18 June 2011

NYC: Looking East

Why does even a whole week in New York have to fly by so quickly, returning me to the rain of London before I've barely even had time to blog about it? Until this trip, the furthest south I've stayed in New York has been 24th Street and although I did once stay at the W on Lexington Avenue, my hotels and hostels have almost all been west of Broadway. This time, though, my hotel was on East Houston Street, right on the corner between Nolita, the Lower East Side and the East Village (possibly NoHo too), which meant I got to explore plenty of new areas within the city. Here are a few of my favourite new places that are east of Broadway, in approximate order of the time in the day I would visit:

1. Bluebird Coffee Shop (East Village). Bluebird has been on the to-visit list in my NYC Moleskine for quite a while but it always ended up being too far south and east. Happily, it was just across Houston Street from my hotel, this trip, and I made several visits. The espressos and macchiatos were very good and on a sunny morning when the huge windows are open, it is gorgeous to sip and caffeinate on the porch.

2. Think Coffee (NoHo). This is another coffee purveyor I've been meaning to try, having walked past the Mercer Street branch on many occasions. On this trip, I found that the branch on the corner of Bowery and Bleecker was the perfect place to stop for a bagel and a coffee on the way uptown or to the West Village. The coffee was great (and the triple- and even quad-shot coffees sound like heaven) and the bagels were pretty tasty too. Unlike many of the too-hip-to-have-more-than-three-seats coffee bars, there is also plenty of seating at Think.

3. Everyman Espresso (East Village). I wasn't quite sure I was cool enough to drink here and I'm fairly certain I was deducted points for asking for my macchiato to go (some of these coffee bars won't even let you order a macchiato or espresso to go; paper cups ruin the flavour, you see). It was, however, a good macchiato on a fairly quiet stretch of 13th Street. Close enough to Union Square to be very handy, however. I'll just remember to wear my fake tattoos next time.

4. Prune (East Village). Prune is open for lunch and dinner but everyone really goes for the weekend brunch. You can't book and you'll probably have to wait a good 45 minutes but on a sunny day -- and when Bluebird is just down the block -- who cares? As well as more standard brunch fare (pancakes -- or, rather, one large pancake -- with bacon and maple syrup), the menu also contains dishes as varied as spaghetti carbonara and sausages and oysters. Unusually, I didn't order the pancakes (I wanted regular and not Canadian bacon) but opted for the scrambled eggs with bacon, potato rosti and an English muffin, which was delicious and filling. The Prune juice, which actually contains OJ, grapefruit, lemon and lime, is a good alternative for those who can't quite stomach one of the vast number of different bloody marys.

5. Market NYC (Nolita). When it's time for a gentle wander to walk off brunch, Market NYC is a good first port-of-call. It's open from 11-7 pm at the weekend and hosts a huge number of different independent jewellery designers selling their wares in an old church building. It's definitely difficult to narrow down your choices if you only want to buy one or two items. I got a bargain from Delicate Raymond: this gold initial necklace is $48 online but was on sale at Market NYC for just $10. I also bought a lovely purple necklace from a seller whose business card I've lost, unfortunately, which was only $22. Later the same day, I saw a very similar necklace selling in a shop in Williamsburg for closer to $60.

6. Walking over the Williamsburg Bridge (Lower East Side). Another great way to walk off brunch. Not only is the walkway a pretty shade of pink (well, pale red), but you also end up in Williamsburg, funnily enough, which is a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon.

7. Pulino's Pizzeria (Nolita, I think!). This place serves great pizza and is a very fun place to eat or drink of an evening (particularly a warm evening when you can sit at one of the tables outside, if you're lucky), but they also have the whole all-day-dining concept covered thoroughly, with menus for breakfast, lunch, late lunch, dinner, supper, brunch and late lunch as well as cocktails, wine and puddings! We got there at about 9 pm on a Friday night and the place was heaving but we only had to wait about 20 minutes for a table just next to the gorgeous, back-lit bar. I was so full I couldn't manage a pudding but they looked good too. I'll definitely be returning. (I just discovered that Pulino's is a sister restaurant to places like Pastis, Balthazar and Minetta Tavern; I love those places too, so that makes a lot of sense.

8. Spitzer's Corner (Lower East Side). The LES is, of course, heaving on a Saturday night but we managed to get a table at this busy gastropub on Rivington Street (great for people watching). There is a big selection of beers but the wine list suited me fine. They do burgers and also plates of three sliders but my roast chicken was lovely.

9. Peels (East Village). Peels is something of a polymath: rated for its coffee and its cocktails (see #4 in this list), they're also open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serving food with a southern spin. The cocktail bar upstairs feels like the conservatory in someone's plantation house just outside Charleston. My cocktail (the spiced colada mentioned in the Time Out review) wasn't to my taste (a little too creamy and not quite fruity enough) but that's my fault really and I could tell it was very well mixed. The friendly bar tender also gave us a free sample of a drink she was making for someone else, which was very good. Plus, you don't have to deal with the queues or attitude of certain other bars in the area.

10. The Back Room (Lower East Side). Going to the Back Room is a great experience. You enter through a little gate with a sign for the LES Toy Company (you can spot it because there will probably be at least one bouncer outside), then you go down the steps, along an alleyway and up some more steps into a fabulous speakeasy where cocktails are served from teacups and bottles of beer are brown bagged. I can't remember what I ordered but I think it involved gin and cucumber and tasted delicious. There's an even more secret back room, hidden somewhere at the back, but we didn't see anybody going in. Although they managed not to play any songs I really loved, the music selection was great and appeared to be sorted approximately in date order, such that we arrived at the start of the Mad Men era and left just before Sex and the City got going. More fun and less hassle than PDT.

On my list for my next visit to the East Side:
    1. Gentleman Farmer (Lower East Side). In Paris earlier this year, we were bemused by a French clothes retailer called Gentleman Farmer (tagline: "pour le Mellors dans ta vie" (well, it should be, anyway)), which seemed to follow a common French practice of naming your shop after two words selected at random from an English dictionary. Perhaps the owners of the tiny, 20-seater LES restaurant of the same name also spotted this shop on a trip to Paris and adopted the name in an ironic fashion. I hope so (and the fonts are pretty similar). The food seems mainly to consist of American takes on regional French cuisine.
    2. The Bourgeois Pig (East Village). This was highly recommended by PhDE and her husband but we didn't have time to go on this trip. It's a very cool wine bar that does a range of fondues (sweet and savoury) and sharing platters. They're technically not licensed for the hard stuff so the cocktails are all based around wine, champagne and beer.
    3. Madam Geneva (NoHo). Another secret speakeasy we didn't have time to visit. You enter through a secret door in the Double Crown restaurant and the cocktail list is pretty heavy on the gin (which suits me fine).

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