Sora Lella, Kesté and Tonda: an Italian invasion!

If you don’t mind a light dinner comprised of nibblers and grapes, it’s safe to say that you can eat for free at least twice a week in this town. And that’s the case even if you are not at all the party-hopper type. The economic downturn has definitely not slowed down the amount of restaurant openings in the city. We are living an Italian incursion. They came, they saw, and this week, they are conquering threefold: two pizzerias and one restaurant are opening its doors to depressed carb-craving New Yorkers.

Sora Lella
300 Spring St., nr. Hudson St. 212 366 4749
Sora Lella’s grand opening festa on Monday night was absolutely packed and fun (see photos). This is the much awaited US outpost of the celebrated 50 year-old gastronomic institution on Rome’s Isola Tiberina. The energy level was high, fueled with sangria, bubbly, reds and whites in abundance. Plenty of deliziosi tidbits, as well. If I were a light eater and patient enough to stay in the crowded dining room stuffing down enough potato croquettes, I could have gone home satisfied. But aware of Giorgione’s existence precisely fifty feet away I couldn’t resist a proper meal at one of my favorite Italian eateries. The iconic roman carciofi alla giudea of Sora Lella’s will have to wait.

Kesté Pizza & Vino
271 Bleecker St., nr. Morton St.; 212 243 1500
Not too far from there, a pizzeria run by not just any pizzaiolo, but the president of the Associazone Pizzaioli Napoletana himself, Roberto Caporuscio. The trade association controls and certifies pizza makers, as well as the oven. His love for the business explains the artisan oven flown in from Naples. In Napolitan dialect, “Kesté” means “this is it”. Honestly I can’t wait to try it out. The opening was scheduled for this week, but I just found out it’s pushed back to next Monday. Curious to see if this will really be “it.” My quest for the perfect pizza parlor in New York is interminable and controversial. A post just on that topic is to come!

235 East 4th Street, 212 254 2900
Owned by same entrepreneurs of Italian haunt Bread and Bread Tribeca, another Napolitan-style pizzeria is hitting town. I’m not complaining! Besides my love for crispy pies topped with buffala and basil, I welcome the price range these tasty crusts offer during a saggy economy. To be opened soon. Very soon! Stay tuned at

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More hot-el deals!

When it comes to New York City hotels, we just can't get enough of exclusive hotel discount offers. This information came through "A Small World", the selective online community where membership is by invitation only. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t share this very practical information with my friends! If you are planning a New York trip soon, this will definitely be of your interest.
Ian Shrager’s Gramercy Park Hotel, one of the most in vogue hotels of the moment (actually for the past 2 years since its opening), is offering a 50% discount of every second night you stay there, even at the rooms with the best available rates. It’s based on a two night minimum, and valid for stays through August 30th, if you book by the end of April.
For reservations call 866 784 1300 or 212 475 4320 and just mention this offer about the second night half off. No need to reveal the source. You are welcome, just please have a drink for me at the Rose Bar, in my book, a top people-watching spot.

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Hush-Hush nighty-night(cap)!

Shhh, don’t tell, but I’m going through an excitingly exploratory clandestine phase (regarding my bar choices that is!). The thrill of being in the know of a “secret” spot is just too seductive to ignore. Ok, ok, there are no real secrets in NY anymore, but still, I’m enjoying the come back of the so-called “speak-easies.” They are charming, usually small, and well disguised. And just because you found the unmarked entrance door, do not expect guaranteed entry. Door policy is randomly finicky as usual, but maybe if you put on your friendly mobster face you’ll pass right through it.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

Milk & Honey: the classic. For years its phone numb
er kept changing and impossible to get, unless you kept up your visits, and got the freshly printed business cards. Recently Sasha P, the master speak-easy mood creator, decided to allow access to their phone number. It’s small, reservation a must, and if you don’t follow the strict conduct rules (be discreet, no gentleman is allowed to introduce himself to the ladies, no boisterous behavior). Keep it in the low guys, or you’ll be escorted out, just like in the old days.
134 Eldridge St (between Broome and Delancey), 718-3

otheke: I’m convinced that the wood door at the end of a dark Chinatown alley is a time portal. Large Victorian sofas, spacious Louis XV chaises, the large antique shelves the five-ton marble bar counter stocked with spirits in century-old bottles make this a time warp experience. Just like entering an illicit candle-lit establishment, which, I’m not kidding, used to be an opium den (I told you it gives me goose bumps!).
Finally, the only place worth of calling bartenders: mixologists. Dressed in white gowns, a line of friendly looking “pharmacists” concoct a series of complex beverage recipes to make you feel better. Last night I told Orson (super nice Venezuelan bartender) I needed something bubbly and uplifting. He formulated a beautiful Champagne chilly pepper-infused remedy in
a test tube looking tulip glass. Medicate me, I know you’ve got the cure!
9 Doyers St (between Bowery and Pell) 212-406-0400

La Esquina: ok, this is not really a speakeasy style establishment, but how you get into this hot underground spot feels pretty illicit to me. To get into the downstairs restaurant (and bar!) you first enter a tiny shabby looking taqueria (delicious tacos btw). Then you pretend you know where you are going, which is straight ahead, look for the “Employees Only” door. Of course the only tell-tell will be a bouncer or cute hostess hanging just in front of it with an unmistakable smirk on their face as they clutch: THE LIST. You won’t be on the list, but remember you know where you are going. Be nice, and say you are just here for a drink. The narrow stairs to the basement take you straight through the kitchen, careful with the hot plates, and finally, around the sharp corner you’ll discover one the most fun basements in New York City. Decorated like a Mexican garden, this sexy dungeon is bigger then you would think, and the food is delicioso (try the Papa y Chorizo taco)
114 Kenmare Street (corner of Lafayette), 646 613 7100

The Back Room: need inspiration for your fantasy mobster movie script? This is the real thing. A real speakeasy during the 20’s, the adventure to find it is almost as good as the genuine art deco details inside. Pass the metal gate under the “Lower East Side Toy Company,” down the steps through a narrow dark alley and up the metal steps to the old-fashioned door with a peephole. No special knock required, Pheew. Staying true to Prohibition Era conduct, drinks are served in teacups and beer bottles are wrapped in brown bags. You know, to fool the cops.
102 Norfolk St. (between Rivington and Delancey) 212-228-5098

Oh the thrills that come with savoring the “forbidden”... The drinks just taste so much better when you had to sneak around a little to get one!

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New LES rooftop bar Above Allen is above all access

On the subject of freshly inaugurated designer hotels, The Thompson LES (Lower East Side) opened it’s rooftop bar a couple of weeks ago. “Opened” is a relative term in this case, since “Above Allen” follows its sister’s A60 (at the original Thompson hotel in Soho) members-only policy. And strict it is. To gain access to the so coveted superior action on the 7th floor you need to be on the list guarded by the elevator key master in the hotel lobby.
If you are not on the list, accordi
ng to the elevator sentinel himself “try to come by another day, say Wednesday or Thursday, that would be perfect”.
But it was a Saturday night, and I really, really wanted to check it out right then and there. “You are welcome to have a drink at the bar on the second floor.” While we were trying to decide, Mr. Key & List Owner started arguing with a rather pushy lady “Do not touch me, I will call security.” The commotion was our cue to jump into the opening elevator and try our luck. Well, obviously, without a key, we had no access to the desirable 7th floor.
We could only get to the second floor, and while walking around the highly modern bar and Shang’s beautifully designed restaurant I had time to strategize. My friends and I sneaked through the fire escape door, walked up the five flights, took a deep breath to disguise the puffing before checking if the door wasn’t locked. Relief! Looking into a typically long hotel corridor the four of us followed the thumping music sound to come across another list master… what else did we expect? Honestly, at this point, we look at each other and just blurt it right out “we are not on your list”.
Big bouncer takes a good look at my beautiful 6 feet tall friend and makes his no-brainer decision: “ok ladies, have fun.” Pheew. All this for that? Above Allen is a suspended smallish glass garden filled with plants and comfy sofas that allow an impressive view all around Manhattan. The décor is fine, a bit timelessly démodé. However, they need to polish their door policy and acknowledge the “babe factor”. The gender ratio was completely off: five guys per woman. It’s a simple formula: no girls equals a weird dynamic. There was no love, as my friend pointed out, in that testosterone loaded booze-greenhouse. So, in reality, the intimidating list-keeper actually should have thanked us for crashing the party, haha.
In the spring they will open the retractable glass roof and the doors to the large deck outside. I’m glad we got in, even if we resorted to illicit, well, even pretty desperate measures. We got to take a peek before the summer masses desperately fight over the upstairs impossible access or get lost in the backs of the fire staircase. Because by then I’m sure they’ll have placed another fierce doorkeeper on the 7th floor fire escape just to humiliate you even more when you emerge flustered-faced from the staircase (in case YOU have this absolutely insane idea to illegitimately sneak in like that. Are you crazy or what?)

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Armory Show Preview

Does anyone really just focus on an art at an exhibit opening night? Admit it, the show of colorful characters is way more interesting than the display of static pieces on the wall. In that respect, the kick off party of The Armory Show 2009 was no disappointment: creative types galore, fabulously outrageous outfits, and plenty of strutting and ogling. Oh yes, of course, you want to know about the celebs. Kim Katrall, Sofia Coppola and Joe McEnroe are the ones that my friends and I could spot. I’ve heard Chuck Close was there as well doing the rounds.

And then, there were us: hundreds of curious art lovers and collectors were leisurely strolling around the 84,000 square feet at Piers 92 and 95 (on the West Side Highway and 55th Street). The 11th edition of the Armory Show gathered more then 240 exhibitors from 55 countries. Besides the $12 sangria, there was something else we all had in common: a tight grip on our bleeding wallets. The big wet blanket thrown onto the global art scene by Wall Street’s implosion leaves art lovers hesitant to say the least. “What is the lik
elihood we are going to sell everything, like in years past?” said the curator and president of PaceWildenstein galleries. “Nil.”

The crisis was not only palpable in the air, but also, in case anyone forgot, a big reminder (7 feet wide to be precise) was hanging on David Zwirner’s stand: a black and white watercolor of a creepy looking Bernie Madoff by Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming. Not a soul had inquired Zwirner about the $100,000 work two hours into the fair’s opening. No one was in the mood to buy, but many in the mood to party. At least 500 guests fought for cabs for a ride over to the MoMA post-preview party.
The crowd was a little less contemporary, but still, geared with glasses of booze and carrot sticks in hand, the MoMA’s lobby and mezzanine was fluttering
with art scene butterflies eager for some sweet talk in times of economic bitterness. Who isn’t?

Cooper Square Hotel and The Standard offer good deals

The combination of the global economic downturn with the feverish hotel construction boom in New York City can only result in one thing (at least for now): beds for a steal. Considering it’s Manhattan, it might not really look like a real steal, but I can assure you, you are in for a sweet deal during this period of hotel soft openings, especially if you are into modern boutique hotels.

There are two hotspots-in waiting in their soft opening stage right now offering better rates: Cooper Square and The Standard New York. The Cooper Square claims its stake on the
voracious hipster colonization of the Bowery Street in the East Village. You can’t miss the white all-glass tower in the low-rise neighborhood with it’s curved profile and clean lines (almost like an office building – sorry I had to say it.) Inside however you’ll find the views fantastic (if you face East you can see four bridges) and will find the retro atmosphere with lots of bookshelves quite charming.

The Standard Hotel is another one of those funky modernistic buildings you just can’t miss when zooming by the West Side Highway, set on the outskirts of the ever-bustling Meat Packing District. This huge concrete sandwich on stilts offers the coolness of an Andre Balázs undertaking. Compact bedrooms with the latest in technology (of course!) bring a surprising twist: no privacy between bedroom and bathroom. But it’s not like you will be sharing a room with a business associate in a place as notoriously cool as The Standard…
Come on, for $195 a night (weekend rate for both hotels) you can sort of overlook the imperfections or eventual slips of a non-officially-yet-open hotel, can you not?

Help! Elitist Soho House needs new business too!!

Even businesses that solely target the world of the fancy-schmancy are starting to feel they are not as immune as they believed they were to the global crisis. The super selective private club Soho House, in the heart of the Meatpacking District is feeling the pinch of the economic downturn and taking measures to attract more guests.

The 8 year-old branch of the London based club, hotel, Cowshed spa, star hang-out, famed rooftop bar, pool, restaurant and screening room, recently announced its partnership with Orchid Resorts & Escapes, a luxury travel marketing group. Their outreach to an agency clearly shows that the existing reservation procedure until now - open to the public in the know – might not be as effective in times of less spending. Clearly hardship is affecting even the rich and famous.
The good news is that the uniquely decorated 24 rooms are now available at cheaper rates ($325), and if you mention Orchid when you book by the end of April, you receive a complimentary bottle of champagne upon arrival.
You can even take advantage of the incredible promotion going on at the restaurant, catered to members & hotel guests-only. To draw the bar crowd into the dining area they are offering 50% OFF your food bill if you place your order by 7:30 pm. Not shabby! I would definitely consider eating on the earlier side especially now that the kitchen welcomed a finer touch with the arrival of gifted chef Neil Ferguson (ex-Allen and Delancey and Gordon Ramsay’s The London).
Free champagne, fair rates, half-priced menu fare. What are you waiting for? Stop postponing your NYC trip!

(Karin Dauch)

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