Let’s face it—getting married at City Hall is a nerve-racking adventure, filled with bureaucratic details that only partially distract you from the enormity of the commitment at hand. The ceremony itself is best experienced on an empty stomach, unless you intend to dramatize the occasion by throwing up on your guests, or, even better, a city official. But after the butterflies have left your stomach, a keen hunger may well be the sensation that follows. Unfortunately, you’ll find yourself in the not too promising environs of City Hall, wondering where you can get a festive meal with a famished entourage of, say, eight . . .
Well, let me jump into the breach and make a few suggestions. You won’t need a limo to get to Albachiara—an elegant, comfortable, and relatively unknown Italian restaurant just one block north of City Hall, a real hideaway and a particular favorite of judges and petty politicians. The menu flaunts its Sicilian leanings with a generous and well-oiled seafood salad of shrimp, squid, and conch; or go with one of the excellent pastas, perhaps something sinfully rich and creamy like fettuccine Alfredo or spaghetti carbonara. Romantic in a different way but also easily walkable is the restaurant rather confusingly called City Hall. It’s decorated with 19th-century photos of a Gangs of New York-era Gotham, and combines the best features of a steak house and a New England seafood spot. Imagine the excitement when your guests read the invitation: “Civil ceremony at City Hall, dinner afterward at City Hall.” Nothing like a dozen raw oysters and a rare porterhouse to launch a honeymoon.
But maybe you don’t want to blow $50 or more per person. There are plenty of cheaper places where you can have just as much fun. Quartino is an Italian wine bar with an inexpensive wine list and a pleasing range of unfussy panini, pizzas, salads, and pastas. The location on picturesque Peck Slip is similarly delicious—north of the hideous South Street Seaport complex, in an area where the landscape still looks (and smells) like a seaport from the era of clipper ships and brigantines. Due south of City Hall Park lie Ann, Fulton, and John streets, with their wealth of reasonable restaurants. Seh Ja Meh is a handsome Korean café good enough to compete with its pricier sisters on West 32nd Street. There’s no sushi, but the barbecues and bi bim bap are especially tasty, the latter a vegetable-heavy rice salad served warm and tossed with a fried egg (pay $2 extra for a “dolsot,” and it will arrive sizzling in a black stone crock).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest some really, really cheap places, too, though finding good ones with enough space to accommodate the entire wedding party was a challenge. My favorite would be Bennie’s, a purveyor of Thai food located in a semi-subterranean space that’s hopelessly overcrowded at lunch, but nearly empty in the late afternoon. The menu features sharply flavored noodles and the citrusy salads called yum, with plenty of vegetarian selections. I had resolved not to include Pakistan Tea House in my roundup due to its diminutive size and unprepossessing decor, but a couple of friends report that they recently threw a birthday party there late one night with resounding success (open 24 hours!). They were even allowed to uncork a bottle of wine, though remember you didn’t hear it from me. If you find yourself in the mood for Chinese food—which just might be the world’s best party fare—remember that Chinatown is only a few blocks north of City Hall. X.O. Kitchen combines Hong Kong sophistication with a rustic setting, and the wooden bridge that separates the two dining rooms is an excellent photo op for the bride and groom (or bride and bride, or groom and groom).
Finally, in case you win the lottery just before you tie the knot, there is one extremely expensive restaurant that might be worth it in the area south of Chambers Street. Bayard’s occupies a spectacular building on Hanover Square called India House, headquarters to a men’s club of international traders founded a century ago, with the antique furniture and display cabinets to prove it. A giant wooden Buddha greets you at the door. The food is relentlessly French, with all sorts of luxury ingredients like foie gras and caviar, and the service is spectacular. A recent meal included roast duck in Armagnac sauce and a pureed spring garlic soup.
And, by the way, if you decide to celebrate your wedding at Bayard’s, please ask me to be one of your witnesses.
Albachiara, 10 Reade Street, 212-267-5900; City Hall, 131 Duane Street, 212-227-7777; Quartino, 21-23 Peck Slip, 212-349-4433; Seh Ja Meh, 26 John Street, 212-766-5825; Bennie’s, 88 Fulton Street, 212-587-8930; Pakistan Tea House, 176 Church Street, 212-240-9800; X.O. Kitchen, 148 Hester Street, 212-965-8645; Bayard’s, 1 Hanover Square, 212-514-9454