In my quest to better myself before I turn 30, I have devised the genius plan of getting to know New York City, New York people and New York drinks better. I want to do all of this in 30 days, and thus this particular challenge began last week on January 14th.
In this challenge, I will go to 30 different venues in New York City, with 30 different people and have 30 different drinks. Neither the venues nor the people have to be entirely new to me, as that would be too difficult a task to accomplish, as exemplified by my faithful pursuit of the “100 Days, 100 Things to do in the Summer” series. However, all of the drinks on this list will be new. And one last caveat is that unlike the other 30-day challenges I will pursue before my 30th birthday, this one does not require me to do one everyday. Instead, I have allowed myself to double and triple up on venues in single day given that this challenge relies on my personal schedule, my work schedule and the schedules of other people.
Anyway, the latest on my progress is below. I will update this post as more progress is made.
1. Tuesday, January 14, 2014 – 6pm
- Venue: The Flatiron Room, West 26th Street, Chelsea – The venue was awesome. It’s actually quite amazing that I had never been here before, given that I worked on 26th Street for a long time, and I come to 26th all the time to visit friends that live/work in the area. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a truly vintage, old-school place where you can chill after work, The Flatiron Room is just the place. They play some light, live music in the background, without coming across as pretentious, and the crowd is pretty laid back as well.
- Person: An Old College Friend – I can’t divulge names, right? Anyway…I probably hadn’t seen this college friend since our 5-year reunion back in 2011. We had a good conversation catching up on what each other is doing professionally. Her advancement in filmmaking is quite stunning, considering the number of films, projects and dollars she has made/raised. I almost thought about asking her to hire me to be her entry-level production assistant, but I thought that was too much to ask during happy hour.
- Drink: I went with The Flatiron Room’s “37 West 26,” which is described as, “Inspired on whisky and wood, this is a delicious concoction which combines art & flavor; Johnnie Walker Black, Drambuie, figs, bitters, and fresh lemon juice.” Clearly, the Johnnie Walker Black is what brought me in, but I ordered a second drink because of the Drambuie and figs, which combined for a nice tart, yet flavorful, taste.
2. Thursday, January 16, 2014 – 6pm
- Venue: Brass Monkey, 55 Little West 12th St, West Village – I’ve been to the Brass Monkey several times–both for personal and work events. It’s a decent place, especially in the winter, when it’s not swarming with people looking to soak up the sun on it’s not-so-spacious rooftop. On this cold, Manhattan night, I was reserved to the 2nd floor, where there was plenty of space for me to go to the bar, eat and watch the Knicks lose.
- Person: I was out with several people here. In such instances, I will use the person I talked with the most as my the unique person of the day. In this instance, it was a co-worker at Google that I haven’t done much work with, but did share a project with at one point. I learned a lot about his background in digital media, his climbing of the corporate ladder, and his thoughts on the meaning of life.
- Drink: Because I’ve been to the Brass Monkey quite a few times, there was nothing new that I considered worth trying. However, we did end up at that same co-worker’s apartment for a nightcap, where I had a glass of Michael Collins Single Malt. I’m no scotch expert, so I won’t fake the funk here, but it tasted like decent scotch to me…no complaints.
3. Friday, January 17, 2014 – 6pm
- Venue: Buddakan, 75 9th Ave, Chelsea – This building is attached to Google’s location at the Chelsea Market Building, and yet I hadn’t been inside Buddakan since beginning to work at Google last August. I don’t know if I would have picked this pricey place for a happy hour spot if not for the considerable discount I managed to get out of going at this particular time of day. I was starving by the time I got here, and so I ordered the “Bo Bo Plate.” Despite it’s diminutive size, the plate was full of food awesomeness, as it contained 6 different samplings of the restaurants appetizers, including tuna spring rolls, sesame shrimp toast, boneless spare ribs, carrot dumplings, and cantonese spring rolls. The boneless spare rib and the carrot dumplings were the best things on the plate!
- Person: Business School Classmate – This person is someone who is becoming a better and better friend every day. During this particular encounter, we discussed the usual, which involved talks on working too hard, learning spanish, lost cell phones and “why in the hell did we go to Buddakan for happy hour?” Regardless of the conversation, this particular happy hour comrade of mine is always welcomed company.
- Drink: The Solid – Comprised of “town branch bourbon, lillet, ginger, and orange,” The Solid was a rather tasty drink. I did order two, but I don’t know if it was because I really liked the mix of bourbon and ginger, or if the other drinks on the specialty cocktail list just didn’t inspire me. It was probably a little bit of both.
4. Friday, January 17, 2014, 8:30pm
- Venue: Fish, 280 Bleecker St, Greenwich Village – I had seen several friends check-in at Fish on Foursquare over the past couple of months, so when one of my friends recommended it as a spot to go to for dinner, I was excited. I ordered way too much food though, as their menu is overflowing with seafood goodness. First of all, the lobster bisque was excellent, and to be honest, I have a high-bar when it comes to bisque. Second of all, if you’re really hungry, definitely go with the paella, which is full of clams and lobster, and enough food to feed even the hardiest of sailors. And third of all, the lobster mac & cheese was killer. With my older age, I’m realizing more and more that fewer and fewer restaurants in New York City are messing up mac & cheese. I feel like “S’mac” has made NYC restauranteurs raise their game. I hate to end on a sour note, but if you think just because Fish’s lobster bisque and lobster mac & cheese are good, that the lobster mashed potatoes are good as well…think again!
- Person: College Friend – This was actually a double-date (yes, in my old age, I now look forward to these), and so I could have picked between three people. But most of my conversation was with the other male at dinner. We talked about each of our long-term career goals. I want to be the black Rupert Murdoch and he’s looking at maybe bringing a budding digital media company into the New York fray and Madison Avenue. Other topics included drinking in New Orleans, the promise of new start-up Walker & Company, and some youth programs here in New York City.
- Drink: Malbec – I’ve probably had a Malbec before (I’m almost sure I have), but I’ve never known that I was drinking it, because I have never ordered it for myself. It likely got served to me at some overly-swanky, pretentious, Ivy League event, where I never thought to ask anything beyond “red or white?” That said, I liked the smokey taste of the Malbec, so this wasn’t the last time I ordered this type of wine. However, it was not exactly the best wine to pair for an evening of seafood, but I liked it anyway.
5. Saturday, January 18, 10pm
- Venue: Beauty Bar – I had heard of this place many times, but had never been. I try not to go East of 3rd for fear of getting roped into taking a cab home, but this was for a friend’s birthday, so I took the risk. Beauty Bar was very crowded when I got there, but the back was rented out for the birthday party, so that was a relief–especially since it was barely 10pm and the place was already swarming with out-of-control, crazy people. But in the back, all was well, with plenty of open space and a short wait at the open bar.
- Person: Since this was a party, I talked to many people, but one of the people that stood out was a guy who happens to have worked with an old college classmate of mine. They both worked at an education non-profit, and I got to hear about how much social media is involved in his day-to-day job, what he’s going to be doing at South by Southwest, and how he’s trying to get his boss to use more Google products. I promise that I didn’t pitch him any ideas!
Drink: I messed up on this night and didn’t get a new drink. Somehow I forgot about my duties to this mission, and I went with my old faithful, the “rum and coke.” So, I won’t count this as a new drink, but the venue and person still add to the tally.
6. Sunday, January 19, 6pm
- Venue: Hornblower Hybrid Yacht, Pier 15, Seaport – I managed to snag an RSVP to the “Yelp Holiday Hangover” party aboard the Hornblower Hybrid yacht. Needless to say, Yelp throws a good ass party. I didn’t know a soul there, and the racial diversity was a tad bit lacking, yet despite that, I managed to get quite comfortable, and the unlimited food and drinks were probably the reasons why. Aboard the ship were over a dozen vendors serving up food, drinks and massages. I personally fell in love with the shrimp rolls from Luke’s Lobster, the Meatballs from Littletown and the Hornblower’s own sliders, which I probably had 9 of.
- Person: Girlfriend – My lovely girlfriend accompanied me on this trip out into the East River. It was a cold night, and before we got to the inside of the boat, we had to wait in below-freezing temperatures for about 45 minutes–so big props to her for withstanding the cold. Once inside though, we spent the initial hour waiting in lines for food, giving us plenty of time to discuss our 30th birthday parties, why so few black people weren’t on board, and how much we thought that whole Yelp shindig costs. Obviously we had some other, more private, conversations, of which I’ll only divulge one discussion relating to a certain lady behind the cookie vendor’s table. For those who were on the boat, you know what I’m talking about…
- Drink #1: Vodka Collins – I got two unique drinks on this trip (to make up for the mistake at Beauty Bar). The first drink was the Vodka Collins, which tasted as if it were weak on the alcohol, but as I later found out, was quite strong. The soda water and sweet & sour mix do a tremendous job of hiding the vodka. It tasted great! However, I think the addition of some lemonade and a dash of liqueur would make for an interesting drink as well…no?
- Drink #2: A Manhattan – Yes, it’s true. I’ve never had a Manhattan before. As a fairly big, burly, black man, I’m extra sensitive about being seen with too fancy of a glass in my hand, so the thought of ordering a Manhattan has never even crossed my mind. But because the drinks were free and being served in plastic cups, I was game to give it a try. I personally don’t see the allure of the Manhattan, but it’s not an awful drink.
7. Thursday, January 23, 9pm
- Venue: Flatiron Hall
- Person: Business School Classmate
- Drink: Flatiron Margarita
8. Friday, January 24, 5:30pm
- Venue: Wood & Ale
9. Friday, January 24, 8:30pm
- Venue: The Park 112 - Don’t sleep on this sexy, little, venue in Harlem! The Park 112 has an awesome decor, a Chef Roble like take on some traditional African-American inspired dishes, and one good-ass chicken wing. I won’t harp on the food too much, but I will say that going with the steak will not let you down. There were 2 things wrong with this place. One, the waiter tried to holla at my woman, completely disrespecting the the 3:3 ratio of men to women at the table (don’t worry…I checked him). And two, as a place clearly new to the wintry weather of New York City, they didn’t put one of those exterior “keep the cold air out of the entrance” protector thingies around the front door. Still, it was a wonderful night with wonderful people.
- Person: Friend/Husband of Business School Classmate - Anytime I can talk to one of the three people that listens to my podcast, I’m a happy man. We haven’t gotten to know each other all that well yet, but I suspect over time that will indeed happen. Nonetheless, I enjoyed our talks on the media industry, the Boondocks and checking folks that tried to holla at your woman.
- Drink #1: The Uptown – Good.: - Dark Rum of Jamaican Type, Lime Juice, Orange Juice, Pineapple Juice, Grenadine, Orange Bitters, Triple Sec
Drink #2: The Upper Manhattan – Great! - Michters Bourbon, Antica Formula Vermouth, Angostura Bitters, Hennessy VS, Macerated Cherry
10. Saturday, January 25 – 9pm
- Venue: Bayard’s Ale House – A nice cozy place in the West Village. Certainly no The Park 112, but a great place to meet up with some friends, which is what I did. Wound up making a whole night out of it, which is something I usually don’t expect when I walk in at 9pm. But the food (pasta, white wine sauce, salmon) was good, and so was the company!
- Person: Business School Classmate - This guy is a troublemaker–not unlike-myself, which is why we get a long. I have this habit of making fun of the people I like the most, so we talked about how unsuccessful, unlucky and un-handsome he is. Naturally, he’s actually successful, luckily landed a great girlfriend, but he’s still an ugly-looking dude.
- Drink: Moscow Mule – Somehow I never had one of these before, and yet I managed to drink about 500 of them. I thought I would wake up with a stunning hangover, and I didn’t. Perhaps the drinks were watered-down, or maybe I’ve built a tolerance unknown to mankind. Either way, you can’t go wrong with a Moscow Mule. Seriously, how have I never had this drink before?
11. Wednesday, January 29th – 6:30pm
- Venue: Landsdowne Road – Admittedly, I like my happy hours one way: cheap. After all, if I’m going to go out to drink every day after work, I can’t possibly afford to pay full price 5 times a week and twice on the weekends. And while Landsdowne doesn’t go for that Happy Hour mumbo-jumbo on Wednesday nights, they do have pretty good chicken wings.
- People: The Doctor – Not my doctor, but my friend the doctor. Like me, I don’t think he’s about this paying full-price life, so I’m surprised he decided to take me and two other friends out to a place that appeared to be strictly about making a brotha pay full-price…but I digress. The conversation focused on LeBron James, mentees and the impending Super Bowl.
- Drinks: I failed on the new drink thing!
12. Wednesday, January 29th – 11:30pm
- Venue: Patron Mexican Grill - This place ended up on my list of things to do on Foursquare, so why the hell not? I didn’t get any food, so I don’t have much to report on this place, other than this is a great bar to just chill, drink and be among every day New Yorkers like myself. What else do you want out of a weeknight binging experience?
- People: Business School Friend – The idea that someone can fly into town on a Wednesday, call you, say “let’s drink”, and you end up drinking until 1-2 am in the morning on a weekday is a good thing. Can’t say that’s not what I would have done even had he not come into town that night, but it certainly made it less pathetic. Topics of conversation included, women, food and women. Our usuals.
13. Friday, January 31st – 6pm
- Venue: Hundred Acres – Much to my surprise, Hundred Acres is one of the few places in Soho offering up a decent happy hour special. In fact, it’s better than decent given that Hundred Acres is “giving” away well-sized appetizer plates for just $6 a pop, from 5-7 on weekdays. I must go back.
- Person: Business School Friend – This was a gathering of all the people in my cluster, so I actually got to talk to a lot of different individuals. This particular person has a tendency to poke fun at me, albeit usually because she was provoked, but her words always come via this British accent, so I let it slide.
- Drink #1: The Bandit – Peloton de la muerte mezcal, tequila, chipotle, lime
- Drink #2: Not Guilty – Alibi whiskey, broadbent madeira, fresh lime
14. Friday, January 31st – 11pm
- Venue: Bareburger – A wonderful place that I don’t go to enough. I went with 3 other people, and while the time spent talking about things under the slight influence of a 4-hour Cluster reunion happy hour was enjoyable, the burger made my day. The idea to make an already outstanding burger and then put brisket on top of it is utterly amazing!
- Person: Business School Classmate – Again, I have three people to choose from here, but I’ll go with the one that say directly across from me. Besides, that’s who you end up talking to the most in a 4-person, 2 people to a side, table arrangement, right? The topics of conversation included me leading us to Bareburger post-happy hour, the wisdom of crowds, and naturally, life post-business school.
- Drink: Lionshead Beer – I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I didn’t have much choice. When in Rome…do things you don’t like to do.
15. Saturday, February 1st – 12:30am
- Venue: The Wooly – If you don’t know about The Wooly, it’s your own fault. But I digress. When I walked in, I thought I was 100% crashing a birthday party. But 3 minutes into it, I saw 3 friends from business school (not a coincidence I saw one, but 3?), and I ran into a friend from my high school football team. Small world.
- Person: Business School Classmate and HK Resident – While I didn’t spend too much time talking to him, the idea that he would just “swoop in” to New York City from Hong Kong on a whim makes him my kind of guy and “the” person I talked to at The Wooly. He literally asked us what was going 3 days prior to his arrival via a group email, and then he asked where I was Friday night. Wasn’t sure if his email was meant to lead us on or truly genuine. Nonetheless, it was a happy surprise to see him.
- Drink: The Dark and Wooly – If you want to know, you have to go…
16. Saturday, February 1st – 11pm
- Venue: Millesime – A nice little place in the Gramercy/Flatiron area. I had never been there before, so much to my surprise, it was quite the space for something I hadn’t even heard of. That said, it was a pretty weak pre “Super Bowl” party for the most part, with few people dancing and not very many people there to begin with.
- Person: Old College Friend – Reminiscing with college friends, no matter how often you seem them, is always a blast from the past. You’re talking to people who knew you when you were a wide-eyed, 18-year old from Texas, and at the same time, you see them through your 18-year old eyes as the 18-year old they once were. I think that’s why it’s always important to stay up with the people you meet when you’re younger. Even though growing and growing a part is sometimes a natural part of life, it’s hard to beat relationships where the main image of that person in your head is that of an innocent youngster–and vice versa.
- Drink: Hennessy and Cranberry – Nothing special here, but I was always opposed to mixing these two drinks. In fact, the very idea that I made this concoction disgusts me. Dark liquor with cranberry juice…are we serious? Yes. Yes, we are. It was good…but never again!
17. Monday, February 3rd – 6:3opm
- Venue: El Cid – This is a quaint little spot in Chelsea–very underrated. I probably average .75 trips here every week, because there’s never a huge crowd and they are practically giving away Margaritas.
- Person: Business School Baby Cluster Mate – A friend from business school was looking to work for my employer and wanted some tips and advice on how to play the hand she’s working with. I did my best, and I hope I was of some help, but I often ramble on about “my way” of getting into the company, which may or may not have been any use to her. She appeared to be eagerly taking notes and paying attention, but I’m nearly 100% sure that was all for show. Just kidding…I hope!
- Drink: Something new, but I don’t remember what it was called, dammit!
18. Wednesday, February 5th – 9:30pm
- Venue: Ms. Lily’s – A wonderful place full of great Jamaican people, decor, and of course, food! I thought I had died and gone to Jamaican heaven. Let’s just start with the food–it was amazing! I had the Jerk chicken, some “Jacquitos” and several other mouth-watering tapas (like Mac & Cheese Pie) that will make you spend all of your money at Ms. Lily’s. It was well worth the price though–I don’t know how more people aren’t filling this place up!
- Person: College Friend – I’m just now beginning to realize that labeling my friends as that of being from “work,” “college” or “business school” is pretty lame. I don’t know how else to do it without saying too much. I could give physical descriptions that wouldn’t help anybody actually figure out who they are, but that doesn’t lend much to their relationship with me–which is really what this is all about, right? Well, in this situation, the conversation definitely wasn’t about me. The two of us actually were dining with one of his good friends from high school who has a burgeoning start-up out in Silicon Valley. So a lot of the conversation was around recruiting black people in the tech space, marketing and career moves. Great stuff if you there…very boring and business sounding if you weren’t.
- Drink: Soju Margarita – The only downside to Ms. Lily’s is that they don’t have a liquor license. But if you order their Soju-infused Margarita, you won’t regret coming here!
19. Friday, February 7th – 6:00pm
- Venue: Local West – Great place across from Madison Square Garden, where I was going after happy hour. If you haven’t been, you’re missing out on quintessential New York City happy hours.
- Person: My Brother – My brother was in town, so before we went to the Knicks game, I tried to get him a little liquored up before he watched my egregious Knicks play really bad basketball (they actually ended up winning this one though). Topics of conversation included plans for the weekend, plans for the future and sports.
- Drink: Jalepeno Margarita – As someone who loves a good Margarita, I felt like the damn drink had been reinvented when I tried it with a jalepeno in it. Who the hell knew that kind of kick got added to one of my favorite cocktails just by the drop of a single jalepeno? It’s almost scientifically amazing. So much so, I can’t believe that much kick came from just a single jalepeno–they must have dropped something else in there. But whether they did or didn’t, it was absolutely delicious!
20. Saturday, February 8th – 2pm
- Venue: The Meatball Shop – I love this place, and how can anyone not? It’s full of meatballs, drinks and the type of people that can appreciate both. I really do think that the type of people that regularly come to a restaurant that only serves meatballs are my kind of people. Because doing so means you’re not always worried about some diet, trying the newest fad or are following all this crazy “make anything out of ramen” fad that’s taking the city over.
- Person: My Other Brother – My other brother came out to New York City as well, and the topics didn’t change much here either. Conversation included Chelsea v. Harlem, working at “G,” and future career plans.
21. Saturday, February 8th – 9pm
- Venue: Congee Bowery - Awesome Chinese food. Enough said.
22. Saturday, February 8th – 11pm
- Venue: Essex Restaurant – A place I’ve been to one too many times without ever having eaten there. You know my rule…once I have partied there more than 3 times without trying the food, I no longer trust your food.
- Person: Old Business School Classmate – My classmate in from Europe was there to grace the party with her presence. She’s beginning to come back to America so often that I think she really likes it here. It was a loud party, so as per my Grandfather-like hearing, I barely heard myself talk, but topics of conversation included life on the other side of the pond and the craziness that was the very party we were talking amongst.
23. Sunday, February 9th – 12:30am
- Venue: Random Place in LES – I literally never saw the name of the two places we ended up in, so I can’t tell you what either of them was called. This place certainly isn’t worth remembering, so the owner should be thanking me for not seeing the sign, or patting himself on the back for hiding any type of branding for his bar.
- Person: A New Person – This conversation was going very well and then she went awry. We talked about simple things like relationships, traveling and finding jobs, then she dropped some really stupid stuff on me and I shut it down. The End.
24. Wednesday, February 12th – 6:30pm
- Venue: SNAP – It always amazes me how SNAP manages to be this really cool-looking bar on 14th Street, literally on the point of intersection of The Village, Meatpacking and Chelsea, and yet at 6:30pm on a Wednesday, you could walk in and make up 100% of the clientele.
- Person: Co-Worker – I went here hoping to get a bunch of fellow co-workers out. Only two made it (how cool am I?), but it was a very good conversation. The one I talked to the longest told me a lot about the culture at the company, plans for an internal group he leads, and with our other co-worker who was there, we broke down the salary negotiations of new-hires.
- Drink: Vodka Cranberry – I know, you don’t believe that I’ve never had this drink before, but I really haven’t. Anytime I have a choice, I get a Vodka-OJ, not a Vodka Cranberry. I only fell victim this time because well-vodka was the happy hour special. So, yes, this was my first Vodka Cranberry, and no, I don’t feel ashamed for saying it.
- Venues: 24
- People: 23
- Drinks: 19
I did not get to 3o, 30 and 30, but it was a noble effort. Had it not been for a 2-week stretch in the middle of this that caused me to have to spend quite a few more hours per week at work, I think I could have gotten this done. But no excuses…this was my bad. On to the next one!