Thursday night: go out, get drunk, eat late-night, run in the morning, and if not possible, steam. Repeat Friday, repeat Saturday, swear off liquor Sunday. This has basically been my life for the past 10-12 years. Now, this may qualify me for some not-so-glamorous procedures, such as a liver transplant, but on the positive side it makes me an expert on late-night dining. My business partner and best friend, Josh Shames, finds it very unusual that I crave split pea soup at 4 a.m. This is my version of late-night weight watchers. My preferred variety is at Cozy Soup and Burger, a favorite of Adam Sandler’s and, according to pictures, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In my younger years when my metabolism would swiftly erase any signs of late night bingeing, I was a regular at Mamoun’s on Macdougal Street. After my 10-year high school reunion (last year, I’m not that old), a couple of friends and I ventured to Mamoun’s for Falafel and Shwarma (my preferred variety includes Hummus and Tahini in the sandwich).
As we crossed this sacred threshold into a world of Mediterranean delights, a younger gentleman was walking toward me with his girlfriend; a lovely couple by all accounts. He graciously said “excuse me” to which I replied, in my Patron-induced haze, “fuck your mother.” Needless to say he did not respond favorably. A scuffle ensued, and the next thing I recall is pouring Mamoun’s famous hot sauce onto my fingers. When my friend asked me what I was doing, I replied “if he comes near me, I will rake his eyes with this sauce. It’s not only delicious but deadly.” Whether it was the sauce on my hands or the group of scrawny Great Neck Jewish boys surrounding me, the calm was kept, which I cannot say was always the case at Mamoun’s. G-d has a very funny way of working, though. When I returned home I went to take out my contact lenses, and MY eyes were the ones that got raked. The fiery aged Mamoun’s hot sauce seeped into my fingers burning my eyes like Dante’s inferno. Hell hath no fury like late-night eats.
My Favorite Late Night Eats…
I know, it’s so obvious, but it would pain me way too much to pick L’Express. Pastis is where the Meatpacking began and it should be where your night in the Meatpacking ends. It is a far superior option to The Diner and, as in its beginnings, maintains the essence of Manhattan with a taste of Paris. The food may not be quite as good as it was when the restaurant started out, but I would not hesitate to order Moules Frites or Steak Tartare – a clear sign that the quality is high and the operator very well respected. Btw, this place earns one of my votes for best fries in Manhattan.
Odds of being able to hook up after: 5-1
Local Nightlife: Almost Everything – it’s the Meatpacking District
Classic Burger: White Castle
When I was a young whippersnapper, my grandmother, Gladys Iannolino aka Lally, would show up once a week carrying a bag filled with White Castle burgers and fries. I don’t know if it’s my psychological attachment to the burgers or the fact that they’re just plain delicious, but these steamed patties make me salivate every time I think of them. There are smaller versions of the burgers in midtown, but for the true White Castle experience you have to travel to Harlem where they have an actual White CASTLE.
Odds of being able to hook up after: 50-1
Local Nightlife: Have not recently made it up to Harlem
Modern Burger: Pop Burger
More centrally located and probably featuring higher quality ingredients is our generation’s incarnation of White Castle: Pop Burger. The brainchild of Roy Liebenthal (Café Tabac and Lemon Bar), Pop Burger was the spark that started the “high end” burger craze. When a Pop Burger is good it’s as good as any out there, oozing with juice and the perfect amount of cheese, although occasionally they’ll come out dry. However, the best part of the restaurant is their selection of canned beers, which you can enjoy with your burgers without leaving the Meatpacking.
Odds of being able to hook up after: 10-1
Local Nightlife: Everything – it’s the Meatpacking District
Chef’s Favorite: Blue Ribbon Brasserie
The pioneer of late night fine dining, this almost 20-year-old brasserie is the king of “foodie” food and drinks after midnight. Conveniently located in Soho, Blue ribbon has an extensive menu and wine list better than most restaurants that operate at half the hours. The must-try item is the “Bone Marrow with Oxtail Marmalade,” served with Challah toast and sea salt. This is just one of those dishes that perfectly combines fat, salt and sweet, indulgent like a meat lover’s Magnolia cupcake.
Odds of being able to hook up after: 5-1
Local Nightlife: Southside, Cipriani Upstairs, Greenhouse
Chinese: 69 Chinese Restaurant
This place is straight out of a movie: the walls are covered with "dolla dolla" bills (a “69” restaurant tradition) and the waiters are still wearing those 1970’s Chinese restaurant uniforms. Most of the staff doesn’t speak English and the food is good and consistent. My favorite part of the restaurant is the crowd, because it is so diverse and entertaining. On my last visit I saw a couple of tables filled with Asian students, a Spanish family, and two Russian guys in fur coats sitting with three girls, that I would bet had gotten paid for sex at one point in the last 10 years.
Odds of being able to hook up after: 30-1
Local Nightlife: Apotheke, Southside, The Wooly
Deli: Katz’s Delicatessen
Legendary in every sense of the word, Katz’s is the “kosher-style” deli in Manhattan, which means it’s not serving the more expensive kosher meats, but can still charge kosher prices: genius. Considering that this place is loved by all ethnicities, it doesn’t really matter if it is kosher. It is as much about the delicious pastrami and hot dogs, as it is about the show going on at the counter and the completely unusual checkout process. I would really love to investigate the economics of this place because, in my mind, it has to be one of the highest-grossing restaurants in the country.
Odds of being able to hook up after: 40-1, the only orgasm that comes from Katz’s is Meg Ryan’s in Harry Met Sally
Local Nightlife: Ella, Gallery Bar, Rivington Hotel
Diner: Coffee Shop (East) or Cafeteria (West)
These are the precursors to the national hip, “modern” diner craze. Coffee Shop in Union Square is making over $14 million a year pumping out sesame chicken salads and, my personal favorite, the breakfast burrito. The main reason to go? Always has and always will be the waitresses.
Odds of being able to hook up after: 4-1, if you go to NYU, 2-1
Local Nightlife: Forum, Union Square Lounge, Kingswood, Underbar
Cafeteria is THE late night dining spot for the nightlife community, featuring downtown and nightlife personalities on the cover of its menus. The food is high quality (I have always been partial to the green eggs and ham) while the crowds come in for the mac ‘n cheese.
Odds of being able to hook up after: 6-1 if your straight, even money (1-1) if you’re gay
Local Nightlife: Avenue, 1 Oak, Splash, The Gates
Hot Dog: Gray’s Papaya
There is nothing cheaper and there is nothing more delicious late at night than the recession special at Gray’s Papaya. Just to clarify, I am referring only to Gray’s Papaya, not Papaya King or any other variety. For $3.50 you get a drink and two dogs, along with a side of very interesting people. My preferred variety is mustard, extra kraut and if I am feeling very sexy, onions. The surprising thing is that Gray’s Papaya has never once made me feel overly full or sick – a little known fact that must be publicized for what I believe to be one of New York’s greatest foods.
Odds of being able to hook up after: Multiple Locations
Local Nightlife: Multiple Locations
Pasta: Umberto’s Clam Bar
Located in the heart of little Italy on the border of Nolita, Umberto’s is a place I recently ventured into coming from Southside and Goldbar at about 2:30 a.m. Now, I am not going to say I would ever recommend consuming spaghetti with clam sauce at that time, but if you are going to – which I did – this would be the place to do it. Umberto’s also has a decent red sauce, fresh bread and enough commercial Italian wine to keep the night going. One thing: avoid the meatballs at all cost. I tried to cut into one and almost broke the fork; these things are meant to be bounced not eaten. It was quite possibly the worst meatball I have ever tried and I have an unusual affinity toward almost any ethnic ball of ground meat, Swedish included.
Odds of being able to hook up after: 15-1 (high garlic content)
Local Nightlife: Southside, Goldbar, La Esquina
Pizza: Pizza 33
The original of this pizza chain is located in the dreaded Murray Hill. Not to rub my bread and butter clientele the wrong way, but Murray Hill is where souls and creativity go to die on their way to suburbia. That said, if you are on the way to die, why not have a slice of delicious pizza? Pizza 33 is actually go-out-of-your-way-and-risk-cultural-banishment-worthy pizza. I stick to the basic with its perfect sauce-to-cheese ratio and crispy crust. Conveniently they have recently opened on 14th St and 6th Ave.
Odds of being able to hook up after: In Murray Hill, it is an utmost certainty
Local Nightlife: The Hill, Tonic East, Joshua Tree, Bar 515
Sushi: Sushi Seki
Seki is quite possibly the best Sushi in New York, period, not just in terms of late-night dining. Sushi Seki is a nondescript sushi haven on 63rd and 1st. What it lacks in style with its neighborhood appearance, it more than makes up for in quality, freshness and creativity. On many nights, the small sushi bar is filled with hardcore sushi addicts and cluttered with reserve signs until 3 a.m. The eponymous Mr. Seki is behind the bar. For several years, he worked with one of the city’s most inventive sushi masters, Gari Masatoshi, at Sushi of Gari, and he has brought many of the sensei’s tricks with him. I believe he has surpassed the master on many of his special creations and recommend the following pieces: Tuna Tofu, Salmon Tomato Onion, Yellowtail Jalapeño, Red Snapper with Salad, Broiled White Fish, and the Spicy Scallop Hand Roll. Everything that comes over the bar is brilliant, so if you are brave, let the chef make you an omakase you won’t soon forget. Don’t be surprised if Jean Georges or a titan of industry, slide up next to you for their taste of late night bliss.
Odds of being able to hook up after: Guaranteed – just get her there and the Seki will take care of the rest
Local Nightlife: Not sure there is any
See you next week at Cocktail Hour, where more often than not one drink turns into ten and no one knows where and when the night will end.