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Please Don’t Tell

10 Aug

YOU try not telling.  I’m no Peter Pettigrew, but it’s hard not to get a little razzle-dazzled by a suave secret bar hidden in a hot dog joint.

How do you get in?  Try Crif Dogs at St Mark’s. Try the vintage phone booth in the corner.  Try dialing a number on the old-school phone and try NOT squealing when what you thought was the wall swings open to reveal a low-lit bar full of cocktail-swillers.

Speakeasy gimmicks aside, Please Don’t Tell is a sexy place. The cocktails, while steep, are a delicious take on Prohibition classics (Old Fashioned made from bacon-flavoured bourbon, anyone?) and they look pretty-as-hell. And the menu features Crif Dog’s deep fried and sour cream-schmeared classics, as well as a tasty miniburger and the momofuku tribute Chang Dog. Extra kimchee please!

Who comes here? Not the hipsters, thank God, ’cause this place is old news.  Duh. But if you want to impress the out-of-towners, or, um, yourself, then get your ass here because unless you’re stupid, you know that drinking cocktails and eating hotdogs is a Good Thing.

Image courtesy of Please Don’t Tell.

Barcibo Enoteca

8 Jul

You kind of (really) want to be on a date here.   You want to be that woman in the LBD – even more glamorous in the dim lighting – leaning towards her handsome beau across a marble-topped table, sipping a glass of regional something.

Or you want to be the Italian woman at the table next to us, happy solo, nibbling on some crispy bruschetta post-theatre. (How how the hell does she pull that off?)

Or, more likely, you want to be with your favourite eating friends, wallets feeling portly and appetites crescendoing.  Fingers crossed they live in the Upper West Side though because Barcibo Enoteca is a decidedly Neighbourhood Establishment, and I think we’ve established that you want to belong here.

Barcibo is all small plates and wine list, and also happens to be one of the best-looking wine bars north of 14th street.  Alfresco patrons are sheltered by topiary box hedges that keep Broadway’s hustle and bustle at a sophisticated distance, while inside candle light and neutral tones work wonders on the parties of twos and threes sharing platters of Italian cured meats and cheeses.

Following in the footsteps of its big sister, the nearby Bin 71, Barcibo offers a whopping 40 different Italian wines by the glass. Feel like something subtle from Apuglia? Sure thing. An unusual red from Sardinia? Nessun problema, bella. Or if you’re feeling all enoteca-shmeca, just order a craft beer already.

For the peckish there’s the aforementioned salami, perhaps a codfish crostini, marinated calamari salad or even a crunchy panini. Or go all out with something bigger, like the sweet sausage and artichoke risotto.

Dateful or not, you’ll be totally loved up after a Sicilian pistachio gelato or good old-fashioned raw tiramisu.  And no matter how the night pans out, there’ll always be Barcino’s excellent selection of artisanal bourbons just waiting to help you drown your sorrows.  Or, more likely, toast your new flame.

All images from Barcibo Enoteca

Birreria Eataly

4 Jul

Birreria isn’t a particularly easy word to say – especially if you have a few said birra under your belt and a mouthful of formaggio.  But foreign tongue-twisters are the last thing to get in the way of this city’s boutique-beerophiles.  Drop in the words ‘rooftop’ and ‘artisanal sausage’ and the throngs of people waiting at the elevator hidden at the back of Eataly suddenly make sense.

New York’s newest rooftop beer garden is all bright red metal chairs and not-too-long wooden tables under an enormous retractable roof. (That’s to ensure perfect drinking conditions in every season. I know, I love them too.) Copper tanks gleam at the garden’s entrance, brewing the masterpiece unfiltered ales created by birra afficionados Sam Calagione (of Dogfish Head Brewery), Italian experts Teo Musso and Leonardo Di Vincenzo, and house brewmaster Brook Carretta.

One thing’s for sure here: it’s beer first, food second — so the menu has been designed with liquid amber firmly in mind. And what goes better with a perky craft ale than a chunky sausage, a braised pork shoulder or a hefty cheese board? Exactly. Nothing.

A word of warning: the all-important elevators to get you up there aren’t easy to find.  One might get lost in the labyrinthine deli, disoriented by pyramids of imported Italian biscotti, distracted by gleaming plates of fresh oysters, or lured into having a glass of merlot at an open marble bar.

The trick is to ignore Eataly’s culinary red-herrings, outsmart your stomach. Your reward? A merry courtyard filled to bursting with over-excited barflies sipping house-brewed ales.

With practice, it might get easier to SAY ‘Birreria’ — but it’ll always be hard to leave it.

Images from Hoptopia, Eater NY and DNA Info

Nita Nita

6 Jun

Phew. For Nita Nita I can be totally well brought-up and only say nice things.

Anyone who brings me a warm bowl of smashed sweet potato with tiny chunks of hot chorizo stirred through it gooely is going to be my friend.  But someone bringing that to me while I’m sipping a g&t in a big courtyard – that feels more garden than court – with loops of fairy lights blinking quietly in the trees could well be my soulmate.  Well, maybe.

Perhaps we should introduce ourselves.

I’m Caroline.  And Nita Nita is smack bang on the corner of Wythe and North 8th in Williamsburg.  Somehow it feels properly hidden – maybe because the streetfront looks like the entrance to a seedy, don’t-tell-your-dad-you-were-here type bistro.  Inside everything’s neat and tidy in that endearingly shabby way. (Like the pair of runners you’ve had since high school, but a touch more aromatic.)

So skip the polished wooden tables tucked under the back window and sneak your way outside.  Grab that table where the people are drinking ice and looking packy-uppy.  Probably order that Southampton IPA because it sounds fancy and is only five bucks.  Try to eavesdrop on those French chicks.  See how there’s a baby here, but only ONE baby?  That’s a good sign: only hip mommas drink here.

But stop, more about the food.  Like the perfectly rare slices of spiced Asian beef – so juicy and garnished with just enough pickled chilli to make you want to suck all the flavour inside out.  Or the hefty cheese boards with hunks of creamy, oozey, stinkily perfect camembert.

Yeah it’s a tapas bar but they make the rules: and so mac cheese gets a look-in.  It’s smooshed into a cutesy individual terracotta bowl though and actually smells like quite delicious food.

I heard a rumour that they do a killer hangover breakfast as well.  Just in case you need an excuse for another drink tonight – and fancy meeting your potential soul mate in the morning.

Just saying.

Nita Nita, 146 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn 11211. (388-5328)

Image courtesy of Eater.

Oslo Coffee Roasters

5 Jun

Is there anything to hate about a cafe with this on the wall?

Not really.   This little number is called ‘1000 paper hearts for Japan’ and was created by the people of Williamsburg North School. The short ones I mean. The ones that are about four years old.

It’s on the back wall at Oslo Coffee Roasters which is where my stylish friend Average Folk goes every weekend for his coffee.  Both days. It’s that good.

I joined a Sunday expedition to the Northside store on Roebling Street and I was the tiniest bit sceptical, given that some of the fancy coffee in Williamsburg actually tastes like tomato soup.  And also because Oslo is ugly orange brick and concrete outside and it was  sweating-under-your-sunglasses-rims hot.

But here’s what the coffee was: DELICIOUS.  And here’s what it was like inside:  LOVELY.

Probably the best thing about Oslo is that they’re not pretentious about their coffee, even though they roast it themselves and it’s socially and economically sustainable and buzzword buzzword buzzword.  The house blend, Thor, is solid and kind of tabacco-bitter but in a really soft drink-me-slowly way.  I had it on ice with milk and slurped it through a straw outside in the sunshine.

Average Folk had a cup of steaming hot Odin espresso blend.  Ballsy.

They have little pastry treats to nibble if you’re so inclined, but most people are in-and-out of here en route to the subway.  (The navy and white cups strewn all over Bedford station: testament.)

On an inside day you could sit around the wooden communal table and argue about the crossword. If you were alone you could press your nose against the giant windows and admire the people not curbing their dogs outside. Or admire the inside artwork like this.

It’s cool to be four.

Oslo Coffee Roasters, 133B Roebling Street, Brooklyn

Berry Park

4 Jun

I met heaps of strangers yesterday.  The first one was a pleasingly red-bearded French guy who told me about his complicated money-lending start-up and asked me lots of polite questions.  Another one was a boy called Shane with ripped jeans.  A girl I didn’t know told me I had nice sunglasses.  Those are some of the reasons I like Berry Park.

Other reasons: they play Beatles without it being ironic.  The grilled chicken sandwiches take no time at all to come out and are so juicy and mustardy you feel all kissy afterwards.  It’s crowded on the hot days and takes ages to get a beer, but when you finally get one it’s enormous and cold and good.  And probably Belgian.

There’s a whole warehouse full of awesome here, but you’d probably only go to Berry Park for the deck.  All long wooden benches and white umbrellas, you feel rather fancy looking at the Manhattan skyline at dusk.  And then you feel smug because you’re doing it on the cheap, in sandals and with mustard on your face.

One thing you should know is this: it’s beery.  This is what they have on the bar menu: beer ($6) beer ($8) beer ($10) beer ($5).  If you want a gin and tonic go downstairs.  (And take the stairs slowly because your eyes take a second to adjust to the dark inside and you’ll probably trip.)

Options like the lobster and shrimp roll, pulled berkshire pork sandwich, and venison, merlot and blueberry sausages mean it’s probably the ultimate boozey lunch destination. They also have punk rock DJs on Thursdays. Get ready to make friends.

Images courtesy of L Magazine and Berry Park.

Tea Spot

30 May

Sure it looks blurry, but this is just about the second coolest place I’ve been to in New York.  (More on the first tomorrow.)  Beleaguered by unemployment woes and cabin fever, we braved the rain and the lunch-time buskers on the L line for a soothing pot of everything-will-be-ok at Tea Spot.  And it was so much more than ok.

This is not a fancy tea house.  The floors are polished but worn.  A jazz station crackles gently on the stereo.  Rows of shiny tins of loose leaf tea stand to attention, their faded labels peeling off.  The air is pungent.  And the NUTELLA CHEESECAKE…To avoid superlatives, I have never had a more pure slice of cheesecake heaven.*

While there didn’t seem to be an old person in sight (this is Greenwich, after all), Tea Spot is so cosy that one feels there SHOULD be.   There are 80 high-end teas to choose from and the staff are crazy knowledgable.  My strict instructions to steep my Rooibos chai for six minutes resulted in one of the richest, most deliciously aromatic experiences of my life.

If you fancy your body as some kind of place of worship, get involved with the HealthTEA selection.  There’s a hot, caffeineted drink for every affliction it seems.

If that’s not enough: the wifi is free, and you can swig on something harder downstairs at Wine Spot.  But that deserves a separate post.  (And a second slice of cheesecake.)

Tea Spot

127 MacDougal Street, New York, NY 10012. P: 212 505-0969

* Think: layer of not-too-crumbly and pleasingly moist biscuit base.  Add a whole mouthful of just-firm nutella.  Then top it off with perfectly light baked cheesecake and a smoosh of cream.  If you’re not weeping with joy, we won’t be friends.

Nurse Bettie

26 May
If I owned an actual fur coat and had been able to squeeze it in my suitcase, I definitely could have worn it last night to Nurse Bettie.  Less so to Backroom, the opulent speakeasy where we were headed, and where fur-clad girls’ birthdays are ruined on a regular basis, apparently.

Just as we were high fiving after NOT being foiled by the red herring signage (Lower East Side Toy Co – chuh) and NOT being stabbed by a junky in the pitch black alley, some not-so-well-heeled Manhattenites careened down the steps behind us, rattled a door and announced drunkenly that Backroom was closed.

And so we were welcomed into the buxom breast of Backroom’s smuttier next door neighbour, Nurse Bettie. NB is quite the classy dive – all exposed brick, low lighting and top shelf offerings.  An extended happy hour including cheap but oh-so-classy cocktails ensure that clientele is a mix of tipsy ladies with smudged red lipstick and gentlemen dapper in their (second-hand) suits.  And of course us, and a dishevelled German tourist who stumbled in later: the waylaid Backroom-seekers.

Pin-up bars are few and far between, and the novelty of peeing under the watch of a host of smouldering Bettie Paige angels warrants a visit to the bathroom at least.  Anywhere you can sprawl on leather couches and drink a G&T for $5 without having to watch a football match is worth a visit in my book – and at $14 a creamy Night Nurse cocktail is hardly a splurge.  Best of all, Bettie has a healthy weeknight dance floor culture that flourishes under the watch of a bevy of handsome bartenders.

It’s the suavest cheap drinking in the Lower East Side.  Or so say the people who haven’t made it next door…

Nurse Bettie
106 Norfolk Street
Lower East Side, NY
917-434-9072

Image: Club Planet, Tom Sibley Photography

Ponyfish Island

1 Apr

It’s a perilous road, filled with skunky pickles, rogue basil leaves and people pushing their own dietry agenda. But the quest for the perfect grilled cheese sandwich is a hallowed one, and new slashy playground Ponyfish Island wants in.

Ponyfish (Goatyfrog? Poodletoad? Why?) is a bar /pirate ship /cafe /restaurant co-captained by Jerome Borazio (of Laneway fame), dancing bear Grant Smillie (who wrote that song) and Andrew McKinnon (who has a marketing company we can’t talk about.)

Much like the humble cupcake, secret pop-up bars hidden down grafitti-splattered alleyways are now considered to be frightfully passé. So they’ve put the ‘island’ just under the Southgate pedestrian bridge where you can admire sweaty kayakers paddling along the sparkling sewage river. To be honest it feels a bit like one of them went to a bar by the harbour in another city and thought, ‘Actually, sitting by the water is kinda rahd. Maybe we should try this at home?’

But back to the quest. PfI masquerades as a restaurant with the help of a notably diverse toastie menu. All the classics are there (H&C, C&T, HC&T) and even though hot spinach burns like hell it was good to see a vegetarian-friendly toastie on the board. They have it tough sometimes.

Not sure why pirates need pots of tiny succulents next to their ash trays, though I can understand the swathes of hessian and suspended swinging tables. As at most Melbourne drinking hotspots, if you take off your clothes at the bow of the ship and pose in the manner of a figurehead, you’ll get a free drink. Or so I’m told.

No KMCG’s here. On the contrary, these sanwiches all go down exceptionally well with a cocktail in a jam jar. You know how it’s trendy to drink out of a used condiment container? Oh Malbourne.

Photo from Get Notorious.

Ponyfish Island, Yarra Pedestrian Footbridge.

Image from Get Notorious.