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Most people know Andrew W.K. from the hit singles off his first album, 2001’s I Get Wet, which included “Party Hard,” “She is Beautiful” and “I Like to Party.” If you sense that he’s a fun guy who likes to party, then you, sir or madam, are correct. He parlayed his passion for good times into the raucous and totally unpretentious club Santos’ Party House in Chinatown just under three years ago and starred in the Cartoon Network show Destroy Build Destroy last year. The easy-going (well, off-stage anyway) Andrew W.K. took the time to talk to us about haunted bars, spicy food, and why Midtown rocks.
So what are your favorite restaurants in the city?
The ones I go to time and time again are the Waverly Diner on Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place and Big Nick’s on 77th and Broadway. Fresco Tortillas, a kind of unofficial chain, that’s probably been my favorite for the longest period time, ever since I moved to New York in 1998. I just instantly fell in love with it. It’s Chinese-owned and -operated Tex-Mex. Their black beans are just fantastic, flavorful and not too watery. It’s not traditional Mexican food, but that’s not the idea. I used to eat there every single day.
I also really like Koreatown. The restaurants are open late and they can accommodate large groups of people. A lot of them are open 24 hours, which is excellent. Extremely intense flavors–for me the spicier the better. Also, there are a lot of Chinese restaurants that specialize in spicy Sichuan food. There is one on 39th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, Lan Sheng. It’s the spiciest food I’ve been able to find in Manhattan. So spicy you can barely eat it, but it has tremendous flavor.
My favorite Indian place is this place called Brick Lane Curry House, the one in Midtown. A lot of Indian restaurants I’ve been to around New York are good, but it’s really hard to get food spicy, even when you ask. I think it’s because people might come in and ask for something spicy, and it comes back spicier than they thought they wanted it, and they send it back. A lot of places I would come in and say, “I would like my curry very, very spicy,” but now I know better and say, “I would like it spicy like you would make it spicy for an Indian person” and that’s usually worked a little better.
If you were going to open a restaurant, what kind of restaurant would it be?
It would be all of the great spicy foods of the world represented. So we would have Indian curries, we would have Thai curries, we would have spicy Sichuan, we would have some Korean food, kimchi, you could order burgers with jabañeros on it. Of course I’d offer some non-spicy options for other diners. But I think it would be so much fun if there was a restaurant that was all about spiciness and you could enjoy all the various interpretations of spice from around the world.
That sounds awesome.
Thank you. I wonder if maybe someone tried it and it didn’t work. Maybe it depends on the name. If you had a really silly name like Heat or The Hot Box, that might turn people away. If you gave it a cool name that didn’t necessarily brand it as a spicy restaurant, then I think that might even work better, like Steve’s Place or Rob’s Diner, and it just happened to specialize in spicy food.
What’s the best thing to eat before performing?
I don’t eat before performing or I’ll puke. I’ve learned that lesson many times. If I’m playing for someone else’s band and it’s not a very physical show then I can eat, but if I’m playing an Andrew W.K. show, then I can’t eat for four or five hours before the show.
You must be starving afterwards.
That’s one of the great rewards after the show. You get to shower and cool down and then have a really satisfying meal. It’s actually a really important meal for refueling and repairing whatever damage you did during the show. I usually just want something very hot and high protein, like a hot turkey and ham sandwich or chicken-fried steak, something with a lot of calories and a lot of fat.
There have been times where I’ve been like, “Oh, I can eat this bagel, it’s only two hours before the show,” and then, sure enough, right after the show, or even during the show, I puke it out. I wrote a song called “Party Til You Puke” and sometimes people have thought I was intentionally trying to tie it into the song or something like that, but I prefer not to do it.
Where do you like to eat after a show at Santos’ Party House?
There are a lot of great restaurants around there because we are straddling Tribeca and Chinatown. In Chinatown you really can’t go wrong because there are so many great places to eat. Although it can be hard to find a late-night spot because Chinatown generally closes up a bit early. But there are a few places that are open late. There’s one called 69 on 69 Bayard Street. It has all these dollar bills all over the walls. It’s pretty straightforward Chinese, but it’s really good, really well-prepared.
Do have any favorite places to eat on the road?
The great thing about going on the road is that we have access to all of the chain restaurants that we don’t normally get to enjoy in New York. For example, Waffle House–that’s just revelation when you don’t have Waffle House here. It’s like a Denny’s but very Southern and very unique. It’s open 24 hours, so it’s great for us when we are on the road. That for me is the dream meal after a concert: a cheesesteak omelet, a biscuit, and these hash browns with like 10 different toppings on them. It’s just this huge mountain of food like chili, jalapenos, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and hash browns.
Any memorable meals when touring abroad?
I went to Poland a couple years ago with this great band called Current 93–I occasionally play bass as a member of their band. I had lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for many years and fell in love with the Polish culture there and always wondered what it would be like to go to Poland. And so I finally went, and we were in this small town and we went to this very traditional Polish restaurant and the food was so good. I had eaten in Greenpoint and had a lot of the traditional food there, the sausage, the pierogies, the stuffed cabbage. And normally that food doesn’t inspire me. Not that it’s bland, but it has a different set of flavors than the Indian or Thai or Mexican food that I like. It has a lot of rich, subtle flavors. It’s wonderful food, very filling and comforting and satisfying.
Also, when I lived in Greenpoint, I used to go to Fresco Tortillas, but I also used to go to Amarin Café. I don’t know about all of their dishes, but I’ve been going there since it opened and I think their green curry is the best in the whole city.
When were you living in Greenpoint?
I guess it was 1998 to 2001. First I was living in Williamsburg, crashing on a cot in a friend’s living room, but then I found my own place in Greenpoint. Back then Williamsburg was a lot more barren and without a lot of the conveniences that makes it now such a great place to live, but Greenpoint has always been a residential neighborhood and you could always get everything you could really want without going into the city.
Now you live in Midtown?
Yeah, that was always my dream, to make it into Midtown Manhattan, and I’ve done that. The great thing about Midtown is that you are very central to everything. Probably the most fun thing to do is go to Grand Central Station. You approach the building up from Park Avenue and you see that beautiful view, with the MetLife building standing behind it. The place I usually go to is Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse. It has that combination of great service and atmosphere without the stuffy, oppressive quality you often get with a fancy restaurant. Plus the view you have is incredible. You are sitting on the main balcony looking over Grand Central Terminal. Of course you also have the Grand Central Oyster Bar, which is a tremendous place, and then the Grand Central Market where you can just hang out and sample stuff.
Also there is Campbell’s Apartment. It’s very strange. My wife and I finally went and we were excited to go after all these years. It’s a very beautiful room, but I swear that place was haunted. We could just tell. It just felt very off. Have you ever had a haunting experience where you didn’t exactly see a manifestation or spirit or anything but you could just feel a strange feeling in the air?
Yeah, but never in a restaurant or bar.
That place is so old and it has been operating as a person’s office or public saloon for such a long time. Think of all the people passing through Grand Central Station over the years–that leaves a residue. I mean, all of Manhattan is extremely haunted, although not necessarily by malevolent forces. But that place, it just had a very strong vibe. I’m interested in hauntings, but I also have a lot of respect for them, in that if I’m getting a really strong feeling to not be somewhere, I try to follow that feeling out of respect. Because usually when hauntings go bad is when you don’t heed warnings. I was following my instinct and my wife was feeling it too, so we said, “Okay, let’s go.” We couldn’t figure out what it was. We tried to hang out. It was very crowded and people were having a great time. It couldn’t have been a more beautiful room. That’s what made it obvious–if we were in this beautiful place and people were having fun but we were still getting this really weird vibe then maybe we should really just step away.
Do you ever cook at home?
My wife does, she is a very good cook. I used to cook for myself when I lived in Brooklyn, but that was mainly out of financial necessity. But I always preferred eating out. It’s so fun to me. You can eat for cheap in New York while still eating out every meal. I was living off $10 a day but I still ate out for a lot of meals. I would go to Fresco Tortillas and be completely full for $2 eating the black beans and rice. My wife, she is Persian, she cooks incredible Persian food.
Do you ever go out to Persian restaurants in the city?
Compared to other ethnic groups, the Persian population is relatively small in Manhattan, especially compared to a city like Los Angeles or Detroit, where you have tons of great Persian restaurants. There are enough Persians here to warrant a couple good restaurants. One is Ravagh on 30th Street. It’s just fantastic. In fact, me and my wife had Ravagh cater our wedding, which we had at Santos’ Party House.