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Oct 7, 1999 10:54 PM

A Visitor's Plea for Help

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This is a little like cheating on your homework, but I could really use some help from those familiar with New York. My wife and I are traveling to New York (our first time)in December with two other couples (they go occassionally) We're all in our mid 30s and are looking forward to a special weekend. Somehow, I drew the assignment of coming up with some restaurants and bars that will give us Midwesterners a true "taste of New York" I've seen some good restaurant recommendations on this site (but am open to others!) but can anyone recommend some bars with special ambiance and atmosphere that would give us a sense of the "real" New York? We're going to the opera one night, a matinee show at the theater one day, and will probably look to find some live music (local rock /jazz/blues)on the third day. Any "package" suggestions for complementary food and drink would be greatly appreciated. If I get an "A" I'll certainly site my sources and give you all the credit!

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  1. Real New York? There are a lot of versions of that in my book: hotdog and falafel stands, a great pastrami on rye, careening down Broadway in a cab.. that sort of thing. You are going to get a lot of opinions on this one, so one might as well be mine:
    Deli: Katz's on the corner of Houston Street and Ludlow. Go there for your pastrami on rye. Tip the slicer, you'll be glad you did.
    Opera Night Dinner: I'm guessing Lincoln Center so call now and try to get into Picholine, Terrance Brennan's place on 64th Street. Go for the wild mushroom and duck risotto, the sheeps milk gnocchi, the crispy sweetbreads. Go for Fromagier Max's cheese selections.
    Theatre Night: Oh no. Times Square, if you're going Broadway. Why not try one of the great off-Broadway venues for something really New York? Check out what's playing at the Lucille Lortel, Playwrights Horizons, Atlantic Theatre Co. (it will be something by Mamet this year), Public Theatre, Samuel Beckett Theatre, etc. You'll have a real New York crowd, see something un-Disneyfied, and probably be in a better eating neighborhood. (and you'll save a few bucks, too)
    I'd also suggest you check out Chinatown - lots of tips on where to eat in these pages. Get some cheese at Murrays, some bread at Zitos (next door to eachother on Bleecker Street), then walk over to Washington Square Park and watch the dog run and have a picnic.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Liza
      Jessica Shatan

      WHOA, just as you would advise someone to avoid the Disney-fied Times Sq. and Bway shows, I urge you to avoid the music scene/nightlife of Bleecker St. which has gotten very touristy and has mostly lame cover bands. I see a lot of local live music and it is NOT there.
      Here's what I would suggest for the live local music night: Check out "Baby Jupiter's" on the corner of Orchard and Stanton... they have good live music and southern food. No cover but they pass the hat. The food is very inconsistent so be careful, one night it was great, another night it was bad. The BBQ chix and the salmon seem to be good. Avoid the specials. Once you are at Baby Jupiter's you are at ground zero for a very NYC area. You are just a couple block from Katz's Deli at E. Houston and Ludlow, so you could just eat there (see one of the previous posts...they are open at dinnertime and even serve beer). Just 1/2 block east of Katz's is "The Mercury Lounge" at 217 E. Houston where they have some bigger acts than Baby Jupiter's. A lot of just signed, about to be signed, or solo versions of famous acts are here. The sound system is great, it's free to go in the bar (most of the time) and a cover ($8 to 20 depending on the act with an average of $12) to go into the music room in the back. You can't miss with this place or it's sister venue The Bowery Ballroom at 9 Delancy St. which is more like a club than a little bar, has bigger acts than Mercury and may require advance tkts. Buy Time Out NY or pick up the Village Voice and see what you might like at either of these places. If you go to The Bowery Ballroom, you are not far from Bistro Margot on either Prince or Spring, I can't recall, a very NY French cute little bistro, where you don't need a reservation. And on nearby Elizabeth St. you can try for a table at Rialto or M&R Bar, two lively, slightly upscale restaurants that to me, are very NY.
      Also while at The Mercury/Katz's/Baby Jupiter's area check out The Living Room for more free music on Stanton St. and pretty good desserts/coffee/tea (and full bar), or Arlene Grocery another live music bar with no cover also on Stanton (yes, it's a grocery store that was converted to a little bar/club). On Ludlow betw. Stanton and Houston is Luna, yet another live music/no cover bar, and across from Luna is The Pink Pony a quiet coffee shop with pool and *really* good desserts, duck in here for warm pie witrh Haggen Dazs ice cream and good coffee when the decibels are getting to you. Or go to Motor City for a break from all the music, this is a neat bar with a Detroit/car theme and delicious ginger ale (a specialty) as well as a full bar on Ludlow betw. Stanton and Rivington. It's usually not too crowded and the music isn't too, too loud. BRING ID to all these places, they card like crazy no matter your age, sometimes.
      Another thing that can be fun is to try a polish restaurant like Kiev (6th/2nd Ave.?), Veselka (9th/2nd Ave.?) or KK (definitly 12th St. and 1st ave) and be sure to get assorted (meat, cheese, or saurkraut/mushroom little dumplings) fried pierogis with sour cream and onion on the side. The assortment platters are good too, with pierogi, kielbasa etc. The food is probably the best at KK, but I love the borscht and the desserts at Veselka. These places don't even take reservations and are very cheap. If Kiev and Veselka are crowded, go to KK, it's more popular with polish people than the hipsters that line up at Kiev. From there you are in the East Village. You can pop into The Sidewalk Cafe for some music (no cover but a 1 drink min.) at 6th St. and Ave. A, then stroll down A for some scenic NY to Houston where you can't miss The Mercury Lounge and Katz's on the South side of Houston.
      I love the hotel bars that were recommended earlier so this will give you the other side of NY... the more artsy, less moneyed side. And you can go home and tell people that NY is NOT that expensive!!
      These areas have boutiques that stay open late, too, so it really is fun. Check a map and some NY websites for the area roughly bounded by Ave. A on the east(which becomes something else south of Houston), Elizabeth St/.2nd Ave. on the west, Rivington St. on the south, and St. Marks Pl. at the north.
      Also, re: Bleecker St., if you go to Zito's and Murray's Cheese (this is Bleecker w. of 6th Ave.) you can check out John's Pizza (kind of overrated real NY pizza but still fun) and go next door to Cones for the best argentinian gelato.
      HAVE FUN!!

      1. re: Jessica Shatan

        Thanks for the run down of the Disneyfied les/ev. Don't forget Yaffa Cafe on St. Marks for the OUTRAGREOUS interiors! Are they still dispensing condoms in their "mint" bowl?

        Just kidding. Some of these suggestions are fantastic, I love the Bowery Ballroom. ;-)

        BRING YOUR ID. These places card like mad because these strips are overrun with kids. If you're there on a weekend expect rowdy frat boys and B&T (I suppose they feel they are hanging on the fringe of NYC, so it's acceptable to vomit on one's stoop and urinate around the corner).

        Though this area was once a haven for artists and the like, expect to see more investment bankers, trust fund babies, and stockbrokers. The rents have pushed all but those with lucrative incomes out to Brooklyn and Queens.

        In fact, if you really want the real NYC, you should go to Queens and Brooklyn. Flushing for Chinese and Korean, Ridgewood for German/Bavarian, Jackson Heights for South American (Columbian, Peruvian) and Indian, Woodside for Phillippino (sp?), Atlantic Ave. for Middle Eastern, Corona for Puerto Rican and Italian, Astoria for Greek (cafes especially), Greenpoint for Polish, Brighton Beach for sweet, plump salmon roe.

        What was this city built on but the efforts of immigrants that made it so great, no?

        1. re: David Link
          Jessica Shatan

          The fratboys and B&T folks (i.e. Bridge& Tunnel, but read New Jerseyites) tend to stay on Bleecker at the Village Vanguard, Back Fence, Lion's Den, etc. or on St. Marks Pl, but Ludlow St. is not SO bad. Yeah, there's investment bankers but some of them are artists too and actually have good taste in music (hey, you have to be able to afford the $10 martinis somehow--really they are $10 ay Rialto!!)
          The outer boroughs are a good suggestion for the real thing... but they are only here for a weekend and already have other things planned. Hopefully they will not do this crazy downtown idea of mine on Friday or Sat. night (unless there is some music they really want to see) because there can be a less-than-NY element on those busy nights. Still fun on those nights though esp. if you stay in the Ludlow/Stanton area.
          Also, if your music night out brings you to the west village try place called Bar 55 at 55 Christopher, live free jazz/blues in a tiny bar... and any free jazz is very rare in this town. Or try the Jazz brunch at Sweet Basil's in the w. village... a little touristy but a good deal and they get quality jazz musicians.

          1. re: Jessica Shatan

            Those investment bankers are really hep to Hootie, Daves Matthews, and Live! KIDDING!! :-)

            Sigh...I do love Rialto, but can never justify the $10 martinis...unless you're friends with the bartender.

            And Jessica's suggestions are wonderful for weeknights, the crowds are more genuine about the music, not because it's a hap'nin place to be on a weekend night.

            Since you mentioned jazz, do you have any recommendations for the joints in the Far West 40's? I hear it's one of the only hoods in NYC to get the real thing. I'm not familiar with it at all.


            1. re: David Link
              Jessica Shatan

              LOL, re: Hootie and Dave Matthews--Yikes.
              And yes weeknights are the time to go out. Sometimes I just won't do dinner, movie or music on Fri. or Sat. night and feel like a prisoner in my own city. Small price to pay for living in this town. Or I go out to dinner really early (6) or really late (10) or go in the mood to hang out at the bar for 45 minutes.
              On another tangent why have drinks gotten so (expletive) expensive. I had an $8 Corona the other day, what IS going on???
              Re: jazz--maybe Jim knows about that. I think Birdland moved down to that area. I enjoyed it when it was on the upper upper w. side. And the food is quite good so the cover with dinner and 2 drinks is not bad. And I think they have a bar only cover with 1 or 2 drinks, too.
              So, if Village Gate is gone, then is Village Vanguard in the diss list or not?
              Also, we have gotten off of the food/chow topic, is that OK?!

            2. re: Jessica Shatan

              "Or try the Jazz brunch at Sweet Basil's in the w. village... a little touristy but a good deal and they get quality jazz musicians"

              yes, it is a good band (in fact, I just played a gig with their pianist/leader last night, at the Cajun...unfortunately I made the mistake of eating there, YECH). The Village Vanguard doesn't belong on your diss's a thriving legend, and while legends do attract tourists, it's still The Real Thing.

              Also, David's right about bringing photo place on Ludlow wouldn't admit a 45 year old friend once cuz she had no proof.

              1. re: Jim Leff

                wait a minute...just realized you meant the Village Gate, not the Village Vanguard (which is a few blocks north of bleecker on seventh). The gate's been closed for a few years...another causualty of greedy NYU landlord.


      2. One bar that I would surely get to is The Village Vanguard. It is on 7th Avenue South in Greenwich Village. It is downstairs. The place has been there as a landmark in the history of both New York and Jazz music, forever. Don't go expecting to see the "in" crowd, or drink the best drinks, but if you want invariably good music, ambiance and a taste of "real" New York this is a place not to miss. Conversely, and if you are not on a budget, see if Bobby Short is playing at the Cafe Carlyle on Madison and 76th. This is also "real" N.Y. The prices are high and the place much more elegant, but certainly a real NY treat and tradition.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Michael S

          The Vanguard is no bargain either -- usually at least $20 plus a drink minimum.

        2. A wonderful New York land mark is Bemelen's Bar at the Carlyle Hotel. The wonderful Bemelen scenes are still on the walls. Go at cocktail hour and listen to the wonderful piano player, he can play anything you request and he is a real sweety.

          Another beautiful bar is located at the St. Regis Hotel, great for people watching. If you and your friends feel like splurging, bring big bucks and stay for dinner at Lespinasse in the St. Regis. I would suggest that you make reservations as soon as possible, it is a difficult reservation to obtain.

          Another happening in New York, is the newley opened Russian Tea Room. The reviews are not all in yet, however, New York Magazine gave it a favorable huge article,make reservations well in advance.

          Have fun in New York, the City has much to offer, you will not be sorry if you try any of the places suggested on this board.