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I have a confession: For someone who fancies herself a writer of the alcoholic persuasion, I get tipsy rather easily. Don't get me wrong. Despite my slurred speech, I expertly hide my inebriation—within a two-drink limit of course. And while family history indicates that I hail from a long line of livers suited for serious imbibing, this is not the case for me. I have therefore devised a solution—cleverly veiled by my Spanish roots—to combat this injustice: tapas, socially acceptable portions of greasy or salty foods surreptitiously meant to keep one chugging away at the table—not under it.

The snacking begins at PIPA(38 East 19th Street, 677-2233), where the communal table behind the bar affords a sumptuous view not only of the adjacent restaurant area (grand chandeliers, draped curtains, smokey mirrors), but also of the tasty offerings. A Molotov cocktail (Bacardi tropico rum, Charbay, blood-orange vodka, and fresh lime juice; $9) fires up the evening. The sweet tipple sets a base coat for a variety of tapas—creamy salt cod, grilled octopus, sautéed chorizo ($9 to $11)—to soak up. But the spicy sausage warrants a glass of Sangria de Cava ($9). Made with sparkling wine, the carbonated drink goes down like ginger ale. Warning: Objects in the antique-like mirrors may be closer than they appear.

Next up is sexy newcomer SUBA(109 Ludlow Street, 982-5714), where beautiful people check the attitudes at the door in exchange for some vibe-enhancing music (Latin American pop—think vintage Shakira) and good company. The tri-level lounge reveals an intimate, subterranean dining room set off by a surrounding pool of shimmering water. On the ground floor, expansive glass doors and minimalist decor create an openness filled with possibilities. The pisco sour ($9) is an acidic wake-me-up made with pisco, the national liquor of Chile, fatigue-fighting angostura bitters, lemon juice, sugar, and some misplaced egg white. The dairy theme continues with an order of the traditional potato tortilla ($3), an inventive treat served cold and paired with a Puesta del Sol cocktail ($10). But the overpowering Granny Smith concoction (Mount Gay spiced rum, apple liqueur, a blend of juices, grenadine, and lime cordial) is no match for the tiny tapa. A sense of equilibrium fails once more. In Spanish, suba means "go up," and the law of gravity dictates that what goes up must come down—and out.

The Andalusian-inspired tiles and lanterns outside of TAPERIA MADRID(1471 Second Avenue, 794-2923) promise charm and authenticity. The inside doesn't disappoint: Murals of bullfighters guard the walls; a large piece of Serrano ham, prominently displayed behind the bar, is given trophy status; and flamenco dancers move passionately on a small corner stage. A glass of sangria ($6) and a combination of bread and Spanish cured ham ($9.45) fall short, but the house rioja ($6.50), an oaky vino with a tart taste, strengthens weak knees. Random olés from the mostly Upper East Side patrons cheer on a second (and third) glass. Quiero mas—that's the drink talking.

 
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