influences as diverse as Vietnamese, Tex-Mex, and French-country, Wolf and Lamb adapts its more customary function to a cosmopolitan venue. "Just because you're keeping kosher doesn't mean you have to sacrifice on quality, " shared a waitress. And while we were told that the majority of customers keep kosher regularly, the crowded space was testament to Wolf and Lamb's broad culinary appeal.