It's hard to get out of Alphabet City these days, now that it's thehipster eating-and-drinking mecca. Unlucky for us, the ABCs are ridden with a glut of generic lounges. Don't these people have any imagination? Do we really need another no-dancing zone that teases us with pounding bass? No, Liquid City denizens, we do not. So thank your stars that some of the recent additions have that certain je ne sais quoi. Many are run by the city's latest wave of hardworking immigrants and are closer to Avenue C, where the rents are a little cheaper and the draw (as well as the drinks) needs to be a little stronger.
Smoke your Gitanes while looking bored and breathless at BELMONDO(98 Avenue B, 358-1166). Simple, open, and airy, this new provincial bistro is just as cool, but not nearly as pretentious as its über-sexy namesake, French acteurJean-Paul Belmondo. Go incognito with a Godard ($7)a passionate mix of Absolut Kurant, Chambord, and pineapple juiceor a refreshing, minty mojito ($7). The cocktails taste best at dusk, when the soft glow of flickering fireflies, yellow bug lights, and aquamarine tiling offsets the midnight blue sky on view from the lunch-counter-style bar. Friendly service and reasonably priced café standards like croque monsieurs ($9) and steak frites ($15) make you go ooh-la-la.
Rock the casbah at RICO CAFÉ(153 Avenue C, 505-5757), where the Egyptian shishas ($7), or hookahs, get packed with banana tobacco. The eclectic storefront is a hodgepodge of exotic artifacts, mismatched chairs, and exposed brick. But what sets this place apart is its hospitality: Brightly colored sheaths fit for Tutankhamen were slipped over our heads, and when the funky Arabic sounds of al-jilgot us up and writhing, our host, Mike, Prince of Egypt, joined in and taught us some moves. Alcohol's a Muslim no-no, but, hey, this is Alphabet City, so Heinekens and Coronas ($4) are on offer.
Gothic dungeon SHAMPU (9 Avenue A, 646-602-2590)with its dripping candles, crimson lights, and brick and wood-paneled interiorseems more a setting for s/m than pre-club cocktails. But the plushy couches and disco ball say otherwise. A recent Friday found an efficient yet unremarkable bar staff pouring the usual screwdrivers while a well-heeled mix of house lovers (Jersey Italians, Queens Koreans, and Uptown Puerto Ricans) chilled out before a big night on the town. Warning: Move on before the clock strikes twelve, when the crowd gets thick and full of testosterone and the DJ'ing starts sounding like Hot 97. Some meatheads gave this critic static when she tried to get up to the bar to settle the tab. Apparently, her pocketbook brushed against one of them. Imagine the damages they sustained! Good citizens of Liquid City: I'm too old for this bullshit!