Big City, Big Names

It was in Paris during the mid-1800s that a bold, young fashion designer named Charles Frederick Worth began signing his clothing creations like an artist would his painting; scribbling his name on a tag of fabric and sewing that signature onto each garment like a placard. Voila!—the first designer name brand was born. It wasn’t long before other ambitious designers—known then couturiers—began following suit. That signed seal of authenticity was instantly seen as exclusive and desirable. It allowed for hasty public recognition, like a nametag helped to portray an identity, and over the next one hundred and fifty years those words would become more important (and more valuable) than the actual look of the fashion itself (creating an entirely new version of the term). Today ambitious people want to wear the hottest name brands, eat at the most famous restaurants, and drink the fanciest wines from the most iconic chateaux, and no city has more big name action than New York.

So in heading to Manhattan this weekend, looking to do a little boozing around the Big Apple, I thought about what my itinerary should be. Should I visit the most-recognized bars in the city? Should I hit up Meehan at the PDT, or maybe order one of the crazy concoctions at Death & Co? Should I pull up a stool at the Gramercy Tavern, or maybe head downtown to Cipriani’s for a Negroni? I wasn’t sure. I’ve been to most of these places already, but I’ve never really done a series of posts about drinking in Manhattan, so I figured maybe it was time to go back and take a few notes. But then I thought about it some more. Do I really need to be the 5,187th person online to post their opinion about a bar so insanely-popular that most people can’t even get a reservation? There are a million great places to eat in New York that are easy-to-access and under-the-radar. Maybe I should focus on those instead? Decisions, decisions.

One place that I've never read an online review about is Bianca on Bleeker St. where it meets the Bowery. No one's ever told me anything about it, and I didn't discover it from a friend's recommendation. My wife and I simply walked by it one night five years ago, stopped in for a bite, and we've been going back ever since. It's the best place to go straight off the plane because you don't need a reservation, and you can't make one anyway. It's all first-come, first-served—cash only. They have four wines: a white, a red, a rose, and a prosecco. Nothing on the menu costs more than $20, and the food is classic Italian trattoria style—hearty, wholesome, and simple.

I just about never eat sausage, but for some reason I was in the mood tonight. Fennel links with cannellini beans in a thick tomato sauce. We did the caprese salad to start, as well as the soup. I was famished after a five hour flight.

Bring the booze, please. Cold prosecco to wash down that grub. We shared a salad, a big bowl of soup, ordered two entrées, downed a bottle of wine, and spent less than $100—in downtown Manhattan on a Friday night! Come on! That's crazy. Especially with the quality of the cuisine and the evening street atmosphere from the open storefront. Because Bianca is so cost-effective it's easy to get carried away quickly. We got so drunk here one time that we had to hit Popeye's up on the walk back to the hotel and stuff our face with biscuits just to soak up the excess hooch.

The Marlton Hotel is a new spot for me, but I'm already a big fan. Located on West 8th St. just north of Washington Square, the downstairs bar has a clever list of interesting cocktails. I did the Lobby Boy (meaning I drank the cocktail called "The Lobby Boy") which was a Laphroaig 10-based sour with Italian amari. I never would have thought to mix bitter liqueur, citrus, and Islay Scotch, but it was both refreshing and robust.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll