On the Town
by Donhae Koo, Paper magazine contributor, 03/24/2010
110 Avenue A, 212-614-9798, East Village, Manhattan
We're hoping most of you aren't in the market for a kidney or a "Gucchi" monogram bag. So it's a good thing that the East Village's new Black Market deals less in organs and tacky accessories, and more in mixologized cocktails alongside simple, but luxe eats. Johnny T of Niagara and Bowery Electric has quietly opened his latest venture in a perpetually shuttered storefront on Avenue A but the shady vibe ends there. Black leather tufted banquettes, deep purple walls, and antique chandeliers strike a look that's decidedly more swanky than a rat-infested alleyway. The cocktail menu, crafted by Hotel Delmano's trusted Sam Anderson, features the tart but smooth Ring of Fire cocktail (fresh lemon, yellow Chartreuse, rosemary-infused cachaça, with elderwood-smoked salt), and the 'yer Blues (fresh lime, peppercorn syrup, silver tequila, cucumber) which satisfies a margarita craving with extra class. Just as well thought-out is the food—or at least the Pat La Frieda cheeseburger. At a very reasonable $11, the burger, while not to be missed, is sized accordingly. Oysters, a tuna roll (think lobster roll minus the lobster), and a seasonal salad round out the short but concise menu, with nary a kidney or liver—human or not—to be found.
201 E. 24th St., Gramercy, Manhattan
Knee-high snow drifts, murky slush puddles, and the inability of all but a few to wear five-inch stilettos on ice, has most of us booking cruises to tropical isles or at least staring longingly at a desktop wallpaper picture of them. Those who come from hardier stock, however, celebrate the season with weekly jaunts to Coney Island for bone-chilling dips into the Atlantic, and for these slightly touched-in-the-head folks there's the Marcel Hotel's new Polar Lounge. The metallic silver walls, snowy white couches, and fierce-looking painting of a polar bear in mid-roar create the vibe of a futuristic Arctic den. The see and be scene will appreciate the stage-like seating in the center of the room, but Polar is all about its nooks. Booths line its perimeter and even more intimate "caves" hidden away in back allow you the freedom to do whatever it is people do behind sheer curtains. A cool $350 minimum buys you a reservation for one of the three private caves, but Polar's drink prices are equipped to help, with cocktails at $17, Polar Pitchers (cocktails in bulk) at $85, and bottles of champagne ranging from $155 to $625. We recommend you stay on theme with the Endurance cocktail, named for the doomed ship that met its match in the ice of the Antarctic seas. Combining rye whiskey, Meyer lemon puree and honey water, the Endurance is Polar's take on the Old-Fashioned, winkingly topped off with a floating glacier.
121 St. Mark's Place, 212-533-4467, East Village, Manhattan
We all experience it at some point in our lives: Who am I? Why am I here? What gives my life meaning? Oh, the angst and torment of the existential struggle. But isn't it kind of comforting to know that bars go through it, too? Case in point: the Belgian Room. The recently re-opened spot started as the Belgian Room, tried a Latin theme on for size for a month or few, and ultimately realized it had to go back to its roots. A coming-of-age story if I ever heard one. But the identity crisis doesn't seem to be over yet. The drunken monk statuettes and beer signs galore give the front a more casual pub feel in front (as does a digital jukebox with ads involving scantily clad ladies), but once you make your way to the back, unexpectedly bouncy white banquettes, framed vintage beer ads, and sleek wood panels create a decidedly lounge-y atmosphere. Fortunately, the one thing the Belgian Room seems absolutely sure about is its beer. Its mile-long list of Belgian bottles on offer is the bar's showpiece, and its tap with Delirium Tremens ($9) and Maudite from Unibroue (pronounced "unibrow," $7) isn't half shabby. And $2 off all beers until 8pm should help you figure out exactly what you're doing there, if not the meaning of life.
97 Atlantic Avenue, 718-488-0048, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn
Move over, Brooklyn Inn and Manhattan Inn, there's another bar-confusingly-called-an-inn in town. Roebling Inn, the latest venture from the folks behind the Magician, WCOU Radio, and Brooklyn Inn, straddles the border between Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill and seems destined to become the laidback neighborhood hangout for both. Along with its name and an old-timey dark wood bar, Roebling Inn is a bit of a nod to its sister inn-bar. But the similarities to Brooklyn Inn end once you trade in the pool table and nostalgia for darts, flat screens, and local food and drink. Tap selections come from upstate breweries like Ommegang and Keegan Ales, and from breweries a little closer to home, including Kelso and Sixpoint. Even the bar grub hasn't traveled very far, with tasty meat pies from Down Under Bakery in Red Hook and Amish-made soft pretzels. And though we wouldn't recommend taking the bar's name to heart by catching some barstool zzz's, be sure to raise a glass to John Roebling, the man who brought us our beauty of a suspension bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, and now a homey namesake bar.
The Norry Bar at Kampuchea
78 Rivington St., 212-529-3901, Lower East Side, Manhattan
The Norry Bar, an Asian-inflected gastropub, is the recent addition to chef-owner Rautha Chaupoly's newly redone Kampuchea on the Lower East Side. Named for the homemade bamboo trains that resourceful Cambodians use when the single daily train between Phnom Penh and Battambang, the space has a subway-station feel with arched ceilings of white tile. Cheerful green walls and a mix of light/dark, rough-hewn/polished woods make the bar warm and inviting (and decidedly un-subway-like). We recommend seasonal selections like a pint of St. Bernardus Christmas Ale ($10) or the nondenominational but weather appropriate Phnom Penh Hot Punch (hot cider, cinnamon tea, rum, Courvoisier, Cointreau, almond syrup, agave nectar; $12). The 3 Cabooses ($30), a flight of 3 cocktails that rotates daily, is a great way to sample concoctions like the Norry (lemongrass-infused Maker's Mark, fig puree, honey syrup, lemon juice; $14) and the Cantaloupe Ginger (ginger, cantaloupe puree, cachaça, maraschino liqueur, lime juice; $12). Tempting edibles include small plates like fried chicken with spiced fleur de sel ($10), and numpang sandwiches like oxtail with tamarind and honey (served with sweet potato fries and pickles; $13).
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