Underground Bars in NYC

Employees Only

Employees Only

NYC is famous for its hidden speakeasies; little-known spots that you learn about through word of mouth, not through marketing or street signs. I recently experienced a few of these underground drinking holes, and highly recommend all of them for a fun night out.

  1. Employees Only – 510 Hudson St

Concealed behind a neon “psychic” sign, this small and classy establishment is perfect for a pre-dinner cocktail. I arrived at about 6pm on a Friday and easily found a seat at the classic marble bar. The bartenders here are true mixologists who pride themselves in specialty cocktails made with careful attention. There are tables in back and food is served, though I didn’t eat here. As we left around 8pm for dinner at a nearby restaurant, a line had formed at the door. I recommend coming before dinner to beat the lines. Avoid bringing a large group as there’s not much seating or standing room at the bar.

2. La Esquina – 114 Kenmare St

The brasserie space at La Esquina is underground and hard to find if you don’t know it’s there. The street façade is a taco counter with no sign mentioning the subterranean bar. After passing a bouncer at the unmarked entrance, we were led down a winding staircase and through the restaurant kitchen before arriving in the bar and restaurant area. It was packed with twenty-something partiers by the time we arrived at 10pm on Saturday. It’s worth checking out, but I might suggest going on a weeknight when you can enjoy the space without the crowds.

  1. Mayahuel – 304 E. 6th Street

I have lived around the corner from Mayahuel for years and did not discover it until recently. The unassuming blacked-out entranceway has no sign; the only indication it exists is the bouncer standing at the front door. The restaurant policy is no standing room at the bar, so they only allow as many patrons as can sit at the bar and in the restaurant. With only ten seats, the bar is cozy and we were up close and personal with the friendly bartenders. There are barside booths and additional restaurant seating upstairs. The extensive cocktail list includes pages of top-notch tequila and mezcal. We tried the chips and guacamole which were delicious, but the rest of the menu looks excellent as well. This is a great spot for an intimate date, especially for tequila lovers.

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War of the East Village Dumplings

imagesDumpling Man on St. Mark’s has been my go-to East Village dumpling spot for the past few years. The dumplings here are always fresh and made on the premises—right in front of you. And I like that the ingredients of the “surprise” dumpling changes frequently.

But, there’s a new dumpling spot in town that might just knock Dumpling Man off his pedestal. The Bao, also on St. Mark’s, specializes in xiao long bao, which are soup dumplings. And I must say, they KILL the competition on this menu item, at least. The dumping dough is so thin you can see through it, perfect for poking a little hole to suck dry the delicious, streaming soup inside. The Dumpling Man, with a much doughier, heavy consistency, simply can’t compare on the soup dumpling front.

If there’s a downside to The Bao’s soup dumplings compared to The Dumpling Man’s, it’s that each dumpling is smaller so you need more to fill you up, and they’re pricier, too. But to The Bao’s credit, it has wait service and a much nicer interior for a seated meal (plus, BYOB!). Take out is the only option at The Dumpling man.

There is a third player in the dumpling world that I have yet to try, called Mimi Cheng’s on 2nd Ave between 10th and 11th streets. So, things get more complicated…

I guess I’ll have to keep eating more dumplings until I can pick a definitive winner… poor me!

Any other dumplings I should add to my list? Post your recommendations in the comments below. :)

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Endless summer: A quiet weekend in Bradley Beach, NJ


Bradley Beach, NJ

Though Labor Day typically marks the last weekend of summer, NYC is suddenly experiencing our first big heat wave since June. In light of the weather, and for those who just can’t let go of summer, this post is dedicated to favorite summer spot: Bradley Beach, NJ.

I like to think of Bradley Beach as one of the last “non-Jersey” places on the New Jersey Shore. Thanks to a vulgar MTV series that will not be mentioned, the Jersey Shore has a bad rap of being all spikey hair, dance clubs and tanning beds. While this may be true for certain areas of the shore, Bradley Beach has retained a low-ley, residential feel with just 5,000 year-round locals. Lucky for me, my parents have called it home each summer for the past seven years, and not much has changed.

Bradley Beach is located in Monmouth Country, right along the shore, in what can be considered North-Central New Jersey. It’s a two-hour train ride on the North Jersey Shore line from Penn Station. The Bradley beach train station is located right in the town center, and much of the town is within walking distance (a plus for us carless NYC-ers).

Even in the middle of summer, Bradley Beach is a sleepy town with a quiet Main Street and grid of compact residential neighborhoods. At the beach, there’s a small boardwalk, a few refreshment stands and public bathrooms. Beach access is $8 per day for adults and free for kids 12 and under.

The beach, of course, is the town gem. It’s a deep and wide beach covered with white sand (albeit with a few rocks and shells). Lifeguards are on duty and there’s lots of space to swim and lounge. The beach gets fairly crowded in the summer, but after having my “towel-to-towel” experience in Coney Island, I will not complain about the crowds here. You can generally find a first-row spot along the shoreline if you get there by 10 or 11am.

For those of you not lucky enough to stay with friends or family, there are plenty of options: bed and breakfasts, the Sandcastle Inn, and tons of beach rentals. If you are able to book in advance, a rental is the way to go. Many rentals come with a kitchen, private outdoor space and beach chairs. What else could you need?

If you’re car-less, the essentials are within walking distance: a few bars, a few restaurants, 7-11, liquor store and ice cream. My favorite low-key dinner spot is Fin’s, a California-inspired seafood & taco shack with great food and hospitality on Main Street. It’s BYOB and there’s plenty of seating, or you may want to get take out. They also deliver right to the beach! If you’re feeling adventurous, nearby Avon, Ocean Grove, Asbury Park and Belmar offer great dining and nightlife options, too.

For those wanting a quiet beach get-away, Bradley Beach is the perfect place. For those looking to “Fist-Pump” into the wee hours… please stay away! :)

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A Perfect Weekend Getaway in the Hudson River Valley

Buttermilk Falls Inn & Spa

Buttermilk Falls Inn & Spa

If you are looking for a romantic, relaxing getaway near to New York City, look no further than Buttermilk Falls Inn and Spa in Milton, New York.

Buttermilk Inn is just a 1 hour 45 minute train ride from New York City. Take a taxi (or inquire at the Inn for a ride) from the Poughkeepsie Metro North station, which is a 10-minute ride from the Inn.

The inn sits on a 75-acre estate along the Hudson River, with beautiful ponds, streams and of course an epic view of the river. The main inn was built in 1764, but it has been updated to include every comfort you might need. Several of the rooms have a private balcony, whirlpool tub and fireplace. In addition to the main Inn, there are several cottages throughout the estate, which can be rented in full for larger groups and families.

Millstone Farm is a short walk from the main Inn, and has chickens, goats and llamas as well as an organic garden, orchards and beehives. There are a plethora of ducks and swans grazing throughout the property and swimming in several small ponds.

The property features its own farm-to-table restaurant called Henry’s at the Farm, which has the most amazing seasonal dishes made from (you guessed it) farm-fresh ingredients.

And last but not least, there is an outstanding eco-friendly Spa that features a glass-enclosed pool, sauna and steam room, and every treatment under the sun.

If you’re not the type who can relax on the grounds and in the spa all day, there are also bikes you can take out to ride along the Hudson River. We rode down to the Walkway Over the Hudson, a 1.28 mile-long walkway that is 212 above the river with amazing views. If you have a car or want to take a taxi, there are also several local wineries within a short drive from the Inn.

Beyond being a wonderful place to relax with the one you love, Buttermilk Falls Inn and Spa will always be a VERY special place for us… we got engaged! I hope it will be as magical a retreat for you as it was for us. :)

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Culture in the city: The African Burial Ground

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 4.21.16 PM
Yesterday, some friends and I took advantage of “Night at the Museums”, an evening of free entry to 13 downtown museums as part of the River to River festival. We decided to check out the African Burial Ground National Monument at 290 Broadway since we’d never heard of it before, and, why not? It turned out to be a very interesting and sobering glimpse into part of NYC history that doesn’t get much attention at other museums in the city.

The African Burial Ground National Monument sits at a site where thousands of Africans were buried during the 17th and 18th centuries The sacred site was completely forgotten until 1991 when construction on a Federal building unearthed hundreds of wooden coffins and human remains. An estimated 15,000 men, women and children, many of whom were slaves, were buried at what is now 290 Broadway. While some of the remains were removed and identified, many of them are still buried there today.

It’s hard to believe that I used to live in the Financial District and no idea this burial ground existed. It is the largest colonial-era cemetery for enslaved African people, and the memorial stands today in dedication to the Africans who lived and died in colonial New York. It’s certainly worth visiting and entry is always free, though donations are accepted. To learn more, visit the site here.

If you’re interested in taking in some culture yourself, the River to River festival is ongoing through June 29th. Free public events include dance, art and music exhibits and shows happening throughout lower Manhattan. There’s always something cultural happening in New York, and it’s even better when the events are free!

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Best Tacos in the East Village

Otto's shrimp taco

Otto’s shrimp taco

As a taco lover (some may even say taco-obsessed), I’m lucky to live in the East Village where the Mexican food options are seemingly endless. I have tried my fair share of the local taco joints, and here are my favorites:

Otto’s Tacos (http://ottostacos.com/)
141 Second Avenue
btw St. Marks Place & East 9th Street

Otto’s is the new kid on the block, serving up West Coast tacos with homemade tortillas and salsas. My personal favorites are the shrimp tacos, followed by mushroom tacos. Both are flavorful and stuffed with onion and fresh cilantro… mmm!

Otto’s is a great destination to pick up food on the run, with quick service but limited high-top and counter seating. Taco prices range from $3-$3.50/each, every day. Add chips and house-made guacamole for $3.75, and you’ve got yourself a delicious lunch or dinner for under $10.

Bait & Hook (http://baitandhooknyc.com/)
231 2nd Ave at 14th street

You might be wondering how a seafood restaurant made it into this post, but their Baja-style fish tacos are certainly worth noting. Bait & Hook is a casual bar/restaurant conveniently located near Union Square. The menu includes a nice selection of draft beer to wash down your meal. On Taco Tuesday you can snag $1 fish tacos with the purchase of booze. Tacos are $3 every day from 3pm to 7pm during Happy Hour. Enjoy!


What are your favorite tacos in the East Village, and other NYC neighborhoods?

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A day at the Finger Lakes Wineries

I took a break from blogging during the long winter months — it the worst winter I have experienced in NYC! But gladly I am back and, having emerged from my winter hibernation, I can continue sharing my adventures here.


View from Leidenfrost VIneyards on Seneca Lake, NY

This past weekend I was part of a celebration for one of my best friends who is getting married. A group of 13 girls rented a beautiful house on Cayuga Lake in Ithaca, New York for the weekend. It was a magical few days, and my favorite part was visiting the local wineries. So, I’ll share my experience with you!

I always wanted to visit a winery but never had before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a low-key and wonderful day that was surprisingly inexpensive.  We chartered a van from a company in Ithaca which was only $45 for 5 hours per person, including gratuity. It was essential to get a driver so everyone could enjoy the wine with no worries about transportation. Here’s the run-down of the wineries we visited.

  • Bellweather Hard Cider: Our first stop of the day was the only spot we visited located on Cayuga Lake.  It was actually a cidery which was a nice way to start out day. We sampled 6 different ciders ranging from extremely dry Champagne-style cider to richer-bodied traditional cider. I was amazed at how inexpensive tastings and bottles were throughout the day. Of course I bought the Original Cider to bring home for later.  http://www.cidery.com/
  • Leidenfrost Vineyards: Our second stop had a beautiful view of Seneca Lake featuring both red and white wines. It was my favorite one of the day due to the view and super friendly staff. The Finger Lakes wineries are traditionally known for Riesling and other white wine but Leidenfrost has a broad range of both red and white. My favorite tasting was the Cayuga White Wine. I bought a full class and sipped it on the patio while enjoying the beautiful lake view. http://www.leidenfrostwine.com/
  • Finger Lakes Distilling: Our third stop was a distillery. Most of the group enjoyed vodka, gin, whiskey, brandy and liqueur samples but I opted to skip this one; I wanted more wine!! But it was neat to see the big copper stills where the actual distillation takes place. Who knew that making booze was such an art! http://www.fingerlakesdistilling.com/
  • Ryan William Winery: Our last stop was a small winery located in a peaceful farm setting. We enjoyed a casual tasting in a rustic tasting room. We tasted Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Cabarnet Franc. http://www.ryanwilliam.com/

We ended the day with a delicious backyard picnic of gourmet appetizers at Stonecat Café. It is one of the most well-known restaurants in the Finger Lakes area, and everything was delicious. A perfect ending to a perfect day!


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