Even if the pandemic is not completely “over,” the restrictions have lifted, the numbers are down, daylight savings has happened and spring is here. If you feel like a blinded neanderthal emerging out of your cave, squinting at the sun, just know you’re not alone. It feels like we’ve been hunkered down inside for two years, and coming out of our dark holes overflowing with banana bread and ruined sourdough is ripe with situational social guffaws, an inexplicable vibe shift and the sudden realization that we don’t recognize our neighborhoods anymore. Many places closed during the pandemic, but many more things have opened: restaurants, bars, art shows, public spaces. Don’t feel overwhelmed; just don some pants and open your apartment door.
Although there have been a lot of false starts to the “hot vax summer” we were promised last year, there is a sense of optimism that this time is for real. Restaurants have been opening all over the city, and the customers have been turning up to sit indoors.
“As the city opens back up and restrictions have been lifted, life has returned to the streets of New York City,” says Matt Foley, Parched Hospitality Group Corporate Executive Chef and Isla & Co. Executive Chef. “We see this in our other restaurants and we expect this will only continue.”
Our favorite restaurants can’t wait to have us back. Restauranteurs have taken financial risks to stay open, or simply open during these uncertain days.
“A lot of times, there is never really a ‘right time’ to start a business or look to expand on an existing business,” says Elyssa Heller, owner of Edith’s Restaurant + Grocery. Heller started Edith’s during the pandemic as a weekend popup, but due to rising real estate prices she knew if she wanted to expand, she had to do it before the market rebounded.”The plan has always been to have an Eatery & Grocery store, so I took the chance to make it happen and signed our lease at 312 Leonard Street before we were priced out of the market we wanted to play in.”
The lesson? Always bet on New York; even a global pandemic can’t stop the openings. Here’s your cheat sheet to just some of what’s new under the sun.
New Restaurants and Bars: Brooklyn
Agi’s Counter, 818 Franklin Avenue, Prospect Heights
I’m dying to squeeze into Agi’s Counter for brunch. An Eastern European cafe that serves a small menu of pastries, egg dishes and blueberry crepes feels like the comfort food we are all craving right now. Reservations are hard to come by, but you might have luck waiting for a walk-in table.
Bar Blondeau, Wythe Hotel, rooftop, Williamsburg
Do we need another rooftop bar? If you’ve been on a roof at the magic hour sipping a champagne cocktail and staring at the twinkling skyline, then you would know the answer. Bar Blondeau is the latest to join the ranks. A seafood-forward menu compliments chic drinks and an unobstructed view of Manhattan.
Bar Goto Niban, 474 Bergen St., Park Slope
Technically Bar Goto Niban opened right before the pandemic (terrible timing) so you’d be excused for not knowing about it. But this gem of a cocktail bar is serving up interesting cocktails like the Koji-San (Shochu, Mezcal, lime, celery and dashi salt) or a Whisky Highball (Japanese whisky and soda.)
Blinky’s Bar, 609 Grand St., Williamsburg
A pretty backyard, a good event lineup, and yummy cocktails make for a modernized UK pub experience. Oh and did we mention, Blinky’s has a great Happy Hour (4-7 weekdays, 12am- close and ALL DAY on Sunday.) This is going to be your new favorite watering hole, so get comfortable.
Cherry on Top, 379 Suydam St., Bushwick
This adorable natural wine bar with a stunning rooftop opened in the fall by a food illustrator and every element is well thought out and squeal-worthy cute. The environment goes against the usual trappings of a stuffy wine bar. The vibe at Cherry on Top is welcoming, the crowd is friendly and the bartenders are happy to discuss wine with even the most inexperienced enthusiasts.
Dept. of Culture, 327 Nostrand Ave., Bedford Stuyvesant
Rotating prix-fixe menu ($75) inspired by the owner’s Nigerian upbringing. Come for the stories that accompany every dish, the intimate community atmosphere (Dept. of Culture can only accompany 15 people total), and the music. Also, FYI, it’s BYOB.
Edith’s Eatery and Grocery, 312 Leonard St., Williamsburg
From the founder behind Edith’s Sandwich Counter, Elyssa Heller, Edith’s Eatery and Grocery is where you can pop by for a quick brunch of a Khavalti Turkish Breakfast and also pick up your Jewish staples like house-smoked fish or Michelin-starred Pierozek pierogies. Make a reservation or be prepared to wait in the first-come, first-served atmosphere. Anything enjoyed on the menu — Chicken schnitzel, Labneh Parfait with Chickpea Granola, Syrniki Pancakes, or baked goods — can also be taken home along with sundries like blue heirloom eggs, Akawi Egyptian cheese (like a less briny feta), and amba-pickled shallots.
Inga’s Bar, 66 Hicks St. Brooklyn Heights
When the neighborhood favorite, Jack The Horse Tavern, closed, there was nowhere left to eat in Brooklyn Heights. Thankfully chef Sam Rmbold and designer Caron Callahan decided to breathe life in the space with Inga’s, which features American classics and cocktails. They leave half the tables for walk-ins.
Isla and Co, 107 N. 12th St., Williamsburg
The thrill of traveling to Australia can be quenched with this all-day cafe and restaurant in a sunny location adjacent to the William Vale. The menu at Isla and Co focuses on Aussie favorites like Fish & Chips, Spicy Shrimp Vodka Rigatoni, or an elevated burger that all pair with creative cocktails with whimsical names like “The Wizard of Aus.” Whether you come for brunch or dinner, it’s the kind of place you’ll want to become a regular. “We are always looking to create a vibe and atmosphere that people look forward to returning to,” says Foley.
Lore, 441 7th Avenue, South Slope
Indian-inspired experimental food, a changing seasonal menu, and a gorgeous space make Lore a great date night spot or a perfect place to become a regular if you live in the neighborhood. Food: Dosa, Sea Bream, Smashburgers, Baklava. Order a drink named after your favorite poet or songwriter.
Openings around Brooklyn and NYC
Blank Street, multiple locations around the city
Blank Street coffee shop was founded in the summer of 2020, in the heart of the pandemic, and has since spread to twelve locations across Brooklyn alone. The coffee is superb and the cost is astonishingly low for a cup of coffee, making them a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
Choco Cortez, 141 Alexander Avenue, South Bronx
Did someone say chocolate? The inventive-sounding Choco Cortez is focused on chocolate, and that is something I can get behind in all circumstances. Here it’s not a gimmick though, and the food (chocolate grilled cheese, chocoburger with chocolate ketchup, or chocomartini) is already a favorite at their sister restaurant in Puerto Rico.
Art & Attractions
“Tomas Saraceno: Particular Matter,” The Shed, 545 W. 30th Street, Hudson Yards
Although I haven’t been yet, it seems like everyone I know has either crawled below Tomas Saraceno’s spider web to take astonishing photos or climbed on top for a transformative experience. Billed as “a large scale exhibition and sensory experience,” that seems worth the price of admission. Through April 13, 2022.
QC Spa, Governor’s Island
Our favorite staycation destination, Governor’s Island no longer just a warm-weather activity. The ferry leaves shore all year round, allowing visitors a bit of respite and nature whenever they need it. Also, after the stress we’ve all experienced over the last two years, we can no indulge in a luxe day spa that just opened on the island. At QC spa, you can indulge in their “wellness experience” or add on a massage or spa lunch.
Whitney Biennial, (opens April 6)
Every two years, the Whitney Biennial presents this highly regarded art event, showcasing contemporary artists, and is usually a harbinger of trends to come in the art world. The show was postponed last year due to Covid and this year’s show, “Whitney Biennial 2022: Quiet as It’s Kept,” is sure to be a crowdpleaser for the eager art world fans ready to kill someone to get back inside the museums. (See, for example, the lunatic MOMA member who jumped over the counter to stab the ticketer when he was turned away from entering.)