First, an announcement: In a few weeks, I’ll devote Where to Eat to answering questions from readers, especially those of you who will be visiting New York City in December. Want a good spot to refuel along Fifth Avenue in Midtown, which will be off-limits to cars the first three Sundays in December? How about a place to eat before or after embarking on a Santa Safari through the Christmas lights of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn?
Operators are standing by. The more specific your requests, the easier it will be to help you. Send me your wish list, care of the North Pole — or, more efficiently, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, though, I want to talk about the important business of wasting time in restaurants. This is easy to do in the summer, when you can sit in the nearest boardwalk cafe or clam shack or beer garden for hours, as long as your sunblock holds out. The extended restaurant hang becomes more challenging after Labor Day. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when reservations are scarce and restaurateurs are always looking to turn tables, it is next to impossible.
This, though, is exactly the time of year when you might need to hunker down in a sheltered hideaway. The sun keeps setting earlier. The traffic’s ridiculous. The sidewalks are stuffed with people who don’t know where they’re going. What you want is a peaceful spot that isn’t too busy and isn’t too loud, where you can have a drink and a bite while you escape the weather and anything else that’s giving you the chills.
Step inside one of these taverns for a while.
The Commerce Inn, the West Village
At one end of the Commerce Inn is a snug little bar where simple backless stools are bolted to the floor, they way they are in old soda fountains and luncheonettes. Quiet, slow-moving and set aside for walk-in customers, the room is cut off from the traffic flow of the West Village and from the 21st century in general. Jody Williams and Rita Sodi keep the menu well stocked with tavern food: oysters and country ham, a curried lamb pasty, Cheddar toast, and a patty melt that started as a late-night special and turned out to be so popular that the kitchen will make it for you at almost any hour.
An Beal Bocht Cafe, Riverdale, the Bronx
The bangers and mash are authentic enough, and the requisite side of baked beans shows up without your having to ask. The chips served with battered cod are sliced by hand, as they should be. But before you get lost in a fantasy that you’ve stumbled into an unspoiled village pub in County Donegal, you should know that villagers at the next table are just as likely to be eating nachos and burgers. The food at An Beal Bocht is rarely the point; it is fuel for talk and ballast for drink. Readings and traditional Irish seisuns are given by actors, painters, flesh-and-blood poets, fiddlers and virtuosi of the penny whistle gathered by the tall stone arch of the never-lighted fireplace.
Manor Oktoberfest, Forest Hills, Queens
These days, Forest Hills is probably best known for its stadium, where in the summer you can see outdoor concerts by such musicians as the Nashville-based songwriter Sophie Allison, who uses the name Soccer Mommy when she sings such compositions as “Crawling in My Skin” and “Darkness Forever.” Less than a mile from the stage, at Manor Oktoberfest, there are regular musical performances, too, although the acts run more to the likes of Bud and Linda, a husband-and-wife duo who lead sing-a-longs of old German tunes. Time can stand still at the Manor. Nobody ever seems to be in a rush as the tables fill with Bavarian-style soft pretzels the size of your face, the restaurant’s own pickled carrots and string beans, and platters of wienerschnitzel or krainerwurst over German potato salad. And it’s probably best to take your time finishing your bierstiefel, a life-size glass boot filled with beer.