Belly Up to the Bar

When my partner is out of town, I always take myself to dinner. I don’t mean sitting alone at a two-top, however, looking like I’m being stood up (or having to wait pathetically as the host says, “Just you?”). I find a restaurant that has the right kind of bar.

What makes for the right kind of bar? Funny you should ask, for I’ve given the matter some serious thought.

Blaue Gans (photograph by Asha Agnish)

Blaue Gans (photograph by Asha Agnish)

1. The restaurant can’t be too much of a bar-bar. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of place, but if I’m alone I don’t want to be surrounded by large and/or boisterous groups.

2. Likewise, the restaurant shouldn’t be too fancy. If all of the entrées are in the $25–$30 range, I start feeling guilty. (Am I the only one who wishes that Marc Forgione, where the food is delicious, would offer a bar menu, at least on certain nights of the week? The menu doesn’t have to have a burger on it; it just has to be a notch or two more accessible.)

3. Speaking of food: I tend toward the comfort-food end of the spectrum when I’m eating at a bar—the chicken at The Harrison or Duane Park, the sausages at Blaue Gans, pizza at Giorgione, hanger steak anywhere.

4. I sound like Goldilocks, but the bar has to be the right size, and bigger is better. The ones at Trattoria Cinque, The Harrison (though it’s awfully popular), and Blaue Gans feel right. Bread Tribeca also has a good bar, as does Giorgione, up on Spring Street. Ideally, when you walk in you can sit somewhere that’s not jammed in between two people. I love Landmarc, and it serves perfect dining-at-the-bar food, but I don’t ever try to eat at the bar because it’s tiny and always packed. And I recently walked out of Bar Artisanal because the only seat was in front of the beer taps, leaving little room for a plate.

5. No lip! It’s near impossible to eat when your plate is an inch and half down the other side of a ledge running along the outside of the bar.

6. Now that we’re entering autumn, would everyone who owns a restaurant with a bar (or even just a bar) add hooks underneath it? If patrons have a coat or a bag, it makes life much easier.

7. Watching TV is one of those things that’s best done in the privacy of your own home. (Do you know what you look like when you do it? Your face goes slack, your jaw sags open….) I own a product called TV-B-Gone that turns off any TV, and I was tempted to use it at City Hall’s bar once, but a man eating alone was watching the TV, and I just couldn’t do it.

8. I was going to insist that any dining bar have a friendly bartender, but it’s unnecessary: I have yet to eat at a bar where the bartender was anything but a delight. (Contrast that to hit-or-miss waiters.) Moreover, at a bar you get served far more efficiently—which is especially nice when you’re alone, and time slows down. The bartenders at The Harrison, Duane Park, and Blaue Gans are standouts.

9. It should be noted that many bartenders will top off your wine glass—something waiters never do.

10. If you plan on reading—or in my case, doing a crossword puzzle—decent light is crucial. Even if you think you’ll kill time by checking your BlackBerry or doodling around on your phone, remember: The darker the room, the more your little screen will stand out, casting an eerie glow all over you. Duane Park has acceptable light, as does Trattoria Cinque. I think that Upstairs at Bouley (or should I say the downstairs bar at Upstairs at Bouley?) does, too, but I haven’t eaten at that bar… yet.

To be honest, I prefer eating at a bar even if I’m not alone. I enjoy seeing the same thing as my dining companion: It’s a refreshing change from staring at each other across a two-top, as if we’re interviewing each other. Best of all, we almost always get to eavesdrop on interesting conversations. At the risk of making it harder for me to snag a seat, I suggest you give it a try—and let me know how it goes.

Photograph by Asha Agnish.


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