Take It Inside

Hitting the bottle or taking on a full plate? These safe havens will help you survive the fall.

Drinking with the fishes

New York is thick with mob lore, and many a nightspot like Sparks or Umberto's is remembered not for the raves but for the rubouts. Not all can boast a hit, but here are a few places ripe with history and their share of colorful characters. Lansky Lounge & Grill (104 Norfolk Street, 212-677-9489), a former speakeasy named after the infamous Jewish gangster and regular patron Meyer Lansky, has one of the hardest-to-find entrances around. Follow the neon "L" at the address listed and go downstairs through the alley and then upstairs through the unlabeled glass door. Inside, 1930s retro decor (swinging doors and private booths) in a 200-seat room accommodates hipsters who'd rather drink cocktails like the Virginia Hill ("a sassy bitch," $10) than down black and tans, Meyer Lansky's beverage of choice.

Ash Wednesday, Thursday, Friday . . .
photo: Shiho Fukada
Ash Wednesday, Thursday, Friday . . .

In Little Italy, Da Nico (164 Mulberry Street, 212.343.1212) is not only a favorite haunt of ex-mayor Rudy but a regular mobster hangout, according to witnesses at Bonanno family boss Joseph Massino's recent trial for racketeering, extortion, and money laundering. A stakeout of the joint reveals lots of tourists sitting outside under huge red umbrellas advertising Campari. Inside, the tightly packed room boasting a bar and exposed brick walls feels more upscale. Great sautéed artichokes ($9.75) and a tasty soft-shell-crab special ($20.75) almost make you forgive the mediocre vodka Collins ($7) and the bland glass of pinot grigio ($6.50).

Stop for a nightcap at Mulberry Street Bar (176 1/2 Mulberry Street, 212-226-9345; formerly Mare Chiaro), a fixture on the NYC Mafia Tour, and recognizable to many as a typical broken-nose spot. It's been used as a location in films like Donnie Brasco, The Pope of Greenwich Village, and The Godfather: Part III. Basically it's a dive bar covered with posters of Sinatra, the Yankees, and The Sopranos that hosts a mixed group of regulars, old and young, mingling with out-of-towners while sipping Stoli Vanilla screwdrivers ($7) or Cointreau ($7), downing brews ($4 to $6), and singing karaoke. Just for fun, check out all the bathrooms—maybe you'll find a gun taped behind the toilet. Salute. ANDREW ABER

International inebriation

One of the things that makes this such a great city is the vibrant cultural mix provided by immigrants, and that's a milieu that extends to the drinking establishments as well. At Tres Aztecas (66 Rivington Street, 212-254-4223), Mexican laborers who find themselves downtown know they can always drop in to hear some Los Tigres del Norte or Luis Miguel on the jukebox or down an ice-cold Pacífico or Tecate ($3 each). A mural commemorates various pivotal dates in Mexican history, and for those choosing not to imbibe, perfectly acceptable fruit batidas go for $3 each.

At Brooklyn's relative newcomer Kombit (279 Flatbush Avenue, 718-399-2000), Haitians longing for a taste of home can sit back and enjoy a $5 Guinness as good as they make in the brewery back in Port-au-Prince (and the only "local" choice, as the island's native Prestige beer hasn't made it widely to these shores yet) or sip a cinq étoiles Barbancourt Haitian rum, the best rum in the world for my money, for $8 a glass. Haitian compas filtering over the sound system (the legendary Coupé Cloué was playing on a recent evening) adds nicely to the ambience.

Further south in the borough, on a strip of Fifth Avenue that hasn't yet been consigned to lounge purgatory, the Polish-Czech Smolen Bar (708 Fifth Avenue, no phone) serves hearty Eastern European favorites like Czech Gold Pheasant by the bottle and strong mugs of Poland's own Okocim brand from the tap, all for $3. Dark and tattered and friendly, Smolen occupies an advantageous place on a several-block stretch hemmed in by Polish butchers and a great Czech restaurant, Milan's, directly next door. MICHAEL DEIBERT

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