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The Harold 1 American Brunch Chelsea Koreatown Tenderloin

Walking into the Harold, a casual bistro located in the heart of Herald Square, I immediately noticed its warm, welcoming atmosphere. A family of tourists in shorts and sneakers munched happily on burgers while business men in suits chatted at the bar. I even witnessed something that I hardly ever see - several young people throughout the multi-level space feeling comfortable enough to dine alone.

When I spoke to Angelo, the Harold’s friendly young manager, I commented on the restaurant’s ability to attract people from all walks of life. “I’m glad you noticed,” he said, and explained that the Harold’s proximity to Penn Station makes it a hub for tourists and commuters as well as locals. They certainly do their best to create an environment where one can either sit down at the bar, dine at their own table, or seat themselves at the central communal table and feel relaxed.

As Angelo showed me around the Harold’s spacious main floor, I asked him how they had come up with the name. “We started out as ‘The Herald,’ for Herald Square, but then we realized that it was a pretty common name in the area.” To differentiate the bistro from other businesses nearby, they renamed it “The Harold.”

By the time the restaurant opened its doors in July of 2014, “Harold” had evolved into a character in his own right, a well-traveled 1920s gentleman whose traveling hat inspired the restaurant’s logo and décor. As we walked up to the mezzanine, where private events and parties are often held, Angelo pointed out Harold’s antique luggage, which is covered in old stickers and stamps.

Taking a seat at the bar, the Manhattan Sideways team was treated to some specialty cocktails. I particularly enjoyed the “Strawberry Fields,” made with vodka, lemon juice, strawberry puree, and prosecco. I also tasted the fruity rosé sangria (the recipe is a secret). Other members of the Manhattan Sideways team were fans of the refreshing “New Go-To,” made with organic cucumber vodka, fresh lime juice, St. Germain, and pineapple juice, the New York Sour, and the restaurant’s signature “Harold,” complete with gin, elderflower liqueur, lemon, basil, and topped off with prosecco.

As we sipped our drinks, I admired the impressive seafood royale platter that the customer next to us had ordered. When Angelo returned to the bar, I asked him about the Harold’s menu. “It’s not very large,” he told me, “but we have something for everyone.” He emphasized the chef’s use of local and seasonal ingredients. When questioned about his favorite menu item, Angelo's eyes lit up. “Definitely the six ounce burger topped with grilled onions, New York cheddar, and applewood smoked bacon.” Tempted by one of my favorites, the soft, fresh burrata, I happily had a taste and then went on to try the beet salad, which was garnished with spicy micro greens and an exotic black garlic marinated in molasses. Others dipped their forks into the blackened salmon, and crispy fish and chips. The Harold also has a vibrant breakfast crowd during the week where eggs take center stage.

Yes, the food and the drink are quite good, but it is still The Harold's welcoming, inclusive atmosphere that grabbed my attention from the moment I stepped inside. In Angelo’s words, “We don’t care if people are wearing suits or jeans and t-shirts - we just want them to come and enjoy good food and cocktails,” and, I might add, an eclectic mix of great people.

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Lost Gem
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American Whiskey

“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. ”

More places on 32nd Street

Lost Gem
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Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong

“We were just voted the best Asian barbecue restaurant in New York, ” said Philip, the general manager of Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. “We’re getting a lot of buzz these days, because Korean food is very trendy right now. ” And Baekjeong, founded by Korean wrestler and TV personality Kang Ho-dong, is the trendiest of all. It is a favorite hangout of actors and celebrities, and has received high praise from celebrity chefs Anthony Bourdain and David Chang. At Baekjeong (the Korean word for “butcher”), meat is king. But while Korean barbecue traditionally makes use of the second-best cuts of meat, marinating them for flavor, Philip emphasized that Baekjeong uses only the highest-quality meat. “We don’t even marinate it, ” he added. Between the quality of the meat and the reputation of executive chef Deuki Hong, a twenty-five year old prodigy who recently won the 2015 Young Guns Chef award, Baekjeong has become one of the hottest new restaurants in New York. The wait to be seated, Philip told me, is sometimes as long as an hour and a half. By all accounts, it is worth the wait. As customers munch on small starter dishes known as banchan, waiters prepare the meat - mainly beef and pork - on large metal grills set into each table. Another highlight at Baekjeong is dosirak, a traditional Korean children’s lunchbox filled with rice, kimchi, and a fried egg. In the seventies, Philip explained, Korean kids always shook up their metal lunch boxes before eating them, and at Baekjeong - which aims for a “1970s industrial Korea feel” - customers are encouraged to do the same. But Philip emphasized that guests who do not know much about Korean food should not be worried. The waiters, who all speak English and Korean, “make sure to cater to customers who don’t know what’s going on. ” For the most part, though, the Chinese tourists and Americans who make up most of Baekjeong’s clientele (“Koreans don’t like to wait in line, ”) do know what is going on. “No one just walks in off the street, ” Philip told me. “The kind of people who come here are in the know. ”

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Crompton Ale House

The Crompton Ale House is the perfect example of a bar that has embraced its surroundings. Right in the middle of the fashion district, the bar is named for Samuel Crompton, the man who invented the sewing machine. The spacious bar is decorated with bobbins and gears to make it seem like visitors are socializing inside a giant sewing machine. Jimmy, one of the owners of the bar, explained that he and his partners brought in a designer to create the unique atmosphere. “We even had threads up on the spools, ” he said, pointing at the wall ornaments, “But they were gathering dust – perhaps we’ll put them back up for Halloween. ”I was speaking with him only a short time after the bar had opened in 2015. Jimmy, who also owns the bars O’Donoghue’s and Genesis, was not quite sure what the bar would become, but he was already excited by the crowds that had arrived. He sees the area as an up-and-coming neighborhood, and has been delighted to meet a lot of locals, which is a change from the tourist-heavy crowds that he experiences in Times Square. With a happy hour from 4pm-7pm on weekdays, the bar draws in a solid after-work crowd. It is not surprising that people are gravitating to the Ale House, with people like Jimmy at the helm. Like many other Irishmen, Jimmy grew up working in a bar. He had his first job filling pints at the age of seventeen. He went on to reminisce how “There were no cocktails – just pints, " but then stated, "It’s changing all the time. ” He told me how at Crompton he is serving local and seasonal beers, in order to keep up with what people are drinking. He was especially proud of the special beer of the house, Crompton Ale, an IPA from upstate New York. According to Jimmy, however, the real reason for the bar’s early success is “the standard of service and the quality of food. ”

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The Smith

Having grown up in Manhattan, Jeffrey Lefcourt knew the area well. Having been around restaurants since his summers as a busboy in high school, he also knew the industry well. Therefore, when he decided to open The Smith in 2007, a venture preceded by his founding of the restaurant Jane in 2001, he knew what he wanted. “It had to be accessible with high-quality food, ” Jeff reasoned. Nine years later he was onto his fourth location, this time in Nomad, on Broadway with an entrance on a side street. When I visited on a casual Wednesday afternoon in the summer of 2016, just months after its opening, the three-hundred-seat restaurant was nearly at capacity. “It’s really become an amenity for the neighborhood, ” Jeff explained, comparing the timelessness of his establishments to a favorite pair of blue jeans. He later showed me that the new location was already the eighth most-booked New York City restaurant on Open Table. Numbers one and two? The Smith - Lincoln Center and The Smith - Midtown. The Nomad crowd was embracing a comfortable and classic ambience set by the wooden-slabbed ceiling, black-and-white mosaic patterned floor, and sunlight pouring through the wide-opened doors, accented to peak brightness by custom light fixtures. There is a massive bar shelving one of the largest alcohol collections I have seen, with another one intimately situated in a private room reserved for special festivities. Downstairs, there is a photo booth awaiting guests wanting to document their experience with friends or family. In the kitchen, the fires burned high, tantalizing scents fumed, and the large staff was motivated by a booming voice that reverberated orders as they came through. “Fish sandwich at the bar with French fries, ” said the man behind the voice as the cooks kept to their rhythm, each invested in the plates that would soon walk out the door. “It takes a lot of people, ” Jeff smiled. Nearly everything on the menu is made from scratch, and the French fries alone require hours and hours of peeling, cutting and frying to have them just right. Admittedly Jeff’s favorite item on the menu, this crispy side accompanies the Burger Royale, a double patty burger so beloved in Nomad that it was introduced to all locations. The facial expression of our photographer, Tom, once he took his first bite said it all. The vegetarian Vegetable Bibimbap, the vibrant Seared Tuna Salad, and The Royale, an illustrious triple-tiered raw bar platter, each stand on their own. Plated on a bed of charred corn with summer greens, the Mahi Mahi offers refreshing seasonality in the summertime, and the spoonable, skillet roasted Mac and Cheese starter garners the most circulation on Instagram. A standout from the bar was the Moscow Mule on tap. The successes of The Smith restaurants lie not only in their inviting environments, complimentary purified water, drinks on tap, or comforting cuisine sourced from local farmers and fishermen, but also in their commitment to authentic service. “The Smith is a maker. We are making experiences, ” Jeff reinforced, “…It is all about giving people what they are looking for and connecting with them. ” When guests were upset that the winter salad did not make it onto the springtime menu, a slightly tweaked seasonal version was added. The adjustment became so popular that Jeff was afraid to take it off the menu. It is exactly that adaptability that enables the affable owner to perform his favorite part of the job each day - “making people smile. ”