By Bruce Northam

Posts tagged “New York City

Horsing Around with Robin Williams

NYC’s original Hard Rock Cafe

Before embarking on my first extended tour of Asia, I drove a horse-drawn carriage around midtown Manhattan. It was the mid-80s, I worked the streets at night when it was still legal. On my way home after midnight, I’d often try my luck in front of the Hard Rock Cafe, their debut club in NYC (Hard Rock launched its first cafe ever in 1971 in London and the brand now has 176 cafes, 24 hotels and 11 casinos). In front of the exit of the original NYC landmark, which was still then on 57th St. way before the tour-bus troops arrived, I’d sit atop my equestrian perch and greet the partiers as they exited and easily convince customers to join me for the ride home back to the stable on 11th Ave between 37th and 38th Streets (now a park opposite Javits Center). This was pre-regulated, lawless Manhattan, when rolling down 11th Ave late at night meant a sea of bikini and high-heel clad hookers, hot dog vendors selling beer to their johns, and the occasional snaps of distant gunfire (back when it was still justly called Hell’s Kitchen).

One summer night, Robin Williams, Paul Shaffer (Letterman), and John Cleese (Monty Python) emerged from the 57th Street Hard Rock Cafe, intending to step right into their waiting limo. Only Robin looked at me and the carriage, so I offered him a free ride. Shaffer and Cleese were already in the limo, but they’d have to wait 15 minutes until Robin was finished making me howl with laughter.

Robin walked up beside me and swore that he wanted to go but that the other guys wanted to go home. His eyes scanned the horse and carriage with magical wonder. As a consolation prize, I offered him the joint (a tip from a previous customer) from my shirt pocket—I’m not sure if he was in sober mode—and he also indecisively declined on that by lurching to and fro while exclaiming yes (loudly) and no (whispering). Then he began an odyssey of mock exits toward the limo, where he’d stroll slowly away while peering over his shoulder, open the limo door, and then come running back to the horse like a little kid. He jumped up and down, saying things like “Ohhhh, I want it. I want to go,” while miming childlike desperation. He rocketed between conversations with me, my horse—and the joint—all the while clinging to different parts of the carriage. With each of his comings and (fake) goings, his pals in the limo would lower the window and beg him to get in. He’d walk over to the limo, open the door only to slam it again, and then run back alongside my lofty seat on the carriage, and once again, beg to go on the ride or get the joint out of my pocket. It was classic Robin Williams playing should I stay or should I go with full flair. After 10 mock returns to the limo, and running back to the carriage each time with even more energy, he finally got into the limo. As it pulled away, he opened his window and parked his chin at the base like a puppy and gave me his best pouty expression. As the limo angled out of sight onto Broadway, he peered at me and my horse with his timeless funny-sad face…and slowly waved goodbye.

Bruce Northam piloting a Manhattan horse-drawn carriage (brother Bryan on left)

Falling Back in Like with Midtown Manhattan

Executive Hotel Le Soleil New York City - Executive Queen Suite with View - 1068162

As a long-time Manhattanite, I typically loathe Midtown’s near-constant chaos. But, West 36th Street’s Executive Hotel Le Soleil New York initiated my ceasefire with this part of NYC. An instant classic celebrating a bygone era of charm, this Fashion District newcomer welcomes in-the-know business travelers, savvy holidaymakers, and pets.


Each one of the sensually pleasing 162 rooms (including three twentieth-floor penthouse suites) go above-and-beyond the style of the traditional luxury boutique hotels with furniture designed by local and European artisans that accent rich fabrics, chrome, and glass. The Couture Penthouse Suite has a full kitchen, dining and living area, an office, two separate bedrooms, and an outdoor terrace with a fireplace, and sweeping views of the Empire State Building and Freedom Tower. Many of the sleek-design luxurious hotel’s upper floors have amazing skyline views—every room has floor-to-ceiling windows. Here, I had a rare uninterrupted night of sleep in this crazy city.


All rooms contain custom-designed furniture, plush beds with luxurious bedding, fluffy bathrobes and slippers, a 43” flat-screen TV with cable, tempting mini bar, spacious work desk, audio docking station, cordless bedside phone, stylish coffee maker, umbrella, hairdryer, an electronic safe, and a morning newspaper.  All of the bathrooms are adorned with marble countertops and feature ultra-fancy Italian-made bath products.


The impeccable attention given to guests by the hotel’s staff is praiseworthy, and seems genuine. Le Soleil also offers a helicopter ride package. Adjacent to the lobby, street-side Trademark Grind boutique coffee bar fronts and cleverly hides Trademark Taste, a revived speakeasy cum delicious dining hideaway. The 80-seat restaurant offers hand-crafted cocktails along with comfort food and homemade pastries. 38 W 36th St, New York. 212.685.2181.

The Milling Room—Columbus Ave’s Enchanting Hideaway

The Milling Room’s historic space

The Milling Room’s refreshing space is a discovery even for veteran Upper West Side Manhattanites. There’s no indication from the establishment’s street view—which only reveals their inviting bar—that a huge, inspiring restaurant space with high ceilings capped by a glass atrium awaits. The rustic, industrial brick is counterweighed by recycled wood and cast iron trimmings. I’ll get to the dazzling food in a bit. The history of this lofty space is equally amazing, as it transitioned from a hotel lobby bar hangout for “high-end” 1930s gangsters into an asylum for the mentally ill during the 1940s through the 1960s. It later became a food court. Then, after a few restaurant incarnations, it established itself as this trusted local retreat.


Olden and classic blues play while old-school 1930s cocktails (that won’t break the bank) accompany supreme appetizer stylings of Hamache Tartar and Roast Beet Salad. I settled in with a Casino, a classic concoction (Hayman’s Old Tom gin, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, lemon, orange bitters) that has multihued notes which make you ponder New York’s oft-glamorized mobster era. A disused fireplace mantle is one more bit of history inside this bygone but revitalized gem.


The American-style cuisine is prepared by veteran Chef Scott Bryan. Bryan, who was heralded by Antony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential as one of New York’s top chefs, turned me into a fan of Long Island Duck Breast via its preparation in parsnip puree, shaved brussel sprouts, and brandy jus. Bryan’s take on Skate (crisped with couscous, capers, tomato, and verjus) elevates this fish in the ray family to new heights.


This spacious getaway that melds tavern, historic site, and memorable cuisine—while transporting NYC’s aggravation eons away—won’t disappoint.


The Milling Room, 446 Columbus Ave, NYC, 212.595.0380

The Milling Room’s Hamachi Tartar


Manhattan’s Worldly Cuisine Getaway

Stanton Street Kitchen—Craft Beer & Wine Bar

Stanton Street Kitchen’s open-kitchen food show

I’m fully aware of the advance of cool joints creeping into my neighborhood of 15 years. This stretch of Stanton St., unlike its parallel universe, hip Rivington St., is still an archetypal lower (lower) east side street with little fanfare and some lingering grit—the edge of a creeping frontier. Charging ahead on this frontier is the Stanton Street Kitchen Craft Beer & Wine Bar. Grand but intimate, this open-kitchen food show features an in-house beer advisor (suds sommelier) who’ll no doubt be tailed by a wine whiz for comrades so inclined. The décor is reminiscent of the late 1920s with brick walls, high ceilings, copper accents, and black granite. Newsflash: if scallops, pork belly, gigantic tasting stouts (from the cellar below your feet), and a revived take on non-mainstream handpicked wines are your kind of thing, then this is your kind of getaway.


As opposed to being an opinionated foodie, I review restaurants based on how they physically transport customers. To me, this key to this destination is renowned master chef Erik Blauberg’s passion for food-inspired travel. When not fine-tuning his restaurant, he leads food and wine journeys—literal cooking tours—via Culinary Passport, which frequently collaborates with The Culinary Institute of America. With years of guiding food and wine lovers around the world on his resume, Blauberg’s forthcoming fine-food foray opportunities are to Spain, France, Italy, and New Zealand. Throughout these trips, customers enjoy local culinary experiences and exclusive food and wine tastings available only to travelers in these exclusive groups.


Back on the Stanton St. home-front, Blauberg has created a menu of small plates designed to pair with the beer and wine offerings, allowing guests to fashion their own tasting menus. There is also a “Chef’s Feast” tasting menu presenting off-the-menu seasonally inspired dishes, available to guests who are seated at the 14-seat bar that overlooks the open kitchen. The contemporary menu reflects Chef Blauberg’s worldwide travels and is heavily influenced by the many different global cuisines he has studied.


So if you can’t join Blauberg on a culinary journey, don’t fret, as he brings the best of his gastronomic discoveries from around the world to you on New York City’s Lower East Side. Bring on the truffles paired with beer sampler “flights” that hit each of your taste buds. The beer cellar features 100 different varieties of bottled beers from around our planet, ranging in styles from Kolsch to Imperial Stouts, and is no stranger to the revolution of small batch brewing overtaking Brooklyn. Trust their beer sommelier to pair the 24 rotating seasonal drafts—and an extensive wine list—with their reasonably priced menu.


The menu features an assortment of “beer bites” served on toast such as Spicy Prawns with cracked corn, jicama, and cilantro; Kadotas Figs with goat cheese and 50 Year-Old Sherry; and Braised Pork Belly with red cabbage and toasted peanut slaw. Small plates such as Sugar Pea Risottowith cepes and delicata squash; Homemade Tagliatelle with hen of the woods mushrooms and wild boar sausage; and Port-Braised Oxtail with foie gras and fava bean ravioli can be yours. The lineup also includes a few vegetarian items, including a Salad of Wild Arugula, flat bread, Humboldt-fog goat cheese, candied spicy pecans, and pistachio vinaigrette.


You won’t be bored.


Stanton Street Kitchen seats 70, including a 14-seat intimate food bar overlooking the open kitchen and the hustling chefs. The beer cellar also showcases a private Chef’s Table with seating for up to 30 guests.


178 Stanton Street, Manhattan, NYC, 917.963.6000, Stanton Street Kitchen

Worry not … they also feature veggie options (and organic brews)

Juni—a festival of flavor in a sea of calm

Bustling Midtown still has a few secret hideaways. As part of Hotel Chandler’s inviting entrance, Juni and its understated elegance might go unnoticed if you’re hustling along East 31st St—but they shouldn’t. Juni’s famous Australian chef, Shaun Hergatt, slices and dices locally sourced ingredients (think nearby Union Square Market) to enliven the contemporary American theme. The chef—no stranger to media fanfare—provides a minimalist but exotic experience that allows you to have a fling with his culinary imagination.

Paying homage to every season, chef Hergatt serves up enticing combinations, such as the “stone crop–fresh hearts of palm–purple basil.” Other standout choices include the “garden radish–live montauk scallop–citrus coriander” option, which sounds as tantalizing as it tastes. This is an extended journey, not a mere meal. Juni’s inventive ingredient pairings awaken the taste buds with flavors meant to be savored.

The universal appetizer medley is the first of four or six courses (not including chef’s samples). A team of attentive waiters swoop in with oyster-soaked leaves, and the odyssey begins. You’re invited to explore your boundaries with a menu that encourages and rewards experimentation.

The modern, plush setting, inspired by Capellini Design Associates, whispers relax. It’s Midtown majesty without the pomp. However, be prepared to have the wait staff cater to your every need. The server to diner ratio seems almost one to one in the 50-seat restaurant. If you’re a true foodie and can’t get a reservation at Noma (waiting in line?), add this classy but unpretentious gem to your culinary hit list. Dress nice.

Discover Juni at 12 E 31st St., Manhattan, (212) 995-8599.