Monday, September 26, 2005

Little Italy Meets SoHo

I met the Mysterious Chinese Woman and her even more mysterious mother in Chinatown for dim sum. After they both disappeared into a lavender poof of smoke I was left on my own. I had already hit many of the bars in Chinatown so I decided to head to nearby Little Italy. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants there only have small serving bars and the ones that had regular bars didn’t seem to be open yet. I did find one though.

807) Taormina



Towards the north end of the now very small Little Italy, at 147 Mulberry St., is this Sicilian restaurant that was one of John Gotti’s favorite places. Taormina is named after a Sicilian city that, legend has it, was founded by Teocle. He was on board a ship whose boatswain had not cooked a victim's liver well before offering it to Neptune, god of the sea, who was angered so much that "he made the waves of the sea rise and hit the fragile vessel"." All on board drowned except one, Teocle, who succeeded in clutching a piece of wreckage until he was carried by the waves towards the bay. Neptune saw the shipwrecked sailor but spared him. Ah yes, if you are caught reading this blog in school you can always claim that it is educational.

There is just a small light wooden bar in here that accommodates five wooden chairs with worn green fabric seats. The bar has a silver arm rest and foot rail. The overhang above the bar has a good sized built in wine rack and additional racks for glasses in all shapes and sizes that hang overhead. Behind the bar are three tiers of wooden shelves that hold the liquor and above the top shelf the wall is mirrored. Below the shelves are coolers with old looking wooden doors with silver hinges and handles. The walls are largely brick with wood trim and there are a number of large floral arrangements. The small bar is separated from the rest of the dining area by a wooden divider with fancy etched glass panels on top. This is a very nice looking restaurant, quite fancy and very expensive, as most restaurants are in Little Italy.

I had a bottle of Peroni.

808) Onieal’s





Although this bar has only occupied this location at the corner of Grand and Market Street for about ten years, the building has a long history. Just how long I am not sure, but it has been a brothel, a speakeasy, and of course, several bars over the years. It is built right across the street from the former police headquarters which has now been converted to an ultra up-scale condominium. Back in the days of Tamany Hall there was a tunnel that connected the police headquarters to Onieal’s so that police and government officials could surreptitiously pop over for a drink and perhaps a visit to the upstairs bordello. The tunnel has been partially filled in but the end connected to Onieal’s is still used as a wine cellar.

There is a small front room that has a few banquettes with small tables that had white linen tablecloths and fancy place settings. There are large windows on two sides of this room and it has a nice cheerful look. Walk through this room and you will enter a much larger and darker room with a large, old-looking dark wooden bar with a dark metal bar rail. The nice looking wooden bar chairs have multicolored striped cloth seats. The bar back is kind of a 50’s style modern design, if that makes sense. There is a large mirror in the center and there are three shelves on each side that hold the liquor and glasses. Above the shelves and mirror are panels of orange lights. Maroon and gold banquettes line the walls with small tables and matching hassocks sitting in front of them There are narrow windows above the banquettes with old-fashioned looking drawing room style lamps in the sills.

The ceiling is very elegant and Stuart, the bartender, told me that it was made in Vienna in 1873 and then shipped to New York where it was installed. It had been covered up for a long times but the current owners uncovered it and restored it. It is quite magnificent.

I was in here for about half an hour or so and all of a sudden Stuart started to make Cosmopolitans, and I mean a lot of them.

Stuart Building Cosmopolitans


I asked him why and I said I really wasn't going to be here that long. It turns out that Onieal’s is featured on Sex And The City where it goes by the name The Scout. There is a Sex And The City tour and Onieal’s is one of the stops. Apparently about twenty minutes before it arrives Stuart gets a call and starts whipping up the Cosmos. I left just as the primarily female crowd began to flow in. I tried to convince a few of them that I was, in fact, Mr. Big but, alas, they weren’t buying it.

I had a Lagunitas IPA, very good. Get there quickly though, I think they are going to replace it soon (the beer, not the bar).

809) Mexican Radio



Not far away at 19 Cleveland place is this neat little Mexican bar and restaurant that would not be a bit out of place tucked away on a side street in Puerto Vallarta. Kent, the bartender, told me that the owner personally traveled to Mexico and bought a lot of the furnishings. There is an old, well varnished dark wooden bar with a fat brass rail. Lots of red candles sit on top that is a bit cluttered with bottles of hot sauce, a display of their bottled beers, and clean glasses waiting to be filled. Ornate metal shaded lights hang above the bar.

Wooden shelves behind the bar hold the liquor and they have a very large selection of tequilas. They also have a couple of machines churning out frozen margaritas, one of them has a pink sombrero sitting on top. One section behind the bar displays a typical Mexican painting of smiling skulls and a mystical looking hand. It would make a nice tattoo.

Kent And Skulls


The walls are mostly desert rose with some beige sections, some brick but mostly plaster. Various Mexican themed designs are painted on the walls as well as a number of ornately framed mirrors. Most of the lights on the ceiling are bare bulbs with a somewhat flame look to them but there are a few more elaborate fixtures and lots of colorful Mexican doilies hanging from it as well. A few shelves mounted high on the walls hold a variety of knick knacks.

I had a bottle of Presidente and headed on home.

Not a bad day, three bars making 809 for the year and leaving 191 to go.

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