Category Archives: Reviews

I used to write restaurant and bar reviews

Bar and restaurant reviews 1997 – 2002

restaurant review — Rachel’s Taqueria

A South Slope taqueria that adds some welcome flavor to the local Tex-Mex dining scene.

There’s certainly no dearth of credible burrito options in the South Slope but why overlook one that puts a fresh spin on a failproof formula? RachelÕs vibrantly muraled, postered, and photo-collaged walls house a generous handful of self-serve tables which flank a long, cafeteria-style counter where massive Campesino-style burritos, ancho-chile-marinated rotisserie chicken and deeply savory barbacoa are assembled right on the spot. Take-out business is brisk, portions are huge, prices are reasonable, and, come fair weather, the festively lit back patio is an intoxicating hideaway for sipping Jarritos or house-made sangria. If you’re a fan of the Seventh Avenue staple La Taqueria, you’ll feel right at home. This place has the same owner. (He named this one after his mother.)

Recommended Dishes
Baja Burrito with Roasted Corn and Carne Asada, $6.95
Napoletana Pizza, $14

(originally published at New York Magazine online)

restaurant review — Black Pearl

A former firehouse is home to some hot-to trot brick oven pizzas.

Admittedly, the lounge-like dŽcor and the electro-groove soundtrack are a bit discordant for a block housing the Park Slope Food Co-Op, Dixon Bicycles, and a yoga studio. So be it. With a menu featuring seafood, brick oven pizza, elaborate foccacias, meats, pastas and a raw bar, Black Pearl is all about diversifying. Sometimes the approach misfires as with a four-seasons pizza that confines each ingredient to a different quadrant but most of the time the kitchen manages to pull of its ambitious juggling act with dishes like grilled salmon over parsley and mint couscous, sausage broccoli rabe focaccia, and a pesto-anchovy pizza. Seating options are likewise plentiful at the former firehouse with main-floor tables, mezzanine booths, and an L-shaped mahogany bar which serves up some decidedly potent cocktails.

Recommended Dishes
Black Pearl Signature Salad, $11
Chips with RachelÕs Salsa, $5.43

(originally published at New York Magazine online)

bar review — Tea Lounge (Union St. location)

This coffee klatch makes a splash with a whole slew of Slope types.

The Setting Behold the power of caffeine! During daylight hours, hangar-esque Tea Lounge’s eclectica of couches is densely populated with an amiable cross-section of Park Slope strollerati mommies, hipster laptop tappers, retirees, backgammon playing tweens, and “underemployed” creative types grateful for a cup of coffee priced kindly enough to buy them an afternoon out of the apartment. Once the kiddies are tucked in, and folks start opting for the shot of Bailey’s or clever house booze ‘n chai concoctions, the mood shimmies down to a low-level pick up tone that might explain how all those strollers end up there.

The Fare Bonhomie isn’t all the Tea Lounge has on tap. The eponymous brews number in the dozens, and the full bar boasts an admirable selection of wines and the harder stuff. Lest patrons risk shredding their stomachs with an all-day regimen of coffee and alcohol, there’s an appealing selection of pastries and toasted sandwiches there to soothe.

(originally published at CitySearch)

restaurant review — Park Avenue Cafe

A forefather of architectural cooking continues to make a mark on the Upper East Side dining scene.

The Setting Back in the 90s, David Burke’s audacious New American creations made a cannonball-sized splash on the Upper East Side. Flash forward a decade and over 50,000 Swordchops later, and the outsized Americana of the venture seems a little passŽ. Charming servers do their best to ameliorate the oddness of supping on a chop while seated under a Kermit cookie jar, but there’s not much dignity one can impart when noosed by an American flag necktie.

The Food Ingredients are ridiculously generous in places–crisp fries luxuriate in decadent pools of truffle mayonnaise, and pepper-sharpened Pastrami Salmon (also trademarked) couples piquantly with caviar-dolloped creme fraiche and dreamy corn blini. Main courses, however, pack their punch in presentation rather than flavor. Double up on appetizers and jump straight to the scrumptious, Calder-esque desserts.

(originally published at CitySearch)

restaurant review — Aureole

An inviting townhouse for top-tier New American dining.

The Scene Aureole is suffused with a warm charm, lending a romantic glow to even the most casual of midday meals. Soft light bathes patrons in silver-screen loveliness, while attentive service satisfies their sense of occasion, no matter if they’re splurging on the tasting menu paired with wines from the oenophile dream list or simply stopping in for the prix-fixe lunch.

The Food Chef Dante Boccuzzi likes food. This should be de facto sentiment for any high-end chef worth his toque, but it’s not until halfway through the appetizers–grilled quail, lent toothsome crunch by a cured pancetta wrap, or sashimi-cut fluke lounging on ruby-red grapefruit–that you realize you’re savoring every inherent flavor rather than cream or oil. Boccuzzi achieves opulence honestly, balancing lively flavors with clever, complementary preparations. Crispy skate in eggless bearnaise and prosciutto-crusted rabbit luxuriate on the palate, while leaving room for blissful, can’t-miss desserts.

(originally published at CitySearch)

restaurant review — Lighthouse Tavern

The Setting There’s something to be said for bars that feel like a friend’s living room – if you’re lucky enough to have friends with 15 well-selected microbrews on tap that is. But if your stated stock in trade is homeiness, you’d better have more to back that up than an uncomfy chaise, and what feels an unfinished suburban rec room. The amiable, everyman, sports-loving clientele of neighborhood folks seems comfy enough in this quasi-pub, but unless you’re already in the Slope, there’s no particular call for schlepping.

The Food Perhaps the joint would be better off excising “and Grill” from its moniker, as it seems to do an adequate job as a neighborhood beer and sports joint. It’s got the trappings in place – several TVs, jukebox, pool table, and eponymous lighthouse doodads behind the bar, but like their supposedly “seasoned” fries and still-frozen-inside chicken wings, it lacks flavor. Order in, grab a sixer and catch the game at home.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Spring Lounge

In the midst of a hipster boom, this old-school pub fares swimmingly.

The Scene Those looking for a chic Nolita evening might suffer a little confusion at the “lounge” designation given to this Spring Street mainstay. But, once they’ve kicked off their Jimmy Choos and settled in with a pint in a cozy corner of this wooden tabled dive, it’d likely be a challenge to pull them away from the low-key bonhomie that’s kept this place in business since Prohibition.

The Draw While the rest of the neighborhood has taken a turn toward the couch ‘n’ candle, this pub has taken few measures to update. The old-man ethos, however, does nothing to deter the swarm of young locals who come to knock back good cheap draft microbrews and chill to the classic tracks on the jukebox.

(originally published at CitySearch)

restaurant review — Waikiki Wally’s

Updated Polynesian cuisine meets faithful tiki kitsch in the East Village.

The Setting The gods have at long last answered the prayers of NYC tiki devotees with a Polynesian outpost that doesn’t miss a trick. An elaborately constructed grass-shack bar, working waterfall, island murals and live cockatoo may convince patrons to peer around for Don Ho (who, in attendance opening night, gave Wally’s his benediction).

The Food The menu immediately allays fears of frozen-pu-pu Polynesian: It offers paper-thin-skinned Kahlua pork rolls and five-spice squid salad atop sweet taro puree. Entrees such as ponzu-marinated salmon and panko-crusted opah are artfully dressed–a thick crust of sesame seeds, tangy orange salad or soft coconut rice smartly accentuates ocean-fresh fish. Traditional libations meet stringent Trader Vic standards, while innovative ingredient updates make Wally’s Downfall and the Tidal Wave welcome additions to the tiki canon.

(originally published at CitySearch)

restaurant review — Moutarde

The Slope’s updated bistro reveals a few spicy twists.

The Setting 5th Avenue – until recently a midday food wasteland – is newly awash in lunchtime options, and peckish Slopers won’t find a more charming option than Moutarde. Parisian bistro chic meets countryside kitsch in a buttery-walled bar and dining room, decked with signature ceramic mustard and spice jars. As sunbeams streaming through the large windows give way to soft sconce lights, the laid-back afternoon mom ‘n freelancer crowd yields to a spicier night scene.

The Food The chef doesn’t shy from flavor either. Francophile lunchtime staples are given a piquant kick with the addition of the house mustard theme. It adds a textured zest to a perfect gruyere-smothered croque monsieur and a light, flavorsome body to vinaigrette dressing. The dinner menu offers artfully re-thought bistro classics, with standouts such as a luscious tuna and salmon tartare kissed with crème fraiche, caviar and hints of mustard oil. The potato and leek gratin accompanying toothsome gigot d’agneau whispers gently of truffle and must be closely guarded from jealous dining companions. The solid steak frites will keep this place in business.

(originally published at CitySearch)

restaurant review — Pink Teacup

The state of soul food is in the pink at this West Village legend.

The Setting Sure, there must be people who suffer from trauma that can only be assuaged by large lashings of foie gras and truffled whatnots. The rest of us, in crisis times, can be found face down in plates of sweet potatoes at The Pink Teacup. Since 1954, the cozy-quartered East Village joint has been serving up solid Southern comfort to plain folks and the slavish celebs whose photos bedeck the warm pink walls.

The Food It’s a hearty soul who can chow through an entire dinner special, and many have been known to toss in the towel after gobbling down the two included sides. Rich mac ‘n cheese and buttery grits may not be kind to the thighs, but they do the heart a world of good. And, after glimpsing a neighboring table’s fried chicken or succulent barbecued pork, most find a way to soldier on. Finish with bread pudding and leave a better person for it.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Tamari

Park Slope lounge serves up specialty sake with Japanese tapas.

The Scene The words soothing, contemplative and reverent probably all pop to mind when envisioning an ideal sake bar; while thoughts of “Bob Marley’s Greatest Hits” and Ikea’s Swedish influence most likely do not. The aforementioned decor and soundtrack issues at Fifth Avenue’s newest cushion-and-candle hang provide for the occasional bit of cultural dissonance, but the spot is certainly not without its other charms.

The Draw After a glass or two of milky Nigori or fragrant Nanburyu, you’re probably not going to be feeling overly fussy about your surroundings. Temper the inevitable sake buzz with a few savory tapas from the kitchen (the marinated fried chicken is worth the trip alone) or make a full meal of the meticulously presented chirashi or rolls. Any residual atmospheric difficulties will just melt away.

(originally published at CitySearch)

restaurant review — Bereket

This Lower East Side Turkish standby is a late-night snack mecca.

The Setting It’s 2 a.m., you’re hanging on the Lower East Side and let’s not mince words here – you’re hammered. And, while we’re being honest – a bumpy cab ride over the Brooklyn Bridge on your gin-sloshed tummy isn’t doing anyone any favors. But where to grab some grub to soak up that excess alcohol? Katz’s is long since closed, and any respectable joint is gonna catch one whiff and send you packing. Oh what’s a hungry drunk to do?

The Food Like a warm, meaty beacon shining throughout the night, Bereket welcomes the tired, the wired, the un-sober and the nearly broke and there are kebabs enough for all. From adana to doner and every chickpea and eggplant spread under the bright Turkish sun, this Houston St. stalwart whips up cheap, savory Middle Eastern standards tasty enough to hold up even during tea-totaling hours. Warning to the gentle-palated: The hot sauce? They mean it.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Keens Steakhouse

A midtown stalwart keen on single-malts and old-school style.

The Setting If you are a very, very good bar patron—always remembering to tip well, bus your table and never sip through the cocktail straw—maybe when you die you’ll get to spend the great hereafter in the bar at Keen’s Steakhouse. Founded in 1885, this small dark-wooded bar is nirvana to a clientele of Old New York romanticists and discerning single-malt enthusiasts. With a selection of over 130 available whiskeys, the question “What’ll you have?” becomes not so much a choice as a challenge. No need for intimidation, though—Keen’s career bartenders skillfully advise novice and expert drinkers alike.

The Mood Save for the occasional televised ballgame or pack of rowdy, post-work stockbrokers waiting for their table at the adjoining restaurant, Keen’s is a warm, peaceful haven from the world’s troubles. Knock back a Knockando, swoon to background Billie Holiday and sup on a sublime prime rib hash from the pub menu. You’ll carry the glow on home.

(originally published at CitySearch)

restaurant review — Long Tan

Young and Lovely

The Setting Loungified Thai hits a previously moribund block of Brooklyn’s 5th Avenue, bringing the neighborhood the reasonably priced late-night date spot it’s been lacking. Long Tan has several distinctly different seating areas — a red banquette and table flanked main hall, secluded back patio, grill-side counter seats or the darkened couch nook, allowing diners to pick their desired level of privacy.

The Food While heat-seeking curry purists might be advised to head Queens-ward in search of more authentic grub, slightly less daring diners can still find much to savor at Long Tan. Call it Romantic Thai, perhaps — flavors are generous, sensuous and occasionally unexpected. Sweet corn and succulent duck peeking through a creamy red curry, a fruity tease of mango wrapped in a delicate crab summer roll, and crispy fish cakes kissed with keffir lime balance beautifully with zesty ginger beer based cocktails. Round the meal out with tangy lemongrass, ginger, mango and coconut sorbets and adjourn to the candle lit front bar for a mellow nightcap.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Emerald Pub

A rock in Soho.

At the Bar Noting the pan-Empire selection on suds on tap, a drinker asked the bartender, “So, is this more of an English pub or an Irish pub?” The young gent flatly replied, “Well, seeing as most of us who work here are Americans, it doesn’t matter that much.” While that sort of non-nationalist insouciance might get your ass kicked in Woodside, if you’re just looking for a quick after-work tipple and burger, does it really make much of a difference?

On Tap Remaining resolutely un-hip has proved the key to the bar’s multi-decade status as a reliable neighborhood watering hole. While other Soho hot spots come and go, the good folks at Emerald Pub sling hearty grub and reasonably priced pints in a friendly, comfortable, if not especially exciting, atmosphere. Carb up and swill your fill, and you won’t have to shell out for nearly as many $14 martinis later in the evening.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Tiki Room

Try tacky, not tiki.

Climate Consider this fair warning: The tiki gods are angered, and it’s in your best interest to be far from West 22nd Street when they rain their wrath upon the hubristically named Tiki Room. Come on, though it’s rarely done perfectly, tiki ain’t that oblique. Mix some oversized Mai Tais, cue up an Ultra-Lounge compilation, sling leis on the staff and everything is wicky-wacky-woo, right? Not so at this night blight, where there’s nary a Navy Grog to be found among the stingily sized and overpriced libations, and the DJ seems to have nabbed his record stash from a bar mitzvah circa 1983.

Population Shrieking wannabe wahines on cell phones and suited-up post-frat monkeys who want to horizontal hula with them. Good luck elbowing your way to the bar–it’s like struggling through spawning salmon.

Sights May Don Ho have mercy on those duped into thinking the 18-foot monstrosity at the end of the bar is a tiki. Kids, it’s a giant screw.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Brazen Head

A bar that taps into Brooklyn’s beer obsession.

The Scene There are a few standard notions of what exactly constitutes a good neighborhood bar. Ideally, it’s got a convivial, comfortable air, friendly bartenders, decent drafts and an eclectic jukebox and a couple of bar snacks. Envy the denizens of the Atlantic Avenue area, because the Brazen Head has all that in spades, plus some truly stellar extras.

The Draw The atmosphere is corner pub updated with Brooklyn small-batch fetishism. Careful touches such as posted keg-change dates and a rotating selection of luscious hand-pulled ales give hops enthusiasts little reason to leave their stools, save for wandering over to tables occasionally laden with Middle Eastern treats. Also worth noting is a solid range of single malts that may leave many Brooklynites wondering why they’d ever again have to board a d.b.a.-bound train.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Donovan’s Pub

A Queens mainstay serves up perfect pints and the king of NYC burgers.

The Setting Mom and Dad are in town, and they want to see where their pride and joy goes to knock back brewskies. It doesn’t seem prudent to haul ‘em to your usual watering hole, where everybody knows your name from chanting it as you slurped up tequila shots from the bartender’s navel. Your best bet? Hop the 7 to Woodside and suck down happy hour suds at family-friendly Donovan’s. The sprawling pub has been pulling pints for Irish locals since your Mum was a wee lass.

The Crowd The parents will take you for a regular when the waitress pats your shoulder and calls you “luv.” If not, maybe Dad will be too busy arguing over the televised ballgame with the greying ex-pats and after-work daiquiri-sipping career girls to notice. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself sneaking back without the folks in tow. Donovan’s also serves up the most sublime burgers in all of NYC.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Marion’s Continental

Whether you’re in the mood for glamour tap or just what’s on tap, swing on over.

The Kicks If ever John Waters should decide to forsake Baltimore for NYC, he’d no doubt frequently be seen camping out at Marion’s Continental. The retro-glitzy East Village mainstay is no stranger to appearances by cocktail-craving celebs, though plenty of other delightful diversions are on the menu. In keeping with the much-mythologized Marion’s of yesteryear, the joint offers entertainment ranging from DJs and fashion shows to the showgirl stylings of the World Famous Pontani Sisters.

The Cocktails The key to Marion’s longstanding success is an earnest commitment to old-school quality. The lounge is home to the rarest of all creatures in NYC nightlife–blindingly gorgeous and genuinely friendly bartenders who mix flawless cocktails. Original standouts such as the Marion and the Suburban, along with perfectly executed classics, make Marion’s a can’t-miss for anyone with a taste for tradition and a craving for campy, chic fun.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Angel’s Share

A veritable cathedral of cocktails where the art of mixology is held in the highest reverence by patrons and bartenders alike.

The Cocktails All conversation ceases as the silent Asian bartender glides over and pours your jewel-like Jack Rose in a perfectly chilled cocktail glass. Angel’s Share sets the standard for old-school cocktails like the Champs Elysee or Sidecar. Have one, and you’re ruined for all other bars.

The Rules A sign posted on the door decrees: No more than 30 people at a time. No standing. No groups of more than four. No shouting.

Finding It Part of the bar’s charm is the feeling that you’ve stumbled into a secret. Take the stairs to the second floor and hang a left past the restaurant. You may have to sit a spell until a seat opens, but the lychee daquiris are well worth it.

Tip Sheet It’s our little secret, ‘kay? Share it only with those you hold dearest–or maybe that cute guy/girl you’ve been dying to impress. To be really in the know–”Angel’s Share” is the term for the small amount of brandy that evaporates during the creation process.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Mike & Tony’s

A seriously skilled and Hollywood charming bartender sets Mike & Tony’s head and shoulders above the rest of the steak-and-cigar-bar pack.

The Vibe While Mike & Tony’s clubby steakhouse trappings seem tailor designed for cigar chomping alpha males, this Park Slope bar is perennially filled with cooing couples basking in the glow of the bar’s hand blown lamps and solidly mixed cocktails.

The Man Behind the Bar While some people may pop by for the tasty porterhouse, the real draw of Mike & Tony’s is Lenny, the bartender. Ever at the ready with a genial smile and a light for your smoke, Lenny has developed a loyal following of convivial Brooklyn locals. A request for a Sidecar won’t send him scrambling for a recipe book and sticky sweet and sour mix. Lenny’s forte is old school cocktails, and anything less than freshly squeezed is a sacrilege.

Tip Sheet Sure, you could get a gin and tonic, but why would you when the bartender’s got a muddler and isn’t afraid to use it? Take a tip from Grandma and opt for an Old Fashioned or a perfectly poured Manhattan.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — O’Connor’s

This friendly Park Slope Irish bar has been pouring pints since long before Prohibition was a gleam in Eliot Ness’s eye.

The Vibe This is not your father’s bar-this is your grandfather’s bar. Heck-it might even have been your great-grandfather’s bar (if he fessed up to his Prohibition whereabouts). Respect your elders and cozy up in one of the wooden booths with a nicely pulled pint that’ll leave you with a chunk of change back from your $5.

The Tunes There’s something for nearly every taste in O’Connor’s impressive music collection. On any given night, the stereo may be spinning back-to-back Buzzcocks, Merle, Dean, Smokey or an Irish indie band you’ve never heard of. The wide range perfectly suits the diverse and convivial clientele who’ve made O’Connor’s their home.

Tip Sheet Check out the schedule regularly for events ranging from chili cook offs to well attended journalist get togethers.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — d.b.a.

This East Village pub pours a wide enough variety of suds to satisfy even the most avid hops hounds.

The Brew Got beer? If you’re hankering for a Hoegaarten or itching to sample a stout, with 19 beers on tap and 150 bottled varieties, DBA has the brew to suit your mood. This East Village stalwart also boasts a serious selection of single malts and enough vintages of vino to satisfy the pickiest oenophile in your posse. One word of warning, though, unless knocking elbows with single malt-swilling yuppies is your idea of a swell night out, restrict your visits to to daylight hours.

The Garden Arrive early to snag a seat in the large, lovely patio-to-gravel-paved garden. Pet the cat, commiserate with all the other blocked-up writers and make sure to conclude your revelries by 10 p.m. The neighbors are known to get testy.

Tip Sheet D.B.A. serves a tasty hangover bagel brunch on Sunday mornings. Pop in for a schmear and a Bloody Mary–it’s good for what, uh, ales you.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bartender review — Dale DeGroff

You’ve never had it stirred, shaken, strained or muddled the way it was meant to be until you’ve sampled one of his divine libations.

The Man One drink from the King of Cocktails and you’re spoiled not just for work the next morning, but for all other bartenders. There’s a reason that Dale DeGroff has such a sterling reputation among drink hounds. During his tenure at the Rainbow Room, Dale spurred on a nationwide beverage revolution by introducing a new generation to revived classics and his own inventions like the Fitzgerald and the South Beach. He’s currently a king without a country—occasionally stepping out to supervise a class, but look for him to reemerge when he’s finished penning his comprehensive history of the cocktail.

The Key His tips for a brilliant mix? The right ice, small bottles of soda, freshly squeezed juices, and appropriately sized glasses.

Tip Sheet Dale specializes in lost pre-prohibition beverages. Opt for one of his signature cobblers or flips and you’ll spend the rest of the night puzzling why they ever fell out of style.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Great Lakes (this was pre-jukebox)

Sometimes, you just don’t feel like getting on the train. Maybe it’s the au pair’s night off, or your leather pants are at the cleaner’s or perhaps tomorrow is your day to work at the co-op. Whatever the reason, on those occasions that the notion of the trans-river schlep seems particularly daunting, if you’re a resident of Park Slope you can take comfort in the fact that now you can nevertheless get suitably sloshed and still make it home in time to watch that night’s rerun of Friends.

Despite the ostensible nod toward the Midwest for design inspiration (do the name, some maps of Lake Michigan and a suspended outboard motor qualify it as a theme bar?) Great Lakes is a Zelig of a bar. This relatively new addition to the current spate of hip shops, bars and restaurants opening on Park Slope’s 5th Avenue offers little in the way of distinguishing characteristics, and one is frequently entirely dependent upon the sparkling personalities and bonsmots of one’s drinking companions to set the tone for the evening. It’s sort of refreshing, actually, to be able to sip fairly sturdy drinks and actually hold a conversation in a bar without fear of withering glances from E.V. fashion slaves or worry that your bartender’s septum jewelry is going to go plopping into your Tom Collins. However, Great Lakes’ patrons rarely ever look as if they Really want to be there. A sea of black-jeaned and somberly sweatered young Slope locals fade cozily into the exposed brick work, and save for the occasional outbreak of intentionally ironic Midwestern dancing, the only thing that tends to stand out about an evening at Great Lakes is the volume at which somewhat disconcerting musical selections tend to be played (When is the last time you left the house hoping you’d get to hear an entire side of Led Zeppelin IV at some point in the evening?).

But really, with generously poured drinks, a friendly staff and a pretention-free clientele, what more can you ask from a neighborhood bar? And hey, you can always use the money you saved on cab fare to buy another round of drinks.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — The Gate

Alfresco suds cool the Slope in the dog days of summer.

The Scene Springtime comes, and young Brooklynites’ thoughts turn to, well, getting it on with other young Brooklynites. Where better than the Gate to while away a balmy evening while chatting up other cute, genial dot-com casualties and sipping a microbrew under the stars? The eponymous gate surrounds a patron-packed patio with tables situated for intimate conversation or observing the endless 5th Avenue tank top and double stroller parade.

The Draw In chillier weather, the inside option isn’t bad shakes either. The gladsome staff are well-versed in the minutiae of the astonishing, seasonal on-tap array and are eager to advise. Single-malt options are seemingly boundless, and the jukebox boasts a good selection of alt and rock classics. Pop in at happy hour, knock back an Old Speckled Hen and watch the world pass by.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Angel – An ascending lounge on the LES.

The Setting Orchard Street’s Angel boasts an impressively high-flying ceiling that would make any church-goer feel right at home. While a trip up the somewhat dauntingly pitched flight of stairs to the back lounge might offer a glimpse of at least one or two of the Commandments being gently eroded, the little loft also reveals a glittering view of the full bar below.

The Scene Angel’s decor verges on the ethereal–with round, canted mirrors rimmed with blue light, long walls stickered with tiny jewels and a DJ booth suspended nearly invisibly above the front entrance–but the staff is right down to earth. Bartenders and waitstaff greet the downtown, black-clad patrons with wide smiles and sturdy, reasonably priced cocktails. With nightly sets of ambient electronica, rock and old-school soul, and enough tucked-away nooks to easily facilitate a quiet tete-a-tete, it’s almost a piece of heaven–Lower East Side style.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — O’Lunney’s Times Square Pub

There’s usually something a little depressing about going out in midtown. Maybe it’s the inescapable and towering specter of commerce reminding you that you have to go to work the next day. Perhaps it’s the $17 sandwiches or the hordes of German tourists dropping more cash on a weekend excursion than you’ll make in the next month, or maybe it’s just the very existence of the WWF Restaurant. Whatever the problem is, O’Lunney’s Times Square Pub is not part of the solution.

Attempting to cash in on the Classic New York cachet of the O’Lunney’s of yore, this new incarnation feels more like Old Tyme New Yorkville in Rudy’s own personal Times Square Disneyland. Sure the bar is Irish — it’s got all the elements, right? Guinness on tap? Check. Celtic carvings around the bar? Check. Traditional Irish fare like Shepherd’s Pie, Corned Beef and Cabbage and, um, mozzarella sticks? Check. Nevertheless, there’s something unsettlingly pre-fab about the whole enterprise — as if the proprietors could just as easily have sent away for the “Rock & Roll Bar Kit” or the “Movie Nostalgia Kit” to outfit the large bi-level space.

The affable and beautifully accented bartender assured me that the spirit of the old O’Lunney’s remained intact despite the several block move from its former location. Same owners, same sign, etc., but somehow the “1996″ next to the artist’s name above the ornately carved bar did little to imbue the place with any sense of the history it was so valiantly trying to evoke.

Not that there’s anything overtly wrong with O’Lunney’s — drinks are solid and reasonably priced, the service is quite friendly and the food, if not particularly inspired, is decent. It just seems a shame in a city full of much more interesting and authentic options (Molly’s, Scratcher and St. Dymphna’s, just to name a few) to settle for something so average. Then who is O’Lunney’s for? While I was having dinner, a middle-aged blonde couple came and perched at the end of the bar. “Is this an Irish bar?” the man asked in a thick German accent. The bartender answered in the affirmative. “Good,” the man said. Ah.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — The Slipper Room

This Orchard Street spot adds a dash of genuine show-biz glitz to the LES bar scene.

The Scene A successful blend of opulence and kitsch, the Slipper Room provides a welcome twist to the odious East Village “yuppies slumming” scene. What sets this glitzy retro lounge apart from the host of other cosmo-slinging, PR-girl-on-cellphone-glutted boites currently dominating Orchard Street is an honest-to-God commitment to quality cabaret.

Center Stage The star of the Slipper Room’s self-proclaimed “Vegas/Victorian” aesthetic is the velvet-curtained, gorgeously gold-trimmed stage itself. The Slipper Room plays host to both local and more widely-known cabaret acts, including Scotty the Blue Bunny and *BOB*, as well as the song stylings of owners Camille and James.

One of New York’s Best Nominated for best trendy spot, the Slipper Room has swiftly earned a dedicated following — which, let’s hope, will assure its existence even after the hordes have marched on to the Next Hot Neighborhood.

Hint The bartender tells us that, on average, at least four or five buxom young ladies per week embrace the burlesque vibe and peel on down to their skivvies.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Lenox Lounge

Take the 2 or 3 train, rather than the A, to a Harlem legend.

The Look The historic Lenox Lounge has emerged from eight months and $600,000 worth of renovations to become, well, pretty much the same bar it’s always been. The changes are more of a face-lift–baring a beautiful tiled floor and mirrors–than a full historical restoration of the oft-filmed Art Deco interior.

The Scene The Lounge is a study in unlikely harmonies. Sweat-shirted locals and earnest college students sip old-man-style cocktails to the gentle din of “Martin” reruns and contemporary R&B jukebox hits at the time-scarred front bar. But as the sunlight fades and the restored fin-bladed light towers bathe the Sunday-best-dressed denizens in full Deco splendor, it’s not hard to imagine the club’s heyday, when Billie Holiday held court in the Zebra Room.

The Next Generation During one recent visit, a young, sleekly-suited child was greeted by the Cab Calloway-elegant host and then ushered, with his parents, into the Zebra Room to catch the buffet and show. With weekend jazz and Monday jam sessions continuing as ever before, the future of the Lenox Lounge seems safely assured.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Barramundi

The nicely sized and fairy-lit garden is a welcome respite from the hordes of Lower East Side trendseekers.

The Outdoors The garden bar is actually a garden–a rarity in the NYC outdoor-drinking scene. Flower-filled and chock-a-block with tabled seating, Barramundi is the ideal spot for sipping a caipirinha expertly prepared by one of the friendliest bartenders in New York City. Stay tuned for the outdoor barbecues–they’ve got a grill and they know how to use it.

Snagging a Seat Stick to weeknight visits so you can actually grab a table and sit without knocking over someone’s caipirinha. Also worth noting–the garden is bolted at 10pm sharp, so be prepared to move your debaucheries forward to the eclectically decorated indoor bar.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Bar 288

Splendor in the afternoon, a raucous party late night.

The Scene Newcomers wonder about the function of the extensive collection of vintage bar crockery serving as focal point of the bar’s decor. The Tom & Jerry, from which 288 derives its nickname, is a warm brown liquor and egg-based Damon Runyon-era cocktail, served but one day around the Yuletide, in bowls and cups such as the ones displayed with obvious pride. Now that you’re in the know, walk in and act like you own the place.

The Draw Rizzo, the resident feline, is undoubtedly the master of the joint. You’ll have to deal with her dipping a curious nose in your drink, but on a lazy afternoon, who cares? At night, the space crowds up quickly with the baseball-cap crowd, but a relaxed 4pm tipple at the long, warm wooden bar often proves to be nothing short of nirvana.

(originally published at CitySearch)

bar review — Metro Grill Roof Garden

A spectacular view of the Empire State Building, which rears a block away like a glass-and-concrete tsunami.

The Setting The Metro Hotel’s roof garden has been well designed, with sturdy decking and comfortable all-weather furniture. Wildflower boxes and pruned hibiscus bushes soften the effect and provide a pleasing contrast to the midtown roofscape. The seating area is comfortably large, providing lots of room to spread out and minimizing disturbance from cell-phone conversations at the next table.

At Your Service Plan to rely on table service for snacks and drinks once you get up there, because the bar itself is tiny and easily overwhelmed. It’s a portable counter of the sort you might find at a small wedding, and although the staff is friendly and good-natured, they sometimes run out of spirits or glasses or both.

A Real Find Once you’ve taken the elevator, have trekked the hallways past the penthouse suites, gym and ice machine and have actually managed to find the rooftop hotel bar, you’re really ready for a drink.

(originally published at CitySearch)