The old-school butchers haven’t quite given up the ghost in the Meatpacking District, but they’ve largely been supplanted by velvet-ropers on one hand and tech visionaries on the other (Apple and Google both headquarter their NYC operations here). Further south in the West Village proper, storefronts and cafés and galleries collude to form a picturesque scene just east of the Hudson, due in part to the unusual street layout. You’ll want the legendary Black Label Burger at the Minetta Tavern — it’s a contender for the city’s finest — plus there’s real comfort to be found in the warm, familiar décor and the waiters’ traditional getup. When you’re ready to dance and be amazed, the Park more than suffices; its greenhouse ceiling permits an enchanting variety of plantlife, including adult trees, across its several bars and eating areas. Meanwhile, Fedora maintains a charming supper-club vibe a few steps down from West 4th Street, and the Garret is a speakeasy that’s perfectly hidden away up some stairs in back of a Five Guys burger joint.
A hint of this classic NYC neighborhood’s gloriously rough-around-the-edges past still resonates, dripping lovable grit like sweat from a frontwoman’s guitar. Sunrise warriors have congregated here for decades to immerse themselves in its bars, clubs, live music venues, galleries, and cramped falafel joints. Case in point: the Back Room on Norfolk, a kitschy evolution of a Prohibition speakeasy cheekily situated at the business end of a nondescript alley. And if the wallpaper and teacups read a little too snobbish, there’s always — and we mean always, it doesn’t close — Veselka, an upscale Ukrainian diner with borscht by the bucketful. For a smidge more risqué, Nurse Bettie fully embraces its burlesque and pinup forebears with wink-and-nod mixed drinks, while Beauty & Essex sequesters heavyweight New American plates and cocktails behind an Essex street pawnshop.
Bridging the gap between businessy Midtown and freewheeling Lower Manhattan, these streets are in something of a transitional state at the moment: the slow reinvention of this stretch of Broadway marches on, particularly for hoteliers, while bustling Silicon Alley types and advertising industry professionals ensure a steady crowd between Union and Madison Squares. Join them past sunset at Casa Mono for Michelin-starred haute-Spanish eats, enough to satisfy the tongue without overburdening the stomach. Raines Law Room does brisk business with the in-the-know speakeasy crowd (if you can keep a secret, you have to ring the doorbell at the bottom of a staircase behind an unmarked door). Or go big with live jazz and hundreds of whiskeys, scotches, and bourbons at the Flatiron Room; stop over at Cosme first for wild interpretations of Mexican fine dining by Enrique Olvera.
There’s just so much of Midtown that it’s hard to pin down its essential characteristics beyond a mélange of taxis, neon, high-rises, and purposeful suits; by night the traffic dips somewhat, but the dizzying grid persists. In a way, though, that makes our argument for us: the real-deal joints should reward patient discovery, or at least patient reading of this article. This time of year, too, Midtown decks itself out with extravagant holiday cheer; few things bring out one’s wide-eyed inner child quite so well as the Rockefeller tree glittering from a canyon of skyscrapers. Balance that with a late dinner of pungent cheese and tapas at Casellula, then take a quick stroll down 52nd street to Ardesia for a dedicated wine session among Midtown West locals. Switch things up a bit at Guantanamera, where live Cuban grooves and free hand-rolled cigars on weekends are the order of the day. Or soak up the hard stuff with the mushrooms in béchamel sauce at the Russian Vodka Room.
Welcome to the land of cast iron and plate glass, an eminently boutiquable and cobblestoned stretch of streets south of Houston. High-fashion outlets keep remarkably late hours, but after a certain point you’ll need fuel in the tank for the long haul. Enter ZZ’s Clam Bar on Thompson street: the apotheosis of reservations-only, haute-shoebox seafood, more experience than dinner, though they’ll make sure you’re sated before you stumble out into the night. Hike south to Chinatown for astounding concoctions by Apothéke’s lab-coat-clad mixologists — just be sure to adhere to their strict dress code past nine in the evening. Nearby, Whiskey Tavern slings its titular spirits and late-night eats in a dressed-down ambience, while Estela plates creative Mediterranean specialties until midnight right on Houston.
Best to look sharp around these parts, firstly, as many a celebrity haunts the ultra-stylish Triangle Below Canal Street, cut largely from the same cobblestone-and-repurposed-industrial cloth as SoHo. Monied charisma abounds, infusing its brick façades and trendsetting eateries with outsize designer ambition. Yves offers the perfect mood for late-date dining, pairing simple and wholesome ingredients with impressively artful presentation. And there’s no better place to study brandy than at the Brandy Library — engage the bartender for a master class in this underappreciated brown liquor. Turn it into a bonafide bar crawl at Belle Reve — stained glass, live music, house burgers until three in the morning — then give in to comfort cravings at Bubby’s, which features just-right chicken and waffles in addition to an adorable name.