The Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant
Since opening its doors in 1913, the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant has been the spot for hiding in plain sight with a newspaper and an iced-down tray of raw ocean gems. In fact, it has been there for so long that it’s easy to forget this dimly lit cacophony of clinking glasses and boisterous discussion. Anyone can sit on one of its red stools and imagine the decades of commuting suits nursing cocktails while waiting for their trains. But the thing that really makes this place stand out is the taproom off to the side of the main dining hall, where the bar has everything from Chimay White to Sixpoint Righteous Rye on draft. If you’re heading into town by rail, this is the perfect jumping-off point for a night out. Get there early; doors close at 9:30 p.m. 87 East 42nd Street, lower level, 212-490-6650 • oysterbarny.com
In a town known for cocktails, you really have to have your shit together to get noticed, and the people over at Summit Bar have managed to get my attention. One 95-degree day, a friend marched me across the city, past at least 30 different spots, to get a drink. We arrived at this classy little hole off Avenue C, and he ordered two John Lee Hookers ($12 each). After my first sip, the sky brightened, and I heard birds singing. After my third, I wanted to climb a tree, build a pillow fort, and invent a new game of tag involving a strict no-hands rule. The drinks are just that good. Don’t plan on staying long, though. You can get priced out pretty quickly if you’re not paying attention.
133 Avenue C, thesummitbar.net
This little corner spot south of Delancey has been getting a lot of attention from all across the spectrum. Although the kitchen turns out some delectably simple fare, the real magic is found at the bottom of your cocktail glass. Dudley’s is a great spot for drinks before and after a night out—especially if you need a cup of coffee to sober up before diving headlong into the strip of clubs along Ludlow. (It has its own dedicated street window strictly for this purpose.) This is the place to go if you’re looking for something a little more intimate on New Year’s Eve. The friendly and helpful staff gives the Australian-owned-and-operated establishment its own warmth in the middle of the harsh, cold months. Make a reservation for groups of four or more.
85 Orchard Street, 212-925-7355
Second Chance Saloon
Have you ever wanted to drive a Harley-Davidson straight into a brick wall but never had the chance? The good people at this East Williamsburg saloon have probably done it and are eager to tell the tale. The exterior of Second Chance Saloon might be nondescript, but the regulars who pack this place are most definitely not. This local favorite has been going strong for a few years now and shows no sign of slowing down. With no flashing lights or smoke machines in the joint, it gets by on charisma alone, and the backyard section is perfect for large groups of chain-smokers. Ask the bartender/owner, Eric, about the blueberry tattoo on his arm—it’s one of his better stories. 659 Grand Street, 718-387-4411
GYM holds pride of place as New York City’s premier gay sports bar. It supports a slew of gay athletics leagues and events, and on Thursday nights, the “Locker Room” downstairs holds flip cup competitions for the frat boy in all of us. GYM’s $4 Long Island iced tea special will be in full effect from 9 p.m. until close, the perfect pregame cocktail for anyone on a nightlife budget before heading to Splash. (The Brooklyn Nets go up against the San Antonio Spurs at 7 p.m., by the way.) 167 Eighth Avenue, 212-337-2439
The East Village is one of the few Manhattan neighborhoods that have managed to hold on to some vestige of immigrants past. During the day, you can still see little old Eastern European women making their way to the grocery store and giving the evil eye to anyone naive enough to offer them help. Brought up in the shadow of Stalin, they didn’t get to this age by asking punks like you for help—they did it all on their own. It’s that kind of attitude that keeps the doors of this Ukrainian grog cave open. Sly Fox‘s cheap pitchers of beer and deep booths offer you a nice, comfortable place to get incredibly drunk this year. If you’re looking for the bathrooms, head toward the back and cross through the strange, out-of-place hallway reminiscent of a shopping mall in Topeka, Kansas. 140 Second Avenue, 212-614-3283
With no shortage of seafood options in the area, you really have to know what you’re doing if you want to keep your doors open—and City Crab has managed to do just that. This Park Avenue South destination turns 20 this March, and in celebration of this milestone, it’s serving up five-pound lobsters, lamb, and a host of other special items for you to pair with its excellent wine list. After the free champagne toast at midnight, the staff will clear the tables and turn down the lights for an evening of revelry. 235 Park Avenue South, 212-529-3800 • citycrabnyc.com
New Yorkers have seen a lot of changes recently, some welcome and others not so much. Yet the only thing that’s more jarring than a convoy of National Guard troops rolling down Cross Bay Boulevard is a little red-and-white sign hanging in the window of Gray’s Papaya announcing that it has started selling pizza. For decades now, New Yorkers have only known its hot dogs, but maybe a little bit of change is OK. Serving two loaded-up frankfurters and a Styrofoam cup of cool, fruity goodness for just under $5, the Recession Special at Gray’s has been a godsend for the staggering, late-night denizens of Gotham since the late ’80s. Open 24/7, this understated culinary beacon has withstood the test of time, holding its place in the furious torrent of Sixth Avenue. Honor it accordingly. 402 Sixth Avenue, 212-260-3532; 2090 Broadway, 212-799-0243
When one thinks of Argentina, it’s easy to conjure up images of rolling mountains specked with beret-sporting gauchos, melodramatic tangos executed in smoke-filled dance halls, and Che Guevara riding out of Buenos Aires on the back of a busted motorcycle. But the first thing that comes to my mind are long, outdoor fire-pitted grills laden with carne asada as far as the eye can see. Since 2001, Azul has provided the rugged sophistication that residents of the Lower East Side require from a casual dining establishment. Although the crusty empanadas and spicy chorizo are deliciously ever-present, these well-known players pale in comparison to the veal sweetbreads with criolla sauce ($11), a dish I have been hard-pressed to find as well executed anywhere else in the city. I recommend going with friends and sharing the Mixed Grill ($68)—a creation consisting of lamb chops, short ribs, skirt steak, chicken, and Spanish blood sausage stacked high on an iron skillet. Wash it down with a bold Argentine red and wait for your night to unfold before you. 152 Stanton Street, 646-602-2004, azulnyc.com
Sabor a Mexico Taqueria
When someone moves to a new city, there are certain essentials he or she needs to satisfy in order to gain traction in the freshly adopted society. Shelter, employment, and companionship are the most obvious ones, but high on that list should be finding an affordable Mexican delivery joint that actually cares about the quality of the product sent to your front door at 1 a.m. This East Village spot might be small, but don’t be fooled: The Guerrero-style taqueria has plenty to offer, including chimichangas, tortas, and fajitas for every palate and mood. But the secret to Sabor a Mexico Taqueria is in the chips and salsa that arrive with every meal. It’s always a good sign when the brown paper bag containing said chips slowly forms grease stains. Don’t be alarmed—that’s merely the loving signature of the person who made them. Combine those with any one of its excellent (and affordable) tamales, and you’ve just fed yourself for under $5.
160 First Avenue, 212-533-4002
I must admit I’m a latecomer to Korean cuisine. I’m not proud of it, and it can only be chalked up to cowardice, laziness, or both. (Full disclosure: I was also the last guy to figure out emoticons on his smartphone.) That said, you should know that this cave on Saint Marks has amazing soy-garlic fried chicken and $28 soju-soaked watermelons. Boka‘s decor is basic modern, flanked by two brick walls that make one think of a bomb shelter. But that chill dissipates quickly once you’ve dipped into a piping-hot dolsot bibimbap with a side of kimchi. They’re pretty good about getting you seated right away, so don’t worry about reservations. This is also a great meet-up spot if you’re on your way to Webster Hall.
9 Saint Marks Place, 212-228-2887
5 Napkin Burger
Although experts disagree on the details, something wonderful occurred at the beginning of the 20th century. A person cooked a patty of ground beef, placed some tomatoes, lettuce, and pickles between two slices of bread, and took a bite. Thousands of years of ignorance and superstition perished in that one bite—at least, that’s what I like to believe. From that moment on, mankind plotted a different trajectory. In the 100 years that followed, we invented air travel, nuclear fusion, knee-high skirts, and space travel, and adopted the five-day workweek. Now, 5 Napkin Burger didn’t invent the hamburger, but it sure knows how to make it memorable. And with four of its six locations in New York City, you stand a pretty good chance of getting a table on New Year’s Eve. The signature burger ($14.95) comes topped with Gruyère, caramelized onions, and rosemary aioli, and feel free to add a side of fried pickles and cornmeal-crusted onion rings. If you’re a pescetarian—as I claim to be around people I don’t plan on meeting again—never fear: The sushi is excellent.
150 East 14th Street, 212-228-5500; 35-01 36th Avenue, Queens, 718-433-2727;
630 Ninth Avenue, 212-757-2277; 2315 Broadway, 212-333-4488 • 5napkinburger.com