They say you can't judge a book by its cover, and nowhere does this ring truer than at Chelsea gastro pub The Half King. Upon first glance, this longstanding neighborhood favorite, whose literary roots (Perfect Storm author Sebastian Junger is an owner) and bohemian vibe regularly draw journalists and artists from the nearby galleries, looks like your typical watering hole that likely serves uninspired pub grub. While fish and chips are on the menu, it's hardly the only—or most popular—option: that title would be awarded to the thick and gooey mac and cheese made with three kinds of cheese, big hunks of broccoli florets, tomatoes and bacon, or the Burger Box, whose crispy matchstick fries come alongside burgers as varied as being made with premium Atlantic salmon and fresh jumbo crab meat or a 50-50 blend of sirloin and brisket.
It's this gourmet comfort food and down-home, relaxed atmosphere that attracts celebrities such as Will Farrell, Josh Hartnett, Chace Crawford, Orlando Bloom and Ethan Hawk to dine in one of the spacious, oversized wooden booths made from a salvaged 200-year old barn from Pennsylvania. Considering the overwhelming amount of beers available (14 on tap, including Smithwicks, Blue Point Blueberry and Windmer) and the sort of weekly bar specials that appeal to cash-strapped college grads (in addition to a daily happy hour from 5-8pm, the bar dishes free weenies on Wednesdays and free chips and salsa on Thursdays), it's refreshingly unexpected to find home-grown, vine-ripe tomatoes stacked with fresh mozzarella cheese and basil and lightly drizzled in a balsamic vinaigrette, or such finely diced, tender tuna tartare smothered in a bed of guacamole.
Providing some food for thought, the bar holds a weekly reading series each Monday and displays monthly photo-journalism exhibits that adorn the walls. Those who prefer to see the outside world through their own eyes can choose to do so at the back garden normally enclosed during the winter or the outdoor sidewalk café, both of which are prime spots for people watching and sipping specialty cocktails like the Summer Luvin, a blueberry vodka made with champagne and lemonade that could easily be dubbed "adult Minute Maid," or the gin-based Parisian Martini.