Musing about the future is fun, at least on Champagne-flute-half-full days. New Year’s Eve is prime time for promise, but autumn’s always the first runner-up. Last fall, NYC’s emerging proliferation of dedicated martini menus was in full view. The speakeasy-style bar boom that eventually followed was coming into focus. And, beyond the five boroughs, cultured meat seemed to usurp zero-ABV cocktails as the perennial simmering zeitgeist, the latter finally settling into entry-level ubiquity.
Now, I wouldn’t sign a contract based on the best-calibrated Magic 8 Ball’s advice (again), and many predictions are just hopes and dreams in disguise. But, unlike so many secret birthday candle wishes, restaurant and bar fantasies must be spoken for a chance to one day trend. These are a few, for me, and you, for hospitality in the home stretch of 2022.
A return to NYC’s no-reservation days
Whether you remember back when it seemed like nobody took reservations, or you’re young, things were less and more vexing then. Sure, you’d be quoted two-hour wait times with a straight face, but the appearance of egalitarianism (somebody was getting those tables right away), kept spirits high while we waited for space over aperitifs nearby. Plus, those were precious moments to live/laugh/love, and/or look at whatever our iPhones looked like then; time that we maybe wouldn’t have otherwise scheduled without the force of necessity. Now, not only do a notably high number of new sit-down restaurants require reservations, many ask for a credit card number in advance, and some even require a deposit. A resurgence of pop-in spots would restore the balance a bit.
Fee-based booking services are unsubscribed
Listen, I want everyone to make all the money. I celebrate ingenuity, entrepreneurship and even the occasional craven cash grab. I am probably Shark Tank’s number one fan. But reservation subscription services, where you pay a fee to sort of skip the line (and get other purported perks and NFTs) at so-called hot spots don’t sit right with me and seem kind of goofy. Especially with the knowledge that some participating venues actually have availability as wide as the sky.
2023’s ‘Drink of Summer’ makes a splash
Maybe I finally earned silent agreement that frozen cocktails are, in general, NYC’s forever ‘Drink of Summer,’ but, (1.) that acknowledgment should have come with some kind of certificate, and (2.) I still want a temporal tipple to take the edge off those long, hot days and months. Perhaps someone is crafting one right now: A seasonal sip for the ages replete with heretofore unmingled ingredients, unlikely and copious garnishes or at least a strong argument for the calendar-based compartmentalization of something otherwise already pretty familiar. I look forward to receiving a press release about it by March.
Agreement on outdoor dining
Not on whether it’s outlived its usefulness, as those conversations will never conclude, but maybe we can streamline the semantics. Outdoor dining is outdoors, where the breeze can caress your cheek and you might just meet a new neighborhood couturier à la Cinderella. A dining annex is a more-or-less fully enclosed space separate from a restaurant’s formal interior, but not outdoors. An annex will often have climate control and, were you blindfolded and spun around three times before seating, the near-appearance of any other brick-and-mortar operation. Options, and the categories that make them clear, are fun and helpful, and I invite you to choose between indoor, patio/garden/backyard, outdoor, sidewalk and annex dining this fall.
Romantic restaurants embrace cliché
Any place can be romantic, but when’s the last time you held a single rose while a violinist glided through the dining room? I do not think I have ever had the pleasure, instead, having had to catch pulse-quickening thrills via “secret” spots, throwback cocktails and, like, a big thing of beef for two. This is not the candle-lit romance I was promised by 90s television shows, which also suggested that I’d know how to do a good date night French twist by now. Some clever operator need only to cover a place in red velvet, engage a tableside musician and start an account with the closest bodega florist to effect a flush. Gosh, and just imagine if said spot also didn’t take reservations, but rather you could whirl in on a whim, or embrace the impromptu intimacy created by the table-wait fates? Isn’t it romantic?
Time Out tip: Recapture “walk-in” exhilaration at The Good Fork Pub and Nabila’s, let what you already know about restaurant reservation subscriptions be the last you’ll ever learn about them, have a frozen drink before they’re banned on September 22, get pedantic about outdoor dining to win friends, and cozy up to Ye’s Apothecary, NYC’s best new date place, even absent the violins.
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.