New York Cocktail Lounges
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New York Cocktail Lounges

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

Remember 1995?When those strange velvet couches started turning up in your local bar?Martini glasses suddenly grew by inches and appeared beside lacquered trays of sashimi?The lounge novelty has 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 object is to keep your restless feet up on its chaise longues for the whole night-wooing you with Macanudos, avocado rolls, and more throw pillows than in a furniture showroom. 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 the big-budget bar-as-theater trend. Rich violet spotlights caress the parlor sofas and ornate rugs; above are two imposing crystal chandeliers, hanging from sleek black arena-scale lighting trusses. Framed antique portraits complete the Miss Havisham—at—Limelight look. There's a splendid sound system that's friendly to Al Green, and a good light menu. You should also know that someone may be examining your pores through the binoculars mounted on the balcony.

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

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

Wax 113 Mercer St.; 212/226-6082. Absurdly deep banquettes in back can each accommodate a small nation-state; the scene often resembles a Details magazine fashion spread (wide, wide collars; insouciant smirks). The back, at any rate, is the place to be, among the candelabra and the cliquey chatter, gazing absently at the raccoon-eyed girl from the bus-stop ads.

Jet Lounge 286 Spring St.; 212/675-2277. If tapestries and 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 metallic furnishings with silver cushions are straight out of NASA-assuming Gaudí designed the spaceships.

Pravda 281 Lafayette St.; 212/226-4696. Another welcome departure from the gothic red-velvet thing, this subterranean boîte has a lighter look: soothing salmon-colored walls and barrel-vaulted ceilings, Deco sconces casting a bright warm aura over the stylish crowd. Your neighbors at the bar may be able to translate the Cyrillic on the menu, but no knowledge of 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 are bottles somewhere, and service, too-look confident and the wait staff will no doubt find you. Meanwhile, admire your perfect profile in one of the many 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: whenever the former speakeasy was raided-through a still-unmarked door at 86 Bedford-the proprietor hustled patrons out the secret alley in back. Today it's a kick to pass through the same hidden alley, step across the creaky, sawdust-strewn floor, slide into a wooden booth, and have an illicit mug of ale on a rainy day.

Hogs & Heifers 859 Washington St., at W. 13th; 212/929-0655. Besides serving a great can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, this raucous country-and-western bar is a sand trap for celebrities, who invariably end up on the gossip pages after stopping in for a seemingly harmless beer. Where else could you watch Julia Roberts dancing braless atop the bar?If witnessing minor disasters 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 Greenwich Village and not catch a set by the Mingus Big Band, a rotating weekly consortium of jazz players that fills the tiny cabaret stage at Fez (380 Lafayette 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. Trumpets and 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 draws die-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 the corner. Both the Vanguard and the overpriced, uncomfortable Blue Note are still 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 sight lines and acoustics and, if you stretch your imagination, the added allure of the ghosts of Swing Street.

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

Dancing is very much a contact sport at S.O.B.'s(204 Varick St.; 212/243-4940), a fairly upmarket dinner club for lovers of salsa, soukous, calypso, reggae, and funk. A giant papier-mâché palm tree sets the tone, the kitchen serves yucca crisps instead of potato chips, and there are generally more congas than guitars onstage. For those who'd rather swing than undulate their hips, the Supper Club(240 W. 47th St.; 212/921-1940) stages big-band dance parties with a full orchestra 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 a tapas bar, but it has none of the implied old-world languor; it's really a buzzing and hypermodern scene where tapas means green-curry shrimp with coconut 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 airport lounge. At SoHo's Café Noir(32 Grand St.; 212/431-7910), secret trysts are a cinch: slink through the beaded doorways, past the Moroccan film posters and the peeling grotto walls, to a votive-lit booth, order crab 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, serving cheeseburgers, steak frites, and escargots until dawn to an assemblage of club 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, with a newly casual companion bar marked by colored lights and surreal sculptures à la Metropolis. It's a big glowing jukebox of a room, one that finally measures up to the views of Brooklyn and the harbor.

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

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