ON THE ROCKS

696 10th Ave at 49th St, Hell’s Kitchen

The Place: A small whiskey bar that has a solid crowd of male Hell’s Kitchen regulars.

The Time: Thursday May 18, 9pm. I went by myself to see A Doll’s House Part 2 on Broadway, and a friend of mine went by herself to see a different play, so we decided to meet for a drink after. Her show got out later than mine did, so I had an hour to kill while waiting for her. I’d heard of On the Rocks from a friend who used to live in the neighborhood and since most bars in HK either suck or are super expensive, I thought I’d give it a shot.

The Vibe: I enter this tiny, dimly lit hole-in-the-wall and I’m struck instantly by the skewed gender ratio – it’s almost entirely men. Men of all ages wearing button downs. As I make my way toward the back to the only empty barstool, I turn the heads of all these button-down-wearing men, simply because I’m a woman who’s entered this bar alone. (There are two other women here, but they are with men.) The bar top is a thick gray stone slab, and the walls are exposed brick. The back bar is filled with a shit ton of different whiskey bottles. It’s fine here. I’m fine texting and reading articles on my phone while waiting for my friend to join me, but this is not a place I can whip out my book which is what I really want to do but you can’t have it all, I guess.

The Bartender: A nice guy named Josh who I chat with a little bit. He eventually apologizes to me for his barback (see below).

The Drank: My go-to, an Old Fashioned. There’s no menu, and before I get a chance to look at what they have, Josh suggests Buffalo Trace bourbon which is a classic move that won’t break the bank so I accept and appreciate it.

Was I Hit On? Not exactly. But the barback, an older man with tattoos and a bandana around his head, straight out of Hogs & Heifers (RIP), decides that he’s going to park himself and his beer right in front of me and start talking to me. And he doesn’t stop. He tells me all about the time he spent up in the Hudson Valley. Specifically the time he served up in Peekskill jail and this guy Rodney who was his prison buddy. It’s also clear that he’s pretty drunk. I feel the polite woman in me kick in, that horrible defense mechanism/societal pressure that’s put upon women to not hurt men’s feelings. So I nod and smile and say “yeah” occasionally while trying to give off hints that say “leave me alone,” like looking at my phone, texting, not engaging. But he doesn’t give up. He’s not threatening, he’s not being lewd, but he’s clearly singled me out because I’m a woman alone and he’s severely interrupting my otherwise pleasant time. This gets so relentless that I’m considering leaving, but I haven’t paid yet, and my friend is on her way, and I really don’t want to let one man to ruin my night. Finally my friend arrives and the barback goes away, presumably to do his motherfucking job. We move further down the bar, stay for one drink, then book it.

Should You Drink Here Alone? No. I can’t in good faith tell any woman to drink here alone because of this one barback, which is a shame. Everything else about On the Rocks is fine; it’s a decent whiskey bar off the beaten path in Hell’s Kitchen. But ladies, spare yourselves.

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WASSAIL

162 Orchard St btw Stanton St and Rivington St, Lower East Side

The Place: A cider bar! A bar dedicated to cider! A cider-focused restaurant and bar that has a name I don’t know how to pronounce!

The Time: Wednesday May 3, 9:45pm. I took a class nearby and after, I was feeling like a chill night out with myself. Wassail has been on my radar since I got really into cider about a year ago, so I figured no time like the present!

The Vibe: I walk in and it’s got that urban minimalist thing going: unmarked taps, marble, steel, dark wood. The bar itself is big, and there are tables in the back and on the side. The front wall of the bar is all windows so during the day there’d be lots of beautiful light flooding in. It’s not too crowded for this time of night, mostly couples on dates and groups at tables. The lighting is soft but bright enough to read a book (or in the case of the couple to my right, to check out if your date actually looks like their Tinder pics). It’s totally pleasant and I’m happy to be here.

The Bartender: A nice man with glasses who took a little while to show up, but when he did he was very helpful and knowledgable. I spy a total of two people who work here, so he’s forgiven for not being behind the bar all the time because he is also working the floor.

The Drank: A cider called Phonograph Baccata from New York, $11. It’s dry but still really fruity which is a miracle to me because I find a lot of ciders to be too sweet. I’ve been watching a lot of Scandal lately so drinking out of a goblet-sized wine glass really channels my inner Olivia Pope. “I love it, thank you!” I call to the bartender and he pops up from the other side of the bar and says “you like it? Oh good!” The cider flight is absolutely the thing to do with a friend or a partner. I’d love to try all their draught ciders but I am not drinking all of that by myself on a Wednesday. Also one of their boilermakers is a shot of amaro + sidra and I think I’m in love because those are two of my favorite things.

Was I Hit On? Nope. I could read in peace. Though I get a little nervous when Eye of the Tiger starts playing, and the two guys at the other end of the bar start singing along very loudly when the chorus comes on. Dudes, go to Hair of the Dog, it’s just down the street.

Should You Drink Here Alone? For sure. Wassail is a cider-lover and a solo-lady’s dream bar, especially in a neighborhood like the Lower East Side. I’m already planning my return, and you should be planning your visit.

FIFTY

50 Commerce St btw Barrow St and Bedford St, West Village

The Place: A modern New American restaurant tucked away on a romantic little block in the West Village. And, full disclosure here, the place where my bartending bud Darnell runs a really dope cocktail program.

The Time: Thursday April 13, 7:30pm. I was hanging around Manhattan during the day for various odds and ends, when I realized I hadn’t seen Darnell in a while. Texted him, asked if he was working tonight. He said no but he told me to stop by Fifty anyway because I still hadn’t tried his award-winning cocktail. So I was like, fine you win I’ll go to your bar and drink the delicious cocktail you’ve created, twist my arm why don’t ya!?

The Vibe: Alright, more disclosure. I’ve been to Fifty before. For this blog, I try to go to all new spots so I can get a real first look at a place. BUT I’ve never been to Fifty alone or at a busy hour, so I’m kind of surprised to see it so bustling (though I should’ve expected a popular West Village restaurant to be hoppin’ at prime time on a Thursday). I settle in at the only bar stool available. The age range here is 35-70, and everyone seems like they must summer on the Cape. It’s mostly groups, a thirsty Thursday after-work crowd presumably. Most of the men are wearing suits with sneakers. There are two women next to me, probably in their 50s, asking about the single malts. Kill em ladies. The space itself is beautiful, with a gorgeous wooden back bar, marble bar top and comfy gray bar stools. It’s homey yet elegant (and now I feel like I’m writing for Architectural Digest).

The Bartender: Veronica’s behind the bar tonight. I’ve met her a few times before and she makes me feel right at home, asking if I’ve got any gigs lined up. She knows her shit and she’s great to chill with. And I’m not getting preferential treatment; she’s awesome with everyone, and she makes sure that woman next to me gets a Scotch she loves.

The Drank: They’ve got a great looking spring menu, but I’m here for the It Was All A Dream: Bacardi Ocho, passionfruit, averno amaro, orange juice and allspice dram. You guys. This drink is outrageous. Tropics in a glass. Seriously, it makes me feel like I’m in the DR and I’ve never been there. I may be biased because Darnell’s my friend, but he won the East Coast leg of the Bacardi Legacy cocktail competition with this drink and he’s taking it to the global finals in Berlin next month. So yeah. It’s legit.

Was I Hit On? A middle aged man wearing a blue plaid shirt and a wedding ring sits down a seat away from me. He orders a martini, and as he’s looking at the food menu, he pulls the classic “so what should I eat here?” When I’m like, “are you talking to me?” he says “you come here a lot?” And I’m ready to throw up. But it’s far from over. I find out his name is Justin and he invests in oil and gas companies. “You know, dirty energy” he says with a smirk. Under my breath I mutter: “at least you know it’s dirty.” He takes this to mean I’m interested in him and in anything he has to say. Here are some of the topics Justin mansplains to me while I attempt to read my book: real estate prices in downtown Manhattan, the political climate of West Africa, how he could never be vegetarian because he’d be “afraid of going hungry.” Oh, Justin. I feel so bad for your wife.

Should You Drink Here Alone? YES. Fuck the Justins of the world. While they exist in nice Manhattan establishments by nature, they should not deter you from enjoying your time here. Fifty is a great restaurant with incredible cocktails and an amazing staff. And trust me. It’s worth a visit just for that first sip of It Was All A Dream!

MAYSVILLE

17 W 26th St btw Broadway and 6th Ave, Flatiron

The Place: A big beautiful bourbon bar off Broadway. (Sorry. I had to.)

The Time: Sunday April 2, 6pm. My friend and I were in midtown having a meeting for our upcoming cocktail book (more on that soon!) when the day became gorgeous. After we parted ways, I decided to take a nice long walk around Manhattan. I found myself in Flatiron, and walking by Maysville, I thought, “it’s not too early to start drinking bourbon, right?” Right, she answers.

The Vibe: It’s definitely larger and more upscale than the cozy little whiskey bars I’m used to in my corner of Brooklyn, but it’s easy to make myself at home at the bar. There’s a great light coming through the big window, a lovely reminder that spring is, indeed, on its way. The high ceilings are nice, something I’m now realizing seems to be ubiquitous of other Flatiron bars, but make the space feel cavernous. Mirrors of different shapes and sizes fill the back wall. The other wall has three enormous paintings of horses, and I later find out they were painted by the owner’s mother-in-law! It’s a very quiet, pleasant Sunday early evening crowd. A first date to my right, two men to my left, a couple at a table in the back. They’re playing Solange!?! I’m good here.

The Bartender: A lovely woman with really kind eyes and a nice demeanor. She is super apologetic when the flatbread I order comes with pig ears after I asked for it without pig ears because I don’t do things like eat pig ears.

The Drank: The stunning back bar is filled with all different whiskeys, and when I’m handed the menu, I’m also handed a September-issue-of-Vogue-sized book of whiskeys. But I go with the Nor’easter, a cocktail of bourbon, ginger beer, lime and maple. Spicy, citrusy, refreshing, yet it kinda tastes like a regular Kentucky Mule. I’m okay with that though.

Was I Hit On? No. But I spend a lot of my time eavesdropping on a conversation between two late 20s guys, both in glasses and plaid shirts. One guy is talking about a girl he’s seeing who is like SUPER CHILL and says what she wants and does what she wants and is really open and understanding but doesn’t want a relationship so he likes where it’s going so far. The other guy processes all this and eventually says, “…wow.” They met at a work happy hour. Her name is Megan. Shoutout to all the Megans out there getting what they want from this world and not apologizing for it!

Should You Drink Here Alone? Sure. I prefer my whiskey bars a little homier, so I might stick to my regular joints in BK for my whiskey fix. But Maysville is definitely a nice place, and if I was in the neighborhood, I’d stop in again. If only to hear about how my girl Megan is doing.

Murray Hill Survival Guide

This beautiful play that I’m lucky to perform in most nights (we close January 15 — get your tickets here!) has been awesome. The worst thing about it is that it’s in Murray Hill. So on Wednesday January 5, I decided to try a bunch of different bars in the neighborhood. I will never be around here if I’m not forced, so I did it all in one night. That’s right. I jumped in the lion’s den. Happy New Year.

BAR #1: Desmond’s Tavern, 433 Park Avenue btw 29th and 30th St

The Place: An Irish pub with horrible lighting.

The Time: 9:50pm-10:15pm

The Vibe: I can’t get over this awful fluorescent lighting. It’s very empty here, just a couple of people at the bar, a few guys at a table in the back. There are two bros at the corner of the bar; one winks at me while I’m still in my winter bundle. Before I’ve taken off my coat they call the bartender over, hug her, thank her for “everythingggggg” and leave. Saved by that bell. There’s a basketball game on. Two guys with a mountain of hot wings in front of them really love basketball and they don’t care who knows it! Ugh I can’t read in here because they’re so loud but now I’m that asshole glued to her phone. I guess I’ll watch sports?

The Bartender: Two Irish women who are unabashedly eating the guys’ wings. When they aren’t eating, they’re on their phones.

The Drank: Magners Cider, $6.50. I drink half of it.

Was I Hit On? One of the basketball-loving wing-eating guys went over to the digital jukebox, puts on something that sounds like a medieval chant, then looks in my direction and smiles. I get out of there before he has any chance to approach me.

Should You Drink Here Alone? No, don’t suffer. Unless dirty Irish bars are really your thing.

BAR #2: Middle Branch, 154 E. 33rd St btw Lex and 3rd

The Place: A speakeasy-style cocktail bar that camouflages itself in a brownstone so bros don’t know it exists

The Time: 10:25pm-11pm

The Vibe: Very different energy from Desmond’s, thank god. The bouncer is wearing a very nice turtleneck sweater. There aren’t many people here but it’s still pretty loud. It’s a cozy intimate space with exposed brick, but there are no bar stools at the bar or anywhere else so I have to stand at one of the long high tables. Definitely no douchey bros, just couples and guys in their mid 30s who wear scarves indoors. I can’t read here either because it’s too dark. I wish there was a fireplace, it seems like it’d have one.

The Bartender: A nice and funny guy named Joe who I can’t hang out with because there are no bar stools!

The Drank: Some artisanal cider (“cidre”) for $8. You guys, cocktails here are $16! If this was the only bar I was hitting up tonight, maybe I’d splurge. But hey, the first round of pretzels is free so at least that. Before I leave, Joe says, “next time you come, have a cocktail.” And I’m like, “Joe. I know you know, but did you know they’re 16 dollars!?”

Was I Hit On? No. I have to admit: I cheated a little bit with coming here. I haven’t been here before but I know the team behind it (other bars in the hospitality group are Fresh Kills, Dutch Kills and Little Branch), so in a way, I added a safe space to my bar crawl. A “speakeasy” in Murray Hill that charges $16 a cocktail is not attracting the typical crowd for this hood.

Should You Drink Here Alone? Totally. It’s a good place to hide if you need to be around this part of the town. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about the sticker shock. (Free pretzels help. A little.)

BAR #3: Pino, 156 E. 33rd St btw Lex and 3rd

The Place: A tiny wine bar right next to Middle Branch with high ceilings, an open kitchen and a suuuuuuppppper chummy staff.

The Time: 11:05pm-12am

The Vibe: I’m greeted immediately by two middle aged guys behind the bar, the bartender (Jay) and the chef (Jason). Jason’s the one who asks all the questions (“Are you eating? Just drinking? With anyone?” Then opens his arms wide when I say it’s just me so take that as you will). There’s a drunk couple dancing. He’s trying to teach her to dance but she’s actually way better than him. THEY ARE SCREAMING and this place is the size of my bathroom. There’s an older solo guy at the other end of the bar playing a game on his phone. Ugh this is another place I can’t read because it’s too dark. I get it’s supposed to be “intimate” but give a girl a light, nah mean?

The Bartender: Jay was friendly and helped me find a wine I liked since I’m picky about reds and it’s winter so I should drink red. He’s also an actor who’s shooting a zombie movie in Ontario next month (go Jay!)

The Drank: Glass of Pinot Noir, $12 (it was the cheapest one, really)

Was I Hit On? I’m nervous at first when Jason comes around to my side of the bar and starts chatting. He calls me toots and I don’t dig that too much. But then I realize he’s just like this and isn’t hitting on me. Then he starts talking to Jay and the older guy (Jonathan). Someone said the word “mugs” and I thought I heard “pugs” and Jason’s like, “no, like coffee mugs” and I’m like “but pugs are the best” and then the four of us all start talking about dogs. Then Joe from Middle Branch comes in on his break and we’re all hanging out and I feel weird that I’m the only one without a J name. Then Jason gives me a spoonful of chocolate mousse as consolation and I invite them all to my play and give them each a hug when I depart and I ended up having a great time tonight so who really knows anything anymore.

Should You Drink Here Alone? Yeah. The guys who work here are real chill. They also hate Murray Hill so stop in for a glass of wine and some good shit talking.

BAR #4: Brick Oven Pizza 33, 489 3rd Ave at 33rd St

Not a bar. Just good pizza.

I didn’t make it to my planned fourth bar, Joshua Tree. It was rated the douchiest bar in New York City by this random website, so I know what I would’ve been myself getting into. After I left Pino, I thought: I could either end my nice night on a shitty note at a douchey bar, or eat a slice of pizza and go home. I chose the pizza. I always choose the pizza.

So there you have it. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, in my opinion. If you know of any other good bars in Murray Hill, let me know, but I can’t tell you I won’t stop hating this part of the city.

THE GANDER

15 W. 18th St btw 5th and 6th ave, Flatiron

The Place: A nice, big restaurant right in the middle of Union Square/Flatiron hullaballoo that is directly across from the studio where I’ve been rehearsing for the last month.

The Time: Thursday July 14, 5:45pm. It was a really hot day, as each day seems to be at this point in summer. I had an audition earlier not too far away and was meeting a friend in the same area later so there was plenty of time to kill. Then, as summer likes to do, it started torrentially downpouring unexpectedly and I ran into reliable, overpriced City Bakery for shelter, only to be kicked out 20 minutes later because they were closing. I knew The Gander was right next door and I had no better ideas.

The Vibe: I don’t know anything about this place, but for getting here before 6pm, it was already filling up pretty fast. The hostess says hello but doesn’t tell me anything else, so I make my way to the enormous bar. There’s a nice big marble bar top. The space inside is huge, with a large area in the back slightly sectioned off, presumably for the “finer dining” experience. But nobody was in it. The front section where I was was populated by couples and small groups. At the bar, there were two single guys on their phones, a couple, and a group of three guys on the corner. There was no unifying factor of people except a mid-30s, post-work feel. There are these really tall illuminated panels on the bar made up of bottoms of clear wine bottles. It’s a neat trick. The music is all over the place, like it’s being controlled by the guy at the party with iPod ADD. But the general vibe is very pleasant.

The Drank: A mule off their 3-drink-long happy hour menu that I asked to be made with gin instead of vodka. Thank god for happy hour, because otherwise cocktails are normally $16 but now it’s $10. I really only ordered the mule because I’m cheap and the other two options didn’t appeal to me (a sazerac is too heavy for this time of day, and my other choice was a mysterious “rum punch”). The mule was fine, pretty basic. I wanted more ginger. They have two frozen cocktails in those big machines usually reserved for tiki bars and 7-11. This strikes me as odd because their regular cocktail list isn’t that innovative and has a lot of dumb names: Itza Spritza, Less Boozy Suzy, Matcha Scotcha. Like, come on guys, this isn’t a Dr. Seuss book. After a while, I ordered a side of cauliflower as a little snack, and the bartender tried to put a placemat down for me, which was awkward for both of us since I like to spread out all my stuff and pretend the bar is my home office. Food came out super fast, and was really yummy–it’s a giant hunk of roasted (“charred”) cauliflower and I think it’s the closest I’ll come to feeling like I’m eating steak.

The Bartender: I was waiting at the bar for a while before anyone showed up. Eventually, a tall dude with a bushy beard dressed in all black made an appearance. He was very nice and got his stride quickly, but spent most of the time running around, pouring and repouring beer. They have this big fancy white wine contraption built into the bar, and I ask him about it. He tells me it basically makes bottles of wine come out on tap, but “it’s not working right now, and we’re having trouble with the keg too.” Rough night to work at the Gander. 

Was I Hit On? The solo guy to my left asked the bartender for another glass of wine without looking up from his phone. Rude. Then he sneezed and I said bless you and he didn’t say thank you! Ruder. Then when my food came out, he goes, “god that smells good,” gets up and literally STICKS HIS NOSE IN IT. Rudest! THEN he has the audacity to look at me and say, “Hi, I’m Gary.” Yo, Gary, see all these bar stools? Sit the fuck down. I say nothing and elbow him out of the way to get to my cauliflower. He leaves shortly after that.

Should You Drink Alone Here? I’m gonna say sure, but also, I wouldn’t seek this place out again. If the cauliflower I ate is any indication, come for dinner because it must be good. But the bar scene at The Gander isn’t anything special, even though it’s a nice spot. And I sure as hell don’t wanna run the risk of seeing Gary ever again. 

THE HAPPIEST HOUR

121 W. 10th St nr Greenwich Ave, West Village

The Place: A bright and lively tropical-themed bar that’s gotten a bunch of accolades lately. I think.

The Time: Wednesday June 22, 5:30pm. I had coffee with a friend near Union Square, and was seeing Halley Feiffer’s new play at the Lucille Lortel Theater later that night, so I had some time to kill in between. I stopped at Strand and picked up some unnecessary reading material, then headed over to the Happiest Hour for a drink and a quick bite. Because the best two places to kill time are a bookstore and a bar, am I right ladies?

The Vibe: I don’t know why but in my head I thought the Happiest Hour would be a speakeasy*, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a big bar right in plain sight. It was so lovely and light at 5:30 on a summer’s eve. There’s a seating area in the front, then a fairly large circle bar in the center, then a big space in the back with table service. There’s a see-through divider in the middle of the space that I keep thinking is a mirror, but I can’t see myself in it, so it’s not. They’ve got a Florida beach resort theme going on, and they embrace it fully. The music consists of mostly the Beach Boys, and other music like the Beach Boys. It’s great right now, but it makes me wonder what it’s like in the winter. Depressing or refreshing? When I get there, there are two guys drinking martinis on one side, and two girls drinking highlighter-colored cocktails and munching on fries on the other side. I sit on the side with the ladies. I didn’t mean to segregate this bar by gender, but then another man sat on the side with the dudes. The bar slowly fills up, and the gender segregation dissipates, primarily because it’s overwhelmingly occupied by white dudes in their 30s wearing dress shirts. Seriously, each time I look up, there’s another one. Are they having a convention?

The Drank: Belle of the Ball: red pepper, lemon, habanero, tequila, served tall with a slice of red pepper for garnish. It’s super yummy and goes down easy. I think I love it so much because it’s similar to one of my favorite drinks of all time over at my local watering hole, Huckleberry Bar. Most of the drinks give you a liquor option, usually providing a choice between gin, tequila or rum, depending on the cocktail. It’s not the biggest menu, but it’s certainly diverse, and with the choose-your-own-adventure liquor deal, everyone will get a drink that they’re happy with. I also got the Salt + Pepper Broccoli as a snack in an attempt to be healthy, but turns out it’s fried. Whoops. Whatever, it’s fucking delicious.

The Bartender: A large bald man in a Hawaiian shirt with a goatee named Sweeney. I asked him whether he would suggest tequila or gin for my drink, and without any hesitation he said “tequila no question.” I appreciate this sense of confidence and authority. A circle bar is damn hard to work, and Sweeney gets a bit more frantic with each new person that shows up, but he certainly holds it down. Since each drink has a liquor option, that’s double for a bartender to keep track of. When he’s frenetic, Sweeney talks aloud, repeating the orders back to himself. I want to help, because this is a really tough job to work, especially alone. Another bartender, also in a Hawaiian shirt, finally joins him and balance is restored. Also, guys, there’s a FEMALE BUSSER. Do you understand how rare this is!?!

Was I Hit On? No. As the bar filled up, there were more people than just dudes in dress shirts, but it was still predominately male. The guy next to me was alone, drinking a gin and tonic, not doing anything, just sitting with his head in his hands. Rough day, bud? By the time I asked for my cheque, it was like Frat Party 2.0 walked in — all the dudes of Alpha Sigma Phi and a select group of girls they were trying to get with. Sweeney wasn’t thrilled by this either, and I wished him good luck as I departed.

Should You Drink Alone Here? Absolutely. But since I left around 6:30 and it was getting packed, go when they first open or when they’re about to close. That way, the tropical paradise of the Happiest Hour will be all yours.

*Slowly Shirley is their speakeasy downstairs