The year I ate New York I go to Midtown at night

Photo: Grub . Street

Playlist from wherever you’ve been, week 22: 215. Little Georgia 216. Tommy Jazz 217. Lou Bernardine 218. Aldo Some Wine Bar 219. Valerie 220. PJ Clarke’s 221. Chambers 222. Fonda

Midtown is back, or so people keep telling me. I’m not convinced, mostly because it sounds like publicity from companies that desperately want you back in the office. But I became curious enough to see for myself, though, that I was less interested in the touristy restaurants and the happy after-work hangouts that had, until now, been the main focus of this conversation. What I wanted to know was if any of the actual New Yorkers were out downtown at night.

Like many people who previously worked as apprentices, the majority of my meals downtown were specialty lunches from one of three places in Sichuan, or salads from Chop’t. When anyone asks me about a restaurant in Times Square, I still think of Olive Garden first.

I realized if any restaurant could change my firm belief that downtown is just the most expensive culinary wasteland in New York, it would be Le Bernardin. Why not, right? I sat in the cold bar room (fancy restaurants Always Too cold), ditching the entire menu in favor of a glass of pink champagne, oysters, and salmon to keep things light because the bar was very empty compared to the main dining room, especially on a Friday, and I didn’t feel like wrapping around most of the appetizers. On my way out, I stopped at Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, a sister restaurant to Le Bern, but it was already closed and a little populated, a full hour before the advertised closing time.

Le Bar room at Le Bernardin.
Photo: Tami Tekle Mariam

By contrast, it’s still very difficult to get a seat at the Polo Bar unless you know a man (I know a man), but I think I spied someone talking on their way to a seat in the ground floor bar room, which everyone told me was from Impossible during his earlier days, even if she strictly adhered to the highly attractive WASP dress code. I swear I saw someone wearing jeans the night I went.

I was there on Memorial Day weekend, which I thought might be slow with people leaving town, but every seat was full, and the conversation in the downstairs dining room flowed over the size of a high school cafeteria. At the table next to me, there was a man speaking French to a man who replied in Dutch. I asked them where they came from and they said they had left for New York from Monaco in order to avoid the Formula 1 Grand Prix this weekend. (They were also planning to enter Saga and Per Se while in town.)

Even as the push back into the office has progressed into the city at a fairly comfortable pace, I still think I’d have better luck finding actual New Yorkers on a weeknight, which brought me to Tomi Jazz Thursday night when I left (Brooklyn) a little too late to do any another thing.

It sounds like it’s meant to be a secret, but the line that stretched outside the front door is evidence that word got out. According to one of the servers, the wait time for entry can be up to 2 hours on a weekend, and you actually have to stand there; No reservations are made and you can only put your phone number in a list to be sent to you later. At least it’s a democracy.

Waiting for Tommy Jazz.
Photo: Tami Tekle Mariam

All the people waiting in front of me were in their early twenties. There was a group of four sharing a chest of Insomnia Cookies and watching TikToks; A self-proclaimed Malian man threw a tall, empty, bag-covered boy with something onto a pile of trash bags on the sidewalk; And a girl in front of them was making a very public FaceTime call.

It was sometime around 20 minutes of waiting when a couple walked out of the club and noticed that the line seemed to be too short. In the end it took about 45 minutes to get in and grab a seat at the bar.

Tomi Jazz is one of the coolest places I visited this year. The food is Japanese comfort stuff, like mentaiko pasta, fried oysters, and mapo tofu, and is carefully prepared for what it is. Additionally, they are all fairly priced, which will likely also contribute to a crowded crowd that might include Castilian tourists, an older man reading a book alone, and people drinking beer and speaking Japanese at the far end of the bar. In such a cozy space, I was able to make friends with two 25-year-olds who were behind me in line, said they lived in the neighbourhood, and then sat down at a table next to my two bar stools. I ordered a bottle for us to share and we are now best friends.

From my spot at the short end of the pub, away from the stage, the live music felt secondary, but if I go back, I still want to remember to bring some cash to refer the band at the end of the night. (I might also try to get a table closer.)

Japanese businesses have of course been part of the downtown economy for decades, originally catering to New York’s expats, not just in the form of sushi bars and jazz clubs. I found myself inspired by Tommy Back downtown during the day, in search of some traditional shiatsu at Salon de Tokyo, which has been open since 1971 and was known at least as a celebrity hangout, where vertical metal bars are installed on the ceiling and walls above a massage table for a masseuse to hold while step on your back. I highly recommend their services, and when you’re done, you’ll be in the perfect position to walk 2 blocks from the original PJ Clarke for a post-spa meal, which is exactly what I did. I had one of the best blood marys of my life and some fish and chips while sitting at a table near the entrance on a fresh summer afternoon. There were a lot of people in the bar, and the back room, which stuck to the general old-school feel of home, seemed to be about half its capacity. Not too bad for downtown, all things considered.

PJ Clarke may be a tourist, but he also makes a great Bloody Mary.
Photo: Tami Tekle Mariam

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