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.
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
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
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.
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.