On The Town
by Leslie Pariseau, Paper magazine contributor, 12/14/2010
20 Prince St., NoLIta, Manhattan
1534 is the kind of place you end up at 2am and randomly run into your ex, your LES dive bartender or that cute chick you saw at a show last week. It's also the kind of place where you begin the night and unexpectedly end it because you drank three mezcal cocktails and never left. It's a crossroads in the middle of NoLIta, perfect for post-dinner debauchery or cocktail hour philandering. It's underground, under the radar and just quiet enough that you can grab a booth for a group (or an à deux). The menu is divided into Americas, AOF (Afrique Occidentale Française) and Asia (Indochine France) following its above-ground colonizer, Jacques. The Colonial Holiday is a French Caribbean take on tiki with apple brandy, East India sherry, demerara syrup, Velvet Falernum and fresh lime atop which coffee grounds swirl aromatically. The Bang the Drum is a play on the Old Fashioned with Cognac, Amaro and spiced syrup while the Laotian Blossom plays around with vodka, hibiscus syrup, lime, orange and basil leaves—both well-matched for a round of spring rolls and pork ribs. Whether you arrive early or late, it's worth sticking around to see if someone will order a punch service for the table poured out of repurposed modern style absinthe fountains. The drip may go slowly, but it goes to one's head quickly, and hopefully your ex, your bartender or the tall, dark stranger your just met at the bar is paying.
Mary Queen of Scots
115 Allen St., 212-460-0915, Lower East Side, Manhattan
They say at Mary Queen of Scots' execution, it took two blows to behead her—by some accounts, three. And then her wig fell off. At Mary's whimsically Baroque LES namesake, one drink will be enough to reel you in; a second enough to feel like a regular; and a third, by some accounts, enough to lose your own little coconut. Luckily, any sort of crowning accoutrements you've donned can be kept in place. A warm and colorful dungeon, Mary Queen of Scots is gorgeous, but not haughty (much like we've heard about Mary herself). Tartan embellishments are countered with spray paint; golden flowers grow out of booths and a cage separates the diners in back from bar guests ordering Scotch-laden cocktails like the classic Blood and Sand (Glenlivet 12 year, sweet vermouth, Cherry Heering, orange juice and a flamed orange peel). Late one eve, a group ordered fried brussel sprouts and Cognac sazeracs as advised by a Western clad barman with fantastic hair. A round of Amaro came next and curry fries, the likes of which the Queen never tasted, but most definitely would have dug. As the crowd ebbed and cocktail glasses were cleared, a fedora clad barfly leaned back to peer into the gilded mirror ceiling. Delighted by the shimmering view, she leaned a bit further and her hat tumbled onto the floor—just as the bartender queried, "Time for round three?"
839 Sixth Ave., 212-600-7150, Chelsea, Manhattan
At first, Bar Basque appears as if it might be a miss—mid-'90s-space-tunnel-vibe meets midtown lounge music is never terribly promising. However, upon following the red airportish walkway past serious personnel stationed at every corner and through a room of low slung couches, Bar Basque opens to a barroom full of suited up financial types. Behind those financial types is an illuminated case of self-serve wine taps ripe for the automatic pouring. Stake out a table, wait for a pretty waitress to exchange your credit card for a wine key card and have at the whimsical Enomatic machine. It spits out three pour sizes of nearly 30 wines and flickers delightfully as the pour begins and ends. One evening, musky chorizo and piquant padron pepper smells wafted around guests who thankfully range beyond FiDi guys—out-of-towners likely staying at the Eventi Hotel downstairs gaped at the wine spigots while a woman costumed in a fat suit, exercise clothes and a hiked up purple leotard sipped her glass of white. "What are you?" the waitress inquired. "Camille Toe!" she proclaimed toasting her self-poured albariño in the air and resting her fat suit breasts on the counter. The only inquiry we had was how to tip seeing as we'd been serving ourselves the entire time. Had we a fat suit that night, we might have ordered each pintxo that passed by -- Iberico ham, a pile of Spanish cheese and lovely little ice cream cones—but we stuck to wine and left a nice tip anyway.
The Hurricane Club
360 Park Ave. South, 212-951-7111, Gramercy/Flatiron, Manhattan
A treasure hunt is afoot at The Hurricane Club. It began on opening night with a trail of food celebrities drinking bubbly (White House Chef Sam Kass, the Lee Brothers), and continues each evening with an expedition for shoulder room at the gilded carousel bar or a plush seat overlooking the Park Avenue crowd jostling tailored elbows. Reversely, the search ends with a fold-out cocktail map of sorts. Drinks are mysteriously numbered Tiki-style and flanked by Hawaiian blue monkeys who seem to heckle on a classed-up Jell-O shot with coconut foam (#5, $8) or a cardamom spiced fruit dram delivered in a hand-drilled coconut (#77, $15). Arrangements of pupu platters, poke and suckling pigs appear spontaneously with juicy lacquers shiny as the chandeliers and rock-studded ring fingers reaching for them. Old Hollywood details glisten in every nave surrounding the main cavern—red lanterns, banana piles and potted ferns. The Hurricane Club is aggressively lush. But this is New York, not LA, and there's little time for wistfulness—there are Jell-O shots to be had.
The Lambs Club
132 W. 44th St., 212-997-5262, Midtown, Manhattan
The Chatwal may not be a little girl's dream hotel (The Plaza is more likely), but with a lobby bar decked in red deco sofas, shimmering powder room floors (à la UES sidewalks), Petraske cocktails and a fireplace the size of a medieval hearth, it will most certainly do for a grown-up girl. Bouncing toward The Lamb's Club bar after discovering the massive compilation of Duraflame logs throwing heat into a posh red and black dining room, one such girl was greeted with a gin cocktail and the guayabera'ed Sasha Petraske himself. "You feel like Eloise, don't you?" he smirked. Swinging her legs over the barstool across from a pretty barkeep, she sipped the Hays Fizz ($18, gin, lemon, sugar, soda and absinthe) through a straw and watched guests traipse upstairs to the oversized lounge bar. Forkfuls of calamari tucked into an origami napkin were alternated with spoonfuls of lemon meringue tart, tips artfully bruised with oven burnish. One cocktail later—the Lambs Cup this time—she finished the meringue and made friends with Jane the bartender, Giovanni the bar back, Sasha the owner and several bar guests. As the night wore on, red-lipped Jane shook many more fizzes and Giovanni left for home in his white coat. The post-theater restaurant crowds dwindled, departed hand in hand and the Duraflames died down. With a final sip and swaying barstool descent, the girl shut down the bar that evening and returned the next to do the same. If Eloise had grown up, she'd have been a barfly here, too.
The Whiskey Brooklyn
44 Berry St., 718-387-8444, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
"This place feels like Meatpacking," a woman's voice said as she descended into The Whiskey Brooklyn's massive subterranean hollow. When she emerged below seven massive televisions hulked above the bar glowing with the Yankees' blazingly white uniforms, "Except in Williamsburg," she finished. The Whiskey does a feel a bit like lower Manhattan's 14th Street community with waitresses in tight black tops cooing to customers tucked into clubbish banquettes and dudes in polo shirts taking shots. It's hard to imagine why so many screens are required within mere inches of one another, but once the World Series starts, it'll definitely be the hood's new rallying bar. Shuffle board, arcade games and a stripper pole occupy those who have no interest in the 80-some whiskeys lining the bar, and the 80-some whiskeys occupy those who enjoy trying to talk about the nuances of Islay and Speyside over a gaggle of girls doing pickle backs (a shot of whiskey chased by a shot of pickle juice) and the gaggle of girls serving them. The Whiskey, however, is less a place to compare bourbons and barrel aging than a bar in which to consider the curious yet endlessly amusing combination of foosball, unisex bathrooms, pickle juice and seven Derek Jeters dancing above the bar.
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