Back in the city after a bucolic extended weekend in the burbs. I had a great time out there but was worried I was losing my finely honed drinking skills. I figured I better just jump right back on that horse, even if it ended up just being a rocking horse.
607) Mesa Grill
I didn’t really have any specific bars in mind but figured I would just wander around a neighborhood to see what popped up. I headed west on 15th Street after popping out of the subway at Union Square. I didn’t have to go far, just to 102 5th Avenue, before I spotted Mesa Grill. Now this place is quite famous because its owner and chef is the famous and, somewhat infamous, Bobby Flay. He is famous because of his cooking show and somewhat infamous for jumping on a cutting board during an Iron Chef competition. But hey, he worked his way up from being a dish washer in a restaurant so he is okay in my book.
The bar itself is fairly large and has a green slate top with a dark wood front and a brass rail. The bar chairs are dark wood and fairly well worn, I suspect they get a lot of use. Behind the bar are dark cabinets and/or coolers with dark metal doors. On top of that is a tiered shelf that looks like gray slate. Above that are two more shelves of the same material supported by narrow and bright multi-colored narrow triangles. The top shelf holds a somewhat limited selection of bottled beers but there is nothing limited about the liquor selection. That is extensive and top notch. Lots of good tequilas. Even their well tequila is Herradura, not too shabby. The shelving is backed by an arched mirror flanked by pairs of columns. Between each pair of columns are glass shelves holding stemware. On the top of the arched mirror is an oval framed picture of the moon that looks like it could have been taken from a satellite. Punched out narrow pyramid shaped tin shaded lights hang over the bar. Large, industrial strength fans hang from the ceiling and keep the air moving. The walls are pale yellow and pale green and there are large windows looking out over 5th Avenue. The banquettes and cushioned seats up front have an interesting pattern of cowboys riding broncos. Kind of reminded me of a pair of pajamas I had when I was just a little Bar Boy. A row of red columns with alternating bright yellow and green ornate tops march down the center of the place. There are two levels of dining areas and it is a very cheerful looking place.
It wasn’t very busy, first day after a long weekend at lunch time, so I had a chance to talk to the very knowledgeable and similarly minded, at least regarding cocktails, bartender.
Michelle, The Friendly and Knowledgeable Bartender
To Mesa Grill’s credit, they don’t have a martini menu holding to the belief that a martini is a martini and everything else is just some kind of drink served in a martini glass. We also discussed the need for bitters in a Manhattan and how freshly squeezed lime juice is an absolute necessity for a properly made margarita. She said she was from San Francisco and you wouldn’t think about trying to use a mix in a margarita in that city. She said when she came to New York she was surprised at how many bars just use a mix instead. Wow, my kind of bartender. She also made me samples of a couple of the bar's specialty margaritas (shades of La Palapa Rockola) so I tried a frozen cactus pear margarita, very good, sweet and very pink, and a peach margarita on the rocks, not nearly as sweet but very peachy. Might be really good in the frozen version. I had an excellent time and if you can get there when Michelle is on duty try to talk to her about cocktails, it should prove to be very educational and entertaining as well.
I had an excellent margarita, up with a salted rim.
608) BLT Fish
Not too far away at 21 West 17th is this seafood restaurant and bar. The bar itself is L shaped and has a laminated wood grained top and front of black slats. Dark wood captain’s chairs with their own silver foot rests provide comfortable seating. The floor is old looking wood planking. Interesting old looking square glass lamps hang over the bar. Fairly plain metal coolers are behind the bar with what looks to be a fairly small liquor selection sitting on top of a couple of them and wine bottles sitting on a couple more. Two buckets display the bottled beer selection. A large, train station like display shows the wine, beer, cocktail, and raw bar selections instead of arrival and departure times. On each side of that display are shelves holding a fairly large collection of wines, in numbers if not in variety.
Stephanie Pouring My Whale's Tale
As you might expect this is a very nautically themed place with a couple of large swordfish mounted on the walls and all kinds of black and white photos of fishermen with their catches mounted on the brick wall opposite the bar. This is the place to go if you feel like having a Mermaid Martini (Bar Man shudders at the very concept), a Shark Bite, Squid Ink, or a Yellow Submarine.
I had a draft Whale’s Tale beer that I was told is brewed in Nantucket.
This was a neat place indeed. It is right next to the A, C, E, and ever more popular L line subway at the corner of 16th Street and 8th Avenue. The L line connects Manhattan and the increasingly popular Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Albert Collins, aka “the Ice Man, aka “Master of the Telecaster” was on the sound system and the place really did have a New Orleans flavor to it. This was a great find. I can grab a subway a couple of blocks from where I live and pop up at a reasonable facsimile of a Bourbon Street bar. Only the large windows looking out on 8th Avenue get in the way of the illusion. You got to love this city.
There is a nice wooden bar with a black foot rest and old wooden bar chairs. Lots, and I mean lots, of little red shaded lamps over the bar supported by an ivy covered black pipe. The back of the bar reminded me of a 1950’s style jukebox with pale green lights on each end and an ornate stained glass arch that is lit from behind. All kinds of Mardi Gras style masks hang on the wall behind the bar along with an interesting composition that includes a shrunken head, a small silver saxophone, and a New Orleans style street lamp. Opposite the bar and separated from it by a wood partition are little tables and chairs and a wooden bench. Bead festooned lights hang over them and there are wrought iron trellises draped with little white lights and flowers give the area a garden look. A mirror with shutters on the wall kind of makes it look like you could look out on a back alley somewhere.
There is a nice dining area in the back and the camera shy bartender told me they have a very nice Sunday brunch with live jazz.
It turned out that the music I was listening too was from Jazz 88, a radio station that was playing music from the Montreal Jazz Festival. Dr. John was playing when I left after having a Tanqueray and tonic. I was going to have the Cajun Black Gold draft beer but was told that it was just Michelob with a different name. I give credit to the bartender for honesty.
610) Chelsea Grill
I headed down 8th Avenue a bit to 135 8th Avenue and popped into this place with a black linoleum leather textured topped bar with a light wood armrest and footrest. The brick wall behind the bar had a mirror mounted on it that was draped with a fall-like looking wreath of gold leaves and red flowers. Large chests of ice hold a very ample supply of beer. Tiered shelves hold a large supply of liquor. The wall opposite the bar is covered with pictures of old New York. A Silver Streak bowling machine right behind me did indeed convey a credible feeling of having a drink in a bowling alley. My hat is off to Silver Streak for their great, and loud, sound effects. There is a good sized dining area in the back and a nice looking and large dining area behind that. Track lighting illuminates the place and there are little round tables with chairs in the bar area. A skeleton with a large hollow head to hold tips sits next to the cash register behind the bar. The two television at the ends of the bar were showing lacrosse, something a bit different.
Edita The Friendly Bartender Who Prefers Bottled Beer To Draft
I had a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale.
611) Rocking Horse
At 182 8th Avenue between 19th and 20th Streets is this extremely popular Mexican bar and restaurant. It has a pale green plastic topped bar with a dark stone-like tile front. The bar stool has big black seats to accommodate even those suffering from steatopygia and footrests for your feet. Lots of parchment-like tube shaped lights hang over the bar. I kind of felt like I was in some kind of an incubator and large moths or something would emerge from them. Modern looking light wood shelves divided into cubes hold the liquor and wine. Slate colored tile floors and mostly vibrant orange walls. One half wall semi-separates the dining area from the bar area and it is a brilliant mosaic of blues and greens. It has a narrow rectangular opening and a plant with small green leaves sits in a dark vase and is lit from above.
Interesting abstract pictures hang on the wall opposite the bar and lining the wall are metal topped tables with red plywood and gray metal chairs. The pictures are lit by small track spot lights. There is a dining area in the back
Slow moving overhead fans can’t quite compete with the windows that open onto 8th Avenue on this humid day. There were a lot of people sitting at the tables on the sidewalk and nobody out there seemed to mind the heat.
I had a Maker’s Mark Manhattan. Very well made by the Duane, the friendly bartender.
Duane The Friendly And Competent Bartender
Bar Man Toddling Off
I was heading kind of home and also wanted to stop at the Flatiron Lounge that was recommended to me by Michelle at the Mesa Grill. She told me the place specializes in classic cocktails and the owners are somewhat fanatical about them Unfortunately it was closed for the day but right next door on 19th Street between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue was this very nice tapa bar. The marble topped bar was covered with small candles. A large wooden arch behind the bar surrounds the mirrored wall. Tiered shelves hold the liquor and there are a few bottles of wine and some glasses as well. Below that are coolers with ominous looking black doors and silver locks. These are flanked by wooden wine racks. The walls are kind of a strategically chipped red plaster over brick. A very ornate silver tin ceiling. Really neat beaded lamps hang over the bar and elsewhere. Lots of candles on small round tables. The food smelled great and the mint being crushed for the drinks was somehow rejuvenating. This is another place I will have to make a point of visiting again. I even got a small bowl of olives to eat with my drinks.
I ordered a Caipirinha and got an almost full one but the bar ran out of cachaca, a key ingredient. Cachaca is a liquor made out of distilled unrefined sugar cane juice. It is not, as many people think, a type of rum. Rum is distilled from molasses. In Brazil there are over 4000 brands of cachaca (they really like it). Anyway, I got my drink for free and then felt guilty so I ordered a Mojita, which is made from rum.
Lesley Making and Shaking My Caipirinha
A very good day, hitting six bars and having a lot of interesting conversations. I even have a few more bars in the area to go back and visit tomorrow, the Flatiron Lounge chief among them. Anyway, that makes 612 bars for the year and leaves me with but 388 to go