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Where to treat my awesome friend to drinks/dinner?

I've only worked in the city since the middle of January and I'm still learning my way around, so I still need some serious help... Tomorrow is my chance to treat my friend to drinks and dinner - not only is her birthday approaching, but she's also well deserving of a fabulous night out for many other reasons.

I'd like to bring her to a restaurant that has a lively bar scene as well as great dining. Maybe a drink at the bar and then a table for dinner? We're both single, mid-30's and appreciate an interesting, diverse and hip crowd (not too trendy). Prefer a destination not overly sophisticated, but definitely nicer than a gastropub. Best if we don't need a reservation. Any cuisine except for Asian, and no steakhouses. I was thinking small plates or tapas could be nice.

I've not dined out enough to know many restaurants, so I can share what I do know... I enjoy Casa Mono but it's too small, I think Balthazar is vastly overrated, Blue Ribbon seems a little too quiet/casual. My favorite restaurant experiences lately have been in Brooklyn (Frankie's 457 and Bocca Lupo). Aiming for maxing out at $15 apps / $27-$30 entrees.

Alternatively, we could stop at a great bar and then walk nearby for dinner. I was thinking about a place like Employees Only, for example, but don't want to eat there.

Suggestions?

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  1. Maybe Otto? Not small plates but a great, bustling bar area, and the food is made for sharing.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Lucia

      Second Otto, also suggest Boqueria.

    2. You might like Red Cat, on 10th near 25th; or Five Points, on Mercer bet. Bway and Lafayette.

      1. Since you didn't mention your preference of location, here are a few places that will fit with your requirements:

        - The bar room at the Modern (not sure if it will be "too trendy")
        - Maze at the London Hotel by Gordon Ramsay
        - Perry St for contemporary French
        - Suba for contemporary spanish tapas

        All these restaurants have their own websites and online menus, so you can do a preview and decide which one appeals to you the most.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kobetobiko

          Bar Room at the Modern would be a great fit. I think the drinks and energy at Alta are a perfect fit for most any young occasion. Rayuela or Stanton Social should also be options on the LES.

        2. thanks to all the responses so far. I was curious about Maze and Perry St - wasn't sure Perry St. had a bar scene, but glad for the recommendation and I will check it out.

          Location doesn't really matter, it's all about the experience.

          Feel free to keep 'em coming!

          1. Here's what looks most interesting to me so far:

            Rayuela
            Alta
            Stanton Social

            Still thinking about Employees Only - is the food any good?

            Maybe Freeman's but a little too comfort food-ish

            Any new recommendations based on this feedback? Maze and Modern might be a little too upscale for a relaxing night...

            2 Replies
            1. re: MB fka MB

              I loved Alta (although I've only been once). I have not been to Stanton Social and while I hear it's a lot of fun, I'm pretty sure you need a reservation.

              1. re: MB fka MB

                I thought you didn't want to eat at Employees Only. Personally I love the food there, though I do find it more "loud" than "energetic."