- By Susan Welsh
Over the river and to the food.
We ventured over the Delaware River and under The Hudson to NYC last week to meet Don and John at Buddakan. It was loud and crowded, and though we had reservations, we waited over an hour for our table. The manager comped us with champagne, our waitress was lovely and the food was as good as ever so I still give it props. I can’t begin to list everything we consumed, but it included many and varied dumplings, the perennial favorite, Chili Rock Shrimp, all created with some alchemistic umami magic.
I’m still intrigued by the cavernous size of the place and the sheer volume of diners they satisfy every evening, but great food in a great city will always work and, according to our waitress, the NYC kitchen has been blessed with the same executive chef, Brian Ray, for over a decade.
The standout of the evening, for me, surprisingly (or maybe not) was the pre-dinner cocktails in the West Village, a neighborhood vibing with the current while still deeply connecting to the past. The cobblestone and 19th-century townhouses are a constant reminder of the countercultural and artistic past, concurrently juxtaposed with the hip, "woke," and stylized present.
In other words, The West Village in all it’s modern glory, still embodies the spirit and facade of its ancestral roots—a village of art and music and progressive thinking exemplified by the Stonewall Riots and Cafe Society, the first racially integrated nightclub in the United States.
While We Were Young has the nostalgic kind of name that appeals to those of us who have enough years behind us to reminisce. This beautiful oasis, appropriately described by InStyle as a “jewel box” of a place, is youth personified. It’s white marble bar, “Millenial pink” banquettes and lone print of a palm tree on the wall exudes youthful air. They had me at the poetic neon quote on the wall--an abridged Walt Whitman quote: “We were together. I forget the rest,” from this poem:
Once I Pass’d Through a Populous City
by Walt Whitman
Once I pass’d through a populous city imprinting my brain for future
use with its shows, architecture, customs, traditions,
Yet now of all that city I remember only a woman I casually met
there who detain’d me for love of me,
Day by day and night by night we were together—all else has long
been forgotten by me
Turns out the breezy, airy (highly Instagrammable) vibe I love was inspired by owner Bradford Dunigan’s favorite surf spots— the bar resembling a wave from his Fort Lauderdale hometown, the banquettes the pink of the sands of Eleuthera and yes, it reminded me of being young and most definitely it reminded me of my youth in Malibu!
Next, we walked more westerly to an old favorite, EO (Employees Only) where I had my first Hemingway Daiquiri years ago, and this time discovered the Besos Calientes. With Dev Johnson at the wheel everything you drink is going to be perfect. Not only is Dev an incredible mixologist, he’s also got the velvet voice of a radio DJ. He’s a pleasure to meet and talk to and I’m looking for his equivalent back here at home. Dev, any interest in opening up a bar along a different river? I hear there are a few opportunities. . .
Steph, my partner, and personal mixologist made it her mission to emulate the cocktail for me this weekend. If you can’t have Dev mix you a drink, she’s the next best thing. We actually found, quite to our surprise, some habanero bitters in our local Giant. The heat is nice, not the raging fire that wipes out your tastebuds, but the kind of heat that finishes like cinnamon, more warm spice than bite and a delightful counterbalance to the sweetness of the simple sugar and the fresh grapefruit cordial—of course, that’s one of the elements that makes EO so special, their mixes are fresh and scratch-made, not like the artificial pre-made sugar bombs often used in less craft-oriented bars.
We have a few gems of our own in town. The Boathouse and The Swan come to mind. They are rare in their ambiance and service and this local hopes they don’t sell out. I’ve overheard a lot of local restaurant gossip lately and it’s unclear what’s happening on either side of the bridge. Will Jose Garces still be a principal in the Playhouse Inn amidst the lawsuits and the recent filing for bankruptcy? Will our local bars retain the charm and artistic flair that local restaurateur Jimmy Hamilton built his legend on? Time will tell. My hope is that Lambertville and New Hope are able to pull off what the West Village has—a respect and nod to the past with a fresh outlook in step with the present.