Reveries of faraway places leading to rude awakenings of tapped-out savings accounts? You need not venture outside of New York City for respite from the common cold known as January. Instead, take a trip to these out-of-the-way bars and sexy meeting spots that will take you further in one night than you ever thought possible.
On a desolate corner far from Ipanema and close to the Queensboro Bridge sits Brazilian hideaway NASCIMENTO SAMBA LOUNGE (1066 First Avenue, 755-6875). Couples looking for a night of romance and singles seeking shelter from the chill drink below the sky-blue ceiling of the bar, where angels have been painted to keep watch over them. Even the odd drifter can nurse a glass of the sugarcane liquor known as cachaça ($8) behind a veil of cigarette smoke and go unnoticed. This little place has the decor of a motel lounge (crimson curtains, cushy couches, tables for two) and a trio of conservatively dressed musicians who play bossa nova, but the self-involved don’t seem to notice. They continue to sip their sambosas ($8)—a chilled brandy not unlike bitter tomato juice—or caipirinhas (granulated sugar, lime, and cachaça, $7) with Carnaval on their mind and the taste of Rio on their lips.
For a different flavor, cross the bridge, bypass the strip joints, and head into Long Island City, Queens, an area on the verge of cool. Thankfully, it’s still mostly industrial, and anonymity can surely be had in this windy waterfront neighborhood. A few bars and restaurants have sprung up lately, including TOURNESOL (50-12 Vernon Boulevard, 718-472-4355), a French bistro with a view of the Midtown Tunnel and not much else. Pascale, the owner, greets everyone at the door, treating patrons as if they were dropping by his Paris flat. Warm lighting, Toulouse-Lautrec art, and slowly moving fans make it clear that your only raison d’être while here is enjoyment. Although more of a restaurant than a bar, a nice selection of moderately priced wines and unhurried service make for a relaxed environment where time isn’t of the essence. The aromatic 2000 Bourgeon de Cassis ($23) is a fruity cabernet sauvignon that will get your appetite ready for some of the fine cooking on order—try the bouillabaisse ($17), a hearty fish stew capable of rousing the dead. Just remember not to be a rude American and say merci.
Had enough of the West? Hang out with Suzy Wong and Charlie Chan—the cocktails, not the characters—at BELLY (155 Rivington Street, 533-1810), an Asian-inspired wine bar on the Lower East Side. From the outside storefront, a big-bellied Buddha beckons passersby to enter and find illumination. Inside, ruby walls and dark leather booths make for a cozy space that likes to pretend it’s somewhere in Tokyo. Local hipsters flock to the small bar to suck on tiny glasses of fruity tipples like the appley and refreshing Sho Chiku Bai Premium Ginjo Sake ($10 a bottle) or the perfectly plum Sake Tu Mee ($7). Paired with spicy smokehouse andouille sausage ($3) or yummy Toblerone wedges ($2), they make for true enlightenment. But not all can be so sweet. Perhaps the Buddha was right—suffering is inseparable from existence. Why else would you have to go back out there and face reality?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 7, 2003