Happy Friday! We’re here to make it even happier with our mini-series, The Weekend Has Landed. All month long we’re sharing ideas to help you make the most of those precious 50-something hours. This week, Table for One columnist Eric Kim walks us through his favorite solo stomping grounds.
When I was 18 years old, I moved to New York City to become a pop star. This was back when teenaged singer-songwriters like Michelle Branch, Vanessa Carlton, and Avril Lavigne were taking over Top 40 radio. Enamored that anyone so young could become that famous just for writing down their feelings, I set forth, was lucky enough to play the club circuit at old-school Manhattan rock venues like The Bitter End, Arlene's Grocery, and Piano's, peddling my debut EP in between undergraduate coursework.
The dream? A record deal.
All you wanted was somebody who cares/ If you need me you know I'll be there/ Oh, yeah
Michelle Branch, "All You Wanted"
But after a couple of failed contracts, I eventually fell out of love with singing and fell deeply in love with reading. Reading was my excuse for the real dream: hanging out at cafés and park benches, people-watching and immersing myself fully in the hubbub of the best city in the world.
Looking back now, those years were imperative not only to my growing confidence as a future 24/7 misanthrope, but also to my formative New York City education. I quickly learned that having a book, often paired with a journal and a great pen, meant that I could sit quietly by myself at all of these iconic institutions without feeling self-conscious. Better yet, I could carve out my own space in a city with so much history, so much pastness—and make it my own in the present.
Needless to say, after a decade living here, I've got a veritable trove of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops I like to visit to slow down and take time to myself. These are a few of my absolute favorite haunts, places that I think are ideal for solo patrons—where I hope that you, in turn, will find as much pleasure as I have.
This is where I come to get one dinner and one dinner alone: salmon with vegetables. It sounds boring, and counterintuitive, to order fish of all things at a pizza restaurant. But let me tell you: The salmon, eggplant, zucchini, and squash all get roasted in the scorching hot brick oven, which means delicious charred bits on the outside, with soft, tender centers (for both the fish and the vegetables). Punctured by salty capers, olives, and red onions, it's a solo supper fit for royalty. This tiny restaurant also happens to have tiny tables, which means you're almost encouraged to go by yourself.
I've written about Da Andrea before, though not by name (ahem, Restaurant C). While they might not take reservations for one (parties must be four or more), their maître d' may go out of his way to find you a table, whether he has one or not. Maybe because I've been a regular for nearly a decade, even at his busiest (7 p.m. on a Friday), he will pull out a tiny table from the back and set it for service. I always listen to the specials, because the daily soup is very good (cross your fingers for the shrimp bisque when you're there), but more often than not I order the warm octopus and potato salad, the ricotta cavatelli with pesto, salmon, and shrimp, and a glass of the house red.
I'm always surprised at how many people know the hidden bar Angel's Share, but don't actually know the restaurant you walk through to get there, Village Yokocho. Their specialty is yakitori, so go HAM on the skewers, especially the beef tongue, chicken skin, and smelt. But I'm a huge fan of their other dishes, most notably the gomaae (cold blanched spinach with sesame sauce), sinus-clearing wasabi shumai, spicy tuna (which I like to order with a side of white rice), and, my favorite, the yaki onigiri (grilled rice ball). Pair your food with a hot sake or any one of the cold Japanese beers—and sit at the bar, because it's the best seat in the house.
Another bar-seat restaurant, Davelle's menu is modern Japanese home cooking at its best. And it's my latest obsession. The dishes are a bit expensive for what they are, but this hole in the wall makes up for it with quality service and perfect food. I love to go by myself after work and order their "Neapolitan" spaghetti, a savory, ketchup-y tangle of mochi pasta, peppers, and egg, or maybe their hot katsu curry. And I always get the strawberry Junmai Ginjo (that's wine made from strawberry seeds, not strawberries). Check it out earlier in the day, too, when their menu features omurice and the most lovely toasts.
A proper Scotch bar with a great selection and a very nice, very helpful head bartender from Scotland (who may or may not be the owner). This hole in the wall used to be called The 'Dam, a play on its locale, Amsterdam Avenue, and even though the prices have gone up, it's where all of the doctoral students from the university come to drink because it's a) quieter and b) undergraduate-free.
I don't shop at Saks; in fact, there's nothing I hate more than shopping for clothes. But a friend recently told me about the new L'Avenue (yep, like the one in Paris). The restaurant itself is exceptional (do try the banana spritz, crab and avocado Bibb salad, Peking duck, and yogurt ice cream cheesecake), but the real gem here is the downstairs bar/lounge. Even "bar/lounge" sounds fancier than what this really is: a cozy, wood-paneled cove with the most comfortable chairs ever. I like to lounge in one of these chairs with a drink, reading a novel or catching up on emails.
Le Chalet is a cozy gem for solo dwellers.Photo by Justin Bridges
This hidden-away oasis (literally behind scaffolding at the moment) is where you're likely to find me during the week, for a few reasons: 1) The bartenders, Rustun and Paul, are the finest gentlemen I know in Manhattan (they'll take great care of you); 2) it's usually pretty quiet on weeknights, which is great for reading, working, writing, or just clearing your head; 3) Our/New York happens to be a small-batch vodka distillery, so they make a mean martini (ask for the one with sherry); 4) if you ask, the bar backs will make you a free-of-charge individual tortizza (a toaster-oven pizza with a tortilla crust), perfect for solo diners.
Due to the New York Times' coverage a couple years ago, Sel Rrose is now one of those trendy bars you'll see frequently on Instagram. But don't let the gorgeous millennial-pink panel doors dissuade you from entering. The cocktails are probably my favorite in the city (lavender lovers, try the Piscine). But the bar's pièce de résistance is actually its food. Grab a spot at the long, open bar or a small table outside and plan to stay for dinner—their oysters are top-notch, and the kitchen churns out better dishes than most of the restaurants in the area.
On slow, leisurely weekends, I love the quiet comfort of a no-frills neighborhood coffeehouse (with Wi-Fi!) like The Chipped Cup. They make delicious cappuccinos and have the best giant cinnamon rolls. I bring my dog and set up shop in the outdoor patio with my laptop, catching up on the week's work. And, uh, in case this matters to you at all: All of the pretty Broadway boys happen to live up here, so you may be lucky enough to share a table with Dr. Pomatter.
When I was a literature PhD at the university, this is where I'd come to work almost every day. I suppose I kept coming back because it reminded me of the Three Broomsticks in the Harry Potter series: low ceilings, brown walls, warm light. Students reading everywhere. If you look closely enough, you'll probably catch your favorite novelist typing away in the back (or at least I did). But of course the Hungarian pastries are also a big draw. My order has been the same ever since I first stepped into the establishment years ago: two rainbow cookies and one Hungarian coffee (which comes with a mountain of whipped cream, cinnamon, and almond extract).
There are many Thinks in New York City, but the one on Mercer Street is my favorite. The interior is the most interesting, as is the layout. I love that there's a bar (surprise), where you can order beer or wine. When I was in college, I always saw my poetry professor sitting in the corner, drinking a glass of red (hair pulled back, glasses askew) and grading a huge pile of undergraduate essays. This image would later inspire me to perch there as well—only instead of grading papers, I'm writing riveting pieces like this one.
It's a bit competitive to snag a spot at the four-seat bar in this homey tea house, but should you be lucky enough, the rewards are plenty. You get to watch the ritual of it all: The preparation of each tea on the menu is deliberate, and deliberately different. I usually just come here for dessert (the black sesame crème brûlée is one of my favorite confections in the city) and a pot of buttery yellow chrysanthemum tea. But they also have gorgeous seasonal seven-grain rice sets, for when you're feeling virtuous and in need of clean sustenance.
Though I am a bit embarrassed to admit that one of my absolute favorite things to do on the weekend is go to the Bed, Bath, and Beyond on 65th Street, here I am. And I'm convinced that this is the best BB&B in NYC. Why? The moment you enter, an escalator floats you down like a debutante into the cushy depths of home-goods paradise. I don't even buy anything! I just...walk around, slowly, touching the mugs, the placemats, the gorgeous duvets and comforters and pillows and Yankee Candles. Somehow, this brief escape gives me the same level of therapy as a 60-minute massage.
Most people passing through New York City know of the Grand Central Oyster Bar. My obsession with it started in 2012, when Lea Michele's character in Glee left her boyfriend behind in Lima, Ohio and took a train to Grand Central Terminal to follow her dreams (of becoming a star). (I'll admit, for years after that heart-wrenching episode, I'd time my iPod to play "Roots Before Branches" exactly at the moment when I reached those big gold doors, just as Rachel Berry did.)
Oh, but back to the bar: I always ignore the maître d' and head straight to the back room, which has a rainbow sign SALOON. The lighting is dimmer, the drinks are stronger, and the oysters and French fries taste better. Sometimes I get the clam chowder, sometimes I don't. Regardless, a combination of any of these (anything else on the menu is exorbitantly overpriced) will ensure that your bill is short and your dreams high.
This dog park has, since its most recent renovation, gained a sign that warns against non–dog owners from entering. But I'm here to give you the inside scoop: No one is monitoring that hullabaloo. Whether or not you have a dog with you—whether or not you yourself are a dog—feel free to walk into the dog run, sit on a bench, and watch all of the little fur babies barking and licking and playing with each other. 100% of the time, it will make you feel better. 100% of the time, there will be that one loner dog who smells your fear isolation, comes up to you (tail wagging), and nestles against your leg, if only to sit with you for a while.
My cousin used to manage the Bowery Hotel, back when Michelle Branch was a frequent guest. And I get why: The inside has the bohemian vibes of her Spirit Room cover art. Think ornate Turkish rugs, Victorian love seats, lots of deep browns and burgundies. What many may not realize is that there's a phenomenal bar in the back, reminiscent of fancy-shmancy, old-school parlours (yes, parlours with a "u"), which opens in the evening. Should you be in the area earlier, though, here's my secret trick: Walk in with confidence, as if you're a hotel guest, and sit in one of the big armchairs in the lobby. A waiter will come up to you and probably (if you're not confident enough) check that you do indeed have a room. Say "yes" and pretend you don't remember the room number, but make up a floor. Order a martini—it will be very cold and very strong.
What's your favorite solo gem in the Big Apple? Tell, tell in the comments.
Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.
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