It's no secret the boroughs and hoods of NYC have a treasure trove of great bars and restaurants - some old standards, and some open and close as fast as the trends carry them. Where to go can be tricky. Where to bring a date can be an even bigger headache. For a number of reasons and any local will agree with this - most date night places are NOT in Midtown West, where I work and where I spend most of my waking hours. The main question I get from visitors and friends is '"Where's a good early evening date spot in midtown to get a drink and a bite to eat?" It's not like the West Village or Cobble Hill where every nook has a cute bar. Midtown is tricky. The spots are here but they're hidden amongst the din and grime of 8th and 9th Avenues of tight-spaced, high-rent establishments that tend to cater to the Olive Garden bound tourist or theatre-goer more than your downtown foodie loving friend. Never fear though, here is my list of the spots that will quickly put that special someone in the right mood for a fun night out.
1. Breslin Bar
Let me start off by saying that this is not realllly considered Midtown (although I consider it to be in Midtown Manhattan) but it's one of my favorite spots and just a few streets past what is considered Midtown on maps so I'm keeping it on the list. The food here is the highlight but the drinks aren't too shabby either. My first job as a cook was at the Michelin starred Spotted Pig down in the West Village, where April Bloomfield started her boutique takeover of all things meaty, vinegary, and British. That's how I discovered this place; The Breslin (attached to the Ace Hotel just south of Koreatown) came right after her success at the Spotted Pig and is like a high end dinner spot disguised as a pub. Try to arrive after 8pm, just as the business crowd dies out. No need to sit in the dining room. Grab a seat at the bar. Order a manhattan and share a few plates. You can't come without trying the grilled salty lamb burger with a thin slice of feta and thrice cooked chips with cumin mayo. Try the perfectly crispy fried lamb scrumpets with mint oil or the Flintstone sized scotch egg or the super flavorful beef and stilton pie or the salt cod brandade (as you can see, I have a lot of favorites). Before you head out, go next door and toss back an espresso at Stumptown.
Almost overnight it feels like a mini renaissance happened on 55th Street. Tanner Smiths, which opened a few years back paved the way for a string of other places in the hood, like La Esquina, which serves take-out tacos and horchata. At Tanner Smiths though, after the sun goes down, take the staircase down a flight to the basement. The subterranean 29th century era stone walls, low lights, and busy but not too loud crowd is just the right amount of mood for a night out. Grab a small table and order the eggplant chips and the Hudson Duster (rye, amaretto, and boston bitters) or a bottle of the Ballast Point Vanilla Coffee Porter. Continue on, and if you're still hungry, head to the Mexican late night eatery right next door to La Esquina and grab an authentic taco.
3. Dutch Freds
The sister bar/restaurant to Tanner Smiths, Dutch Freds on 47th St (off 8th Ave), with the same menu, has been the popular hangout after our Broadway show lets out. When we can't schlep downtown, the Dutch Freds' vibe is the best alternative. It can get crowded so make a reservation beforehand. Try the smoke-filled whiskey cocktail called "Working Class Hero", have a few other specialty cocktails and move onward!
Around the corner is Lillie's Victorian, which you could say is Dutch Freds' more mature cousin. I don't know why I don't come here more often because it's by far one of the grandest, opulent spaces in midtown, besides the Imperial Theatre ;) It's as if an old church was gutted and turned into a 19th Century Victorian mansion. Being that we're always surrounded by tight spaces, especially in midtown, a step in here is like a breath of fresh air into another era. Avoid the after work crowd and head here after 9pm and you should be good. A few favorites are the shepard's pie with tender brisket, the roast spaetzle, or the brisket sandwich. Wash it down with the "Old Smokey" (bourbon and smoked cedar) or "The Wrestler" (pomegranate, Luchador tequila and ginger beer).
A lot is happening over on the far far west side of Hell's Kitchen. As the Hudson Yards 'culture, commerce, and cuisine' is bringing people west, developers are getting smart and answering the question about how this neighborhood will take shape over the next few years. Gotham West Market is a nice break and a 3 avenue jaunt from the Theatre District, once you're here you'll be happy you made the trek. This expansive food hall will please any group, big or small, in any culinary mood, without a reservation. It's the only place you can eat and drink from around the world while you get your bike fixed. It has a much more casual vibe than the other spots I've mentioned but don't let the appearance fool you, there is some incredible food and drinks here. I love the vegetarian shoyu ramen with it's dark hearty broth and roasted mushroom at the Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop. Or try the buttermilk chicken sandwich along with the fried green tomato BLT and California kale salad at Genuine Superette. Pop open the beer fridge and grab a Saison Dupont and saddle up at The Cannibal bar. (hint* ask about their $3 beer options). In the warm months, they pop open the doors and you can get a breeze off the Hudson River while you slurp up your happy hour oysters.
What's your favorite NYC Midtown date night spot? Would love to hear!