Another great bar from the Hell's Kitchen Hospitality Group, the Jolly Monk, opened during the summer of 2014. When their marketer, Maria Gee, invited me to come by, I was more than happy to check out the company's latest venture. Although their address is on Ninth and the large picture windows open onto the avenue, I quickly discovered a side entrance. Paying homage to Belgium, the menu, the beer selection and even the colors of the interior reflect the country. There are four rotating beers on tap each week and TVs strategically placed around the room.
While visiting, the Manhattan Sideways team sampled the waffle sliders - three petite burgers served open-faced with onion jam and blue cheese, a bowl with different variations of mussels, and always a favorite, Belgian fries with six dipping sauces. Following this, everyone tasted the Lieger Waffle, a decadent dessert with whipped cream and berries on top.
Upon entering the Palm, one can tell it lives and breathes New York. Whether it is the famous caricatures on the walls, the rich mahogany leather high chairs, the sizzling steaks or the unmistakable din of a successful New York City restaurant, the Palm has each and every trait of a staple. It is a restaurant where tradition is paramount and regulars are treated like family.Opened by Italian immigrants Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi on the east side in 1926, the restaurant has been family-owned from its inception. Surprisingly, the Palm began as somewhat of an accident. Bozzi and Ganzi intended to call their traditional Italian restaurant La Parma but, with their thick Italian accents, the city licensing clerk misunderstood. And so, the restaurant's name – and trademark – was born. The original location, on Second Avenue at 45th Street, served as a lunch and dinner club for members of the city's newspapers, whose offices were located within a few blocks of the restaurant. It was here that my husband first discovered the Palm some forty years ago with his college roommate. He recalls how the mustachioed maître d' took no names but remembered everyone in order, and being excited by seeing the fight promoter, Don King, at the very next table. Ever since, my husband has revered the Palm, particularly the softball-sized juicy filet mignons served charred on the outside and perfect-to-order on the inside.Four generations after Bozzi and Ganzi opened their restaurant, most of the Palm's traditions remain intact. The West 50th Street setting is true to the Palm's roots. Hospitality and consistency of service and quality of food is the mantra the Palm lives by, according to General Manager Richard Hammel. And while the city, and especially the neighborhood surrounding the restaurant, rapidly changes, the Palm serves as a reminder that tradition still sells. As Hammel said, "Hospitality knows no age."When Lucy and Casey, two members of the Manhattan Sideways team, visited The Palm in November 2016, they had the pleasure of taking a tour with Robert, the restaurant’s hospitable and enthusiastic sales manager. He explained that the crowd is a mix of businesspeople, theatergoers, and families. Celebrities, politicians, and sports figures, many of whom are featured in The Palm’s constantly expanding collection of wall caricatures, can also regularly be spotted in one of The Palm’s dining rooms. (In the past, there was a "sing for your supper" policy - an artist could enjoy a free meal by drawing a portrait for the wall). When Robert first started working at the Palm three years ago, nobody wanted their faces on the back wall. Then, Robert added Hugh Jackman, who was performing in “The River” across the street, and the back wall suddenly became the spot to be for Broadway actors. Now, “Robert’s Wall” is filled with the caricatures of Broadway’s stars and their autographs. The Palm’s walls feature famous people alongside lesser-known faces and, in Robert’s words, “people we just love.” If there’s a signature under a caricature, you know that person has visited The Palm.The Palm is all about loyalty. An estimated forty percent of its customers are return guests, according to Hammel, in part because of the 837 Club, the loyalty club that provides guests with points for dining there. But while regulars provide a large chunk of its business, there has been a surge of younger guests and tourists in the past few years. This is partly due to the new specialty drink and cocktail menu, intended to shake things up and diversify the clientele. Even Hammel admitted: "the Palm is still a men's club at times." But the Palm is not afraid to adapt to changing times and, as Hammel said, "consistency and staying the same are different."While the photographer was taking shots of the restaurant and the food, I also struck up an endearing conversation with Armando, a waiter who has been working at the Palm since this location's opening in 1989. He was standing below a caricature of Sarah Jessica Parker. A swirly cursive note next to her face read: "Just simply the only place for 'the folks.' Much love and luck. SJP."
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.
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.
Velvet the color of cranberries glides across the chairs and banquettes, and a red carpet leads to a prodigious portrait of the illustrious Lillie Langtry. A tribute to this quintessential celebrity, Lillie's Victorian Establishment is a restaurant and bar that rewinds time. Genuine photos, antiques, and political cartoons line the walls highlighted by stained glass from Milan, a four-hundred-year-old clock, and decorative carvings from Ireland. This historic collection commemorates the life of Lillie, an actress from the British Isle of Jersey who came to New York in the late nineteenth century to become a Broadway star.
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.
On a bright afternoon, I gazed through the windows and marveled at this fairly new restaurant. I was enchanted by the decor and had a sense that this was going to be special. I made reservations for four on a weekend evening and had not only a fabulous meal, but also an overall enjoyable experience. White brick, black chairs, and a glowing wooden bar make stepping into Bea feel a bit like going back in time. The dining room features an upright piano and a projector showing black-and-white movies on the wall. Ranging from spinach tagliatelle to pork dumplings, the menu has a variety of dishes, and our group tried many of them. Beginning with tomato soup and the house made ricotta served on toasted bread with rosemary honey and sea salt, we moved on to a pear salad, the spicy lamb meatballs, a mushroom pizza, the English muffin burger and the steak and tomatoes. Enough for everyone to indulge and to walk away feeling very satisfied and ready to be entertained by the outstanding performance, Satchmo, in the Westside Theatre next door. By the time we were leaving, the bar scene had picked up considerably, as many were ordering Bea's playfully named specialty cocktails, such as the "Lavender Monk” and the "Bitter Duchess.” There is no doubt that this is a restaurant that I will tell many about and continue to frequent myself.
When we ate at his restaurant during the summer of 2014, Vice Versa co-owner Franco Lazzari offered his advice. "If you don't like competition, don't open a restaurant in Manhattan." This attitude towards the New York restaurant scene, one shared by fellow owner and chef Stefano Terzi, is precisely what has allowed Vice Versa to survive, grow, and thrive in the fifteen years since its inception. When the Italian restaurant first opened in 1999, its out-of-the-way West Side block was entirely populated by old-world French restaurants, most of which the men told me had been in the neighborhood for forty years or more. With its sleek interior, full bar, and contemporary Italian cuisine, Vice Versa was something entirely new - and even seemingly, they felt, out of place in its side street location in the midst of Hell's Kitchen.In retrospect, it is clear that the restaurant was not an anomaly, but a herald of coming change. "We were pioneers," Stefano told me. The neighborhood has grown to meet its forward-thinking denizens; today, only one of the French restaurants (Tout Va Bien) is still in business, and the block is dotted with restaurants serving everything from Japanese to South African cuisine.Ironically, Vice Versa is now one of the more established restaurants on the block, thanks almost entirely to word-of-mouth recommendations and a loyal customer base. In the 90-degree weather, it was a relief to sink into one of Vice Versa's tables and peruse the menu. I did wander outside to their lovely patio for a moment. Complete with ivy-covered stucco walls, tea lights, and white umbrellas, it felt like stepping into a small piece of Italy, but just for a moment on this rather warm afternoon.Rather than ordering off the menu, I asked Stefano to surprise us. The members of the Manhattan Sideways team were treated to an excellent meal of banzino (sea bass) with olives, cherry tomatoes, and oregano, and very large sea scallops, cooked to perfection and set alongside a roasted lemon over escarole. We were started off with three different types of pasta - casoncelli, stuffed with veal, amaretto cookies, raisins, sage, pancetta and parmesan; garganelli, red beet pasta coils with alfredo sauce, roast prosciutto, and green peas; and a simple seafood-stuffed ravioli. Blending a wide variety of ingredients and flavors for a subtle and delicious eating experience, the team was simply delighted.After lunch, I chatted with Franco and Stefano over coffee, biscotti, and a pistachio cake with raspberry sauce. Both men are transplants to New York: Stefano grew up in Bergamo, Italy, while Franco was born and raised in Bologna. He came to the United States in his twenties planning on staying no more than a year. Twenty-six years later, he says that not a day goes by that he regrets his decision. Other than their shared national origin, the two told me that they could not be more different. Stefano grew up loving to cook; Franco's grandmother made food for the family, and he admits that he never took an interest in her cooking. Franco is small, with short grey hair, glasses, and a perpetual white suit. Stefano is taller, with a Dali mustache; he speaks slower and with a heavier accent than his counterpart.From my perspective, the differences between the two men are precisely what has allowed them to succeed as partners. Despite Franco's lack of interest in cooking, he loves to eat, and "makes a great critic," according to Stefano. Franco runs the business side of the restaurant, while Stefano's domain is the kitchen. The respective roles have evidently worked well for the pair - they met working at the well regarded San Domenico (now closed), where Franco ran the front of the house and Stefano was chef de cuisine.Vice Versa presents a modern take on traditional Italian ingredients, which are imported from Italy as often as possible, through many local suppliers. The pastas are made from semolina, "which is a good thing for pasta, and for people," Stefano said wryly, referencing the current gluten-free trend.In the last fifteen years, Stefano, Franco and their restaurant have grown and changed along with the city. "We went through two major events in New York, 9/11 and 2008," said Franco. "On September 11, emotionally the world changed, and the 2008 financial crisis certainly changed New Yorkers' way of spending." The goal now," Stefano explained, "is to spend well your money." The survival and continued success of Vice Versa is testament to its customers' ability to do just that.