The Local Tourist: Off-Broadway

Winter is pretty much the only thing that can keep a New Yorker indoors. Even with the polar vortex and the occasional cold-weathered monsoon, though, getting out every once in a while is still necessary - you just want to make the best of it. That’s where seeing a show comes in handy. We live in the entertainment capital of the world – there’s literally always something to see. From IMAX movies to live jazz to comedy clubs to the one and only Broadway, we’ve got it all. Even better, we have off-broadway which is just as fabulous and generally a bit less expensive. On top of it, pre and post-theatre bites and cocktails lie on every corner. So, once the holiday madness is over and you’ve had your fair share of consecutive weekends spent seamless-ing and Netflix-ing in bed, go ahead and plan the following evening to treat yourself!

Note: This is also a great itinerary to give your significant other or family member (ahem, mom) as a Christmas gift or a birthday present. I’m really big on experience gifts. Otherwise, you could always plan a night like this with a few of your closest friends as a nice mid-winter plan to look forward to!

Rafele

Look, even if you’re not going to a show afterward, you must try this place out. It is unbelievably good, reasonably priced and it must be fairly new as it’s not even rated on Zagat yet.  Though, it does have 4 stars on Yelp which is kind-of/almost more reliable than even Zagat (I know, GASP. The nerve I have sometimes.) We arrived for a 5:30 reservation and, within half an hour, the restaurant was full. The décor is the right mix of warm and vibrant with lots of wooden tables, high ceilings, an open kitchen and carefully crafted lighting. The mood is energetic yet not overbearing (i.e., you can hear your table’s conversation just perfectly, but not the table’s next to you). Seriously, they do a great job, here. Then, there’s the food! Since this was pre-show and we had plans for post-dinner drinks and bites, we opted to go family style. Not everything is pictured below because it was so good I blacked out before I could capture all the right pics. Wine and sangria complemented the menu…

·         Homemade Sausage & Broccoli Rabe Pizza

·         Lightly Fried Arancini

·         Burratta with tomatoes and zucchini (*Special*)

·         Grilled Octopus

·         Fried Calamari

·         Housemade Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli

P.S. The bread basket and eggplant caponata that they serve immediately could easily have a place on the menu.

Cherry Lane Theatre

Cherry Lane Theatre in the West Village  (which I once mentioned here) is the oldest operating Off-Broadway venue in the city. Currently, the theatre is celebrating its 90th year, so they’ve been amp-ing up their schedule even more. In case you didn’t know, Off-Broadway simply refers to a smaller theatre capacity (between 100-499 seats).  So, don’t get it twisted. The shows and performers are just as spectacular. We went recently for my Mom’s birthday and were able to catch Joy Behar who was both poignant and also a total riot. She does a 90-minute set detailing her upbringing in Brooklyn and her very slow, difficult rise to fame. There were a lot of obstacles on her road to success and it was very inspiring to listen to her account of them. It was pretty much the American dream summed up by one badass Italian chick born in the 40s.

 Commerce

After the show, we had a 9PM reservation directly next door (literally, steps) at Commerce Restaurant. Thank goodness we had a reservation – not only because it was raining out, but also because this place was chaos. Even before the theatre crowd filtered over, the restaurant was packed. Commerce is just one of those hidden neighborhood spots that boasts tremendous food and drink in a new and happening-for-the-moment spot. It’s a favorite hang for locals and theatre-goers alike, which makes it a very busy and exciting place to be. My mom put it best when she described it as “a bit sensory overload.” It’s loud.

As packed and loud as it was, we were still treated wonderfully by the host, seated immediately, and taken care of by wait staff. Furthermore, I consider a buzzing energy around 9PM on a Saturday to be a good thing, even if it is a bit much.

The cocktails here were fantastic. We started off with a round of those (an Old-Fashioned and a Tequila Stinger w/ Honeycomb, pictured)  a nice refreshing salad and 1 ½ dozen oysters for the table. But, then, comes the real kicker: the Porterhouse. Served with cipollini onions, creamy kale & red wine, shallot steak sauce, this steak was to die for. And I know I love my food, but I really don’t say that often.  

The Perfect Brunch: West Village

Brunch in New York. I'll admit: it's not something I've ever been totally smitten by. In theory, brunch is a glamorous hiatus from the otherwise-dulling schedules of our everyday life. It is embodied by an ensemble of craft champagne cocktails, clear skies and perfect hair. In theory, it's magnificent. But in reality? Not always the case. If done improperly, brunch can be overpriced and inconvenient. I may sound dramatic, here, but it really can steal away your entire day.

Personally, I enjoy getting the most out of my weekends. Sure, there are times when my Saturday is one long, boozy-brunch filled afternoon, but that's more of a rarity these days. My free time is precious! I prefer a nice blend of socializing, exploring, relaxing and yes, noshing and throwing back a few good drinks - it just has to be worth it. That's why I decided to write this post. 

My Saturday two weekends ago was spent recovering from the awesome-yet-exhausting week prior (you know, the Good Morning America week). For breakfast, we rolled out of bed and into the trusty diner next door. I managed to eek out a blog post and do some reading (from bed), but then spent the rest of the day and evening in and out of napping, save for a small venture 10 blocks up for a ramen dinner. After dinner, it was back to bed. I barely even stayed up for SNL.

So, when I woke up Sunday morning fully rested with the sun shining through the curtains, I was ready to cruise about the city a bit and maybe even have a cocktail.  We chose to go to brunch at The Little Owl in the West Village. Why? I'll give you three immediate reasons.

  1. The Little Owl is one of those places that you always hear about. It isn't as if it's particularly famous or even considered the newest hot spot, it's just one of those things. Always trust word-of-mouth.
  2. Food Network's Alton Brown dubbed the multigrain pancakes at TLO the "best thing he ever ate" in the show's "cake" edition (c'mon, who doesn't love that show? best food porn ever.)
  3. It's in the West Village. 'nuff said.

First and foremost, the food was superb and the coffee? Delicious. Matt opted for the aforementioned multigrain pancakes with fresh berries and Vermont maple syrup. I went for the perfectly poached eggs served with Fontina biscuits, sausage patties and broccoli rabe. It was marvelous. To be truthful, I’m salivating as I type this. I know, TMI, but whatever. Besides the scrumptious brunch items were also a few seasonal cocktails…

Like I’ve hinted at, I enjoy a hearty side of culture with my cocktails whenever I can get it. The Little Owl delivers in this aspect. Situated in The Village at the corner of Bedford and Grove Street, TLO sits amongst obscure landmarks disguised as typical charming blocks. First, just up the street is an old writer’s house that sits right next to Isaac-Hendricks house, aka the oldest-known house in the West Village (built in 1836.) Across the street lies remnants of a time gone by, with actual horse stable doors still in place.

And if the exterior of the building above TLO looks familiar, it’s because you probably remember it as the façade for Friends. When the producers gave crew instructions for finding the perfect façade for the opening, they told them “find a place that represents a time in your life when anything is possible.”

Also, for some more Friends trivia, another working title of the show was Once Upon A Time In The West Village. Can you imagine!?

Around the bend is also Cherry Lane Theatre – the city’s oldest off Broadway theatre.

Needless to say, West Village has a bit of history to it.

Overall, TLO is a must. I would recommend it for 2-4 people max, though, as it is a small place and reservations any larger could be significantly more difficult to nail down. (I called 24 hours ahead for two and was fine.) It's not a "boozy brunch" per se, but the cocktails are far more delicious than your average drink, not to mention seasonal - I suggest The Big Apple or Autumn Shandy.

So next time you want to indulge in some culture-brunching, you know where to go! Have you been to TLO or have another favorite you'd like to see featured? Comment below!