Monday, February 11, 2008

Night Out in Manhattanville Highlights Changing Atmosphere

Night Out in Manhattanville Highlights Changing Atmosphere
By Rachael Gashkoff

The glimmer of streetlights shines from black puddles on the pavement as we walk up the street, illuminating our path to Manhattanville. There’s plenty of traffic on the road, but not much on the sidewalk—just me and three friends that I brought along for the night.

In the midst of talk about the recent approval of Columbia’s expansion plans into the area by the City Council, and the changes that may come with the new campus, we are spending a night taking in the landmarks of the neighborhood as it is now. With each step heading up to 131st Street from Columbia, we approach the space in which the University will make its giant leap of new development.

There is a calm silence. The clip-clap of our heels disrupts the quiet—perhaps foreshadowing the sounds of Columbia to come. We hear shouts from inside bars, beckoning us to enter—it seems we are welcome after all.

But as students under 21, we can’t haunt the popular Manhattanville bars, such as Toast, Pisticci’s, and Covo. Nor are we allowed into the Cotton Club, the neighborhood’s historical venue for jazz and live entertainment. The club is a throwback to the days of lively melodies of the trumpet and saxophone.

We continue on, leaving the Cotton Club behind and passing by the Singh family’s 129th Street gas station. The Singh family is one of only three private property owners in Columbia’s Manhattanville campus footprint with whom the University has not struck a deal. Although Columbia would like to negotiate with the Singhs and take over the land, the family has been ardent in its desire to keep things just as they are.

We look up at the wall towering above the gas station. Fellow Manhattanville property holdout Nick Sprayregen’s storage company name “Tuck-It-Away” is painted on the orange brick, beside a sign advertising new luxury apartments.

Finally, we arrive at neighborhood fixture Floridita, a tapas restaurant and bar. The festive music and empty bar stools are inviting, and we sit down to enjoy authentic Cuban cuisine. Booths and tables give the restaurant the appearance of a regular diner, but giant posters with dreamy vacation scenes and potted palm trees transport diners to Cuba.

This little restaurant isn’t much of a mecca for rowdy nightlife. Floridita seems to be a place you could just as easily visit during the morning or afternoon for a similar, possibly more crowded, experience. Some families eat on the upper level and several Spanish-speaking diners are seated at the bar. For the most part, strangers don’t mingle.

Although hungry, I cringe at a bone in my chicken sandwich. But the Friday night chicken and rice special is delicious. The lesson, obvious but essential: order Cuban cuisine at a Cuban diner.
After nibbling, we pack up the entrees to go, and head out to try our luck at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, the busy restaurant by the river.

A group of colorful figures are packed into the barbecue’s wooden framework. They can be seen huddling with friends by the door, standing three deep at the bar, and resting on the long row of benches, anxiously waiting for their name to be crossed off the hostess’ several page list.

The atmosphere is lively. Loud music mixed with a heavy dose of surrounding conversation and laughter make it difficult to communicate with anything much fainter than a yelp. Chandeliers by the bar give the room a deep reddish glow, and assorted license plates from across the nation hang on the wall. Throughout the restaurant, the décor creates an eclectic, rustic vibe, ranging from hubcaps to a mural depicting farm animals playing poker.

As she seats us, our waitress Ebony Dukes tells us that Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is always hopping. “Tuesday through Sunday, there are waits like this. It’s good for me, when I’m working,” she said.

Soon we’re feasting on ribs, pulled pork, chicken, fries, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread—all washed down with a glass of freshly brewed sweet tea. While we’re dining, we meet local resident Patrick Bain, an active participant in the neighborhood’s evening scene.

“I’d say the nightlife in Manhattanville is kind of towny,” Bain said. “There are really only three or four bars you want to hang out at, and they are all right off of Broadway.”

When asked how Manhattanville’s nightlife compares to that of Columbia’s surroundings in Morningside Heights, Bain replied, “Unless you want a ruphie coolata, don’t go to the Heights.
It’s so sketchy. There are always like 40,000 guys there and 14 girls. Most of the bars in Morningside Heights are trying too hard to be clubs. ... It’s like everybody’s trying to dress to impress. Here, we can go to bars to chill out and be ourselves.”

When we’ve had our fill of dinosaur-sized portions of food and conversation, we start to make our way back toward Columbia. We pass by McDonald’s, where seven taxicabs are parked in the lot with each driver sitting in his car and snacking on cheeseburgers. When Columbia moves in, this spot will be the site of a community demonstration school run by Teachers College.

I wonder whether my night on the town in Manhattanville has been an experience soon to become lost—demolished like many of the buildings themselves, as the University carries out its campus expansion. Home from my evening adventure, it seems appropriate that the sun is beginning to rise, since the change Columbia will bring to the neighborhood will likely shed transformed light on the area’s nightlife scene.
NB - Rachel you should try the Floridita Tapas de España right next to the Cuban Criollo Floridita.
The Tapas restaurant and bar are great. The tables have real tablecoths and cotton napkins and the Spanish cuisine is excellent. Obviously you missed either a Friday or Saturday night of Famenco music and dance.

The Floridita Tapas is really authentically Spanish just as the Cuban "Criollo" cuisine is also authentic. For those that like Cuban sandwiches should order the Floridita's "cubano especial" for the closest taste to the real thing in New York City

The second best Cuban sandwich is the Dinosaur BBQ version not traditional but definitely extremely good none-the-less.

You also missed the two newer restaurants on 12th Avenue, the Hudson Terrace reportedly a very lively place on 133rd St. and Covo the Italian restaurant on 135th St. - the CB9M installation of oficers took place there last Monday and it was great, they have a very plush bar on the second floor with plenty of seating to relax and enjoy your favorite potable.

No comments: