Bright lights, big love seats--New York nightlife cool sits and heels

Peter Lindberg
April 10, 2009

Remember 1995?When those strange velvetcouches started turning up in your local bar?Martini glasses suddenly grewby inches and appeared beside lacquered trays of sashimi?The lounge noveltyhas since become a thriving institution: welcome to the year of the superlounge.Any self-respecting Manhattan bar is now a bar-and-then-some, and its objectis to keep your restless feet up on its chaise longues for the whole night-wooingyou with Macanudos, avocado rolls, and more throw pillows than in a furnitureshowroom. As a result, "going to a bar" may entail dinner, dancing,a movie; in fact, going to a bar may not even involve drinking these days.

The Players

Spy 101 Greene St.; 212/343-9000. With 30-foot ceilings and towering stage curtains, Spy epitomizes thebig-budget bar-as-theater trend. Rich violet spotlights caress the parlorsofas and ornate rugs; above are two imposing crystal chandeliers, hangingfrom sleek black arena-scale lighting trusses. Framed antique portraitscomplete the Miss Havisham—at—Limelight look. There's a splendidsound system that's friendly to Al Green, and a good light menu. You shouldalso know that someone may be examining your pores through the binocularsmounted on the balcony.

Bubble Lounge 228 West Broadway; 212/431-3433. In thisseductive champagne-and-cigars club, TriBeCa now has a drinking spot thatlives up to its formidable restaurants (Nobu, Chanterelle, the soon-to-reopenBouley). Upper East Siders have found out about it, too, and their limousinestend to congregate in front. The plush main room is dimly lit by candlesand the radiant faces of Wall Streeters lapping up bluepoint oysters atthe mahogany bar and snuggling in dark corners.

Chaos 23 Watts St.; 212/925-8966. Watching the desperatesupplications taking place before the doormen outside, you realize justhow serious having fun has become. It's always amusing to see grown men-six-figuremen, the same men who make the movies these doormen spend their days auditioningfor-throwing tantrums in their finest Armani. Ironically, there's plentyof room inside: three levels of leather club chairs, potted trees, and lotsof cozy nooks.

Wax 113 Mercer St.; 212/226-6082. Absurdly deepbanquettes in back can each accommodate a small nation-state; the sceneoften resembles a Details magazine fashion spread (wide, wide collars; insouciantsmirks). The back, at any rate, is the place to be, among the candelabraand the cliquey chatter, gazing absently at the raccoon-eyed girl from thebus-stop ads.

Jet Lounge 286 Spring St.; 212/675-2277. If tapestriesand suede couches are lulling you to sleep, this will give a wake-up kick.Shattered mirrors cover the walls of this smallish bar, and the metallicfurnishings with silver cushions are straight out of NASA-assuming Gaudídesigned the spaceships.

Pravda 281 Lafayette St.; 212/226-4696. Another welcomedeparture from the gothic red-velvet thing, this subterranean boîtehas a lighter look: soothing salmon-colored walls and barrel-vaulted ceilings,Deco sconces casting a bright warm aura over the stylish crowd. Your neighborsat the bar may be able to translate the Cyrillic on the menu, but no knowledgeof Russian is required for ordering one of the delicious vodka infusions-ginger,anise, mango-and a plate of blini and caviar.

Morgans Bar 235 Madison Ave.; 212/686-0300. There's a crowd,but, um, there doesn't seem to be a bartender, and come to think of it,there aren't any bottles, either. Oh, well. The bar itself, lit from below,bisects the small dark cavern beneath Morgans hotel. Turns out there arebottles somewhere, and service, too-look confident and the wait staff willno doubt find you. Meanwhile, admire your perfect profile in one of themany mirrors. Wait, that's Kelly Preston's profile, not yours.

Two Without the Fuss

Chumley's 86 Bedford St.; 212/675-4449. The term eighty-six,meaning to eject a customer, is possibly derived from this address: wheneverthe former speakeasy was raided-through a still-unmarked door at 86 Bedford-theproprietor hustled patrons out the secret alley in back. Today it's a kickto pass through the same hidden alley, step across the creaky, sawdust-strewnfloor, slide into a wooden booth, and have an illicit mug of ale on a rainyday.

Hogs & Heifers 859 Washington St., at W. 13th; 212/929-0655. Besides serving a great can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, this raucous country-and-westernbar is a sand trap for celebrities, who invariably end up on the gossippages after stopping in for a seemingly harmless beer. Where else couldyou watch Julia Roberts dancing braless atop the bar?If witnessing minordisasters isn't your thrill, at least there's an interesting mix of meat-packers,artists, and slumming uptowners trying to learn the two-step.

Live Music & Dancing

It would be a crime to spend a Thursday night within 15 miles of GreenwichVillage and not catch a set by the Mingus Big Band, a rotating weekly consortiumof jazz players that fills the tiny cabaret stage at Fez (380Lafayette St.; 212/533-2680). To say that the band is "preserving"the work of Charles Mingus is inaccurate; on a good night (and most are)the spirit of the great bassist-composer is positively exhumed. Trumpetsand bull fiddles wail and throb until 8 a.m. at Small's (183 W.10th St.; 212/929-7565), a fabulous underground jazz haunt that drawsdie-hard fans ($10 for 10 hours of music; BYOB) and occasional big names,who drop in after their sets at the renowned Village Vanguard, around thecorner. Both the Vanguard and the overpriced, uncomfortable Blue Note arestill intact downtown, but the Village Gate (240 W. 52nd St.;212/307-5252) moved up to the theater district late last year. The new,street-level club is smaller than the old one was, but with better sightlines and acoustics and, if you stretch your imagination, the added allureof the ghosts of Swing Street.

The city's most consistently compelling bookings take place at the KnittingFactory (74 Leonard St.; 212/219-3055), whose polished, three-floorcomplex in TriBeCa bears little resemblance to the humble room on HoustonStreet where the club made its name. Recent draws include the schizophonichip-hop poets Soul Coughing; Eric Bogosian; Yoko Ono; and the Klezmatics.Bands-progressive folk, rock, and country-love the crystal-clear sound systemat the Mercury Lounge (217 E. Houston St.; 212/260-4700);audiences love the intimate space, the candlelit tables, and the chanceto share a post-gig beer with Los Lobos or the Mavericks.

Dancing is very much a contact sport at S.O.B.'s(204Varick St.; 212/243-4940), a fairly upmarket dinner club for loversof salsa, soukous, calypso, reggae, and funk. A giant papier-mâchépalm tree sets the tone, the kitchen serves yucca crisps instead of potatochips, and there are generally more congas than guitars onstage. For thosewho'd rather swing than undulate their hips, the Supper Club(240W. 47th St.; 212/921-1940) stages big-band dance parties with a fullorchestra on weekends. The slightly older crowd is exceedingly well-mannered,and the rich blue, high Deco interior lends the proceedings a certain elegance.

Midnight Snacks

Global 33 (93 Second Ave.; 212/477-8427) calls itself atapas bar, but it has none of the implied old-world languor; it's reallya buzzing and hypermodern scene where tapas means green-curry shrimp withcoconut milk and orzo, and bar means lots of lime green and lots of vinyl.The look evokes an early-sixties airport lounge-albeit a very chic airportlounge. At SoHo's Café Noir(32 Grand St.; 212/431-7910),secret trysts are a cinch: slink through the beaded doorways, past the Moroccanfilm posters and the peeling grotto walls, to a votive-lit booth, ordercrab cakes and Negra Modelo, and swoon to flamenco records until 4 a.m.Way west in a deserted corner of the meatpacking district, haute diner Florent (69 Gansevoort St.; 212/989-5779) explodes after midnight, servingcheeseburgers, steak frites, and escargots until dawn to an assemblage ofclub trash, gallery owners, truck drivers, and insomniacs.

Rooms with Views

Greatest Bar on Earth 1 World Trade Center, 107th floor; 212/524-7011. Windows on the World returned last fall after a major face-lift, witha newly casual companion bar marked by colored lights and surreal sculpturesà la Metropolis. It's a big glowing jukebox of a room, one that finallymeasures up to the views of Brooklyn and the harbor.

Screening Room 54 Varick St.; 212/334-2100. At this restaurant-cinemahybrid you can have a great night out and never leave the building. Redneon, globe lights, and Deco touches lend a nice film noir ambience to thedining room, and the lobster rolls don't cost much more than a couple ofpopcorns uptown (the $30 dinner-and-a-movie deal is a steal). Discuss thefilm later over Cosmopolitans at the bar.

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