Like those shape-shifting people you probably know—the ones who attend glamorous cocktail parties with vaguely famous intelligentsia one night and then pound dim sum and Tsingtao with coworkers the next—the Bowery seamlessly transitions from Chinatown to NoHo while still retaining its own identity.
Want to shape-shift for a night? Join me…
Step 1: Fire Up at Flaming Kitchen
With Chinatown creeping further north each day, it’s not surprising that one of the best gems I’ve found—the unassuming Flaming Kitchen—is a full block and a half above Canal Street. This place doesn’t limit itself to what’s printed on its menu, tackling dim sum, Szechuan cuisine, and hot pots in equal parts. The decor is as eclectic as the food. Customers sit on sleek off-white banquettes, the walls are covered in black and white etchings, and Chinese lanterns hang from the ceiling. Most oddly, American Little League was playing on the multitude of television screens.
Since my friend—who lived in Hong Kong for a few years and attested to the restaurant’s authenticity—and I were attending a concert afterward and didn’t want to take any digestive risks, we stuck to the basics. I don’t typically walk away from a Chinese restaurant raving about chicken and broccoli or cold sesame noodles because, frankly, they usually all taste the same. But at Flaming Kitchen, each classic Chinese dish was elevated memorably. The sauce on the cold sesame noodles was kept a bit crunchy and had a kick that crept up on you after the fourth or fifth bite. The succulent juices from the piping-hot pan-fried pork and chive dumplings were so forthcoming, the experience was reminiscent of a soup dumpling. And the chicken and broccoli! The meat was juicy and the broccoli was cooked al dente, with just enough give to soak up the addictive, sweet and salty brown sauce.
Step 2: Catch the Next Big Thing(s) at Sofar Sounds
After receiving an email the night before revealing the location of our Sofar Sounds concert—the series features local artists in unusual and intimate spaces—we headed down the Bowery strip. When we encountered a line of people outside a residential building, we knew we found the right spot, which turned out to be a beautiful duplex where everyone took a seat on the living room couches and floor (many, but not all, Sofar shows are held in private homes). The show didn’t start for another 20 minutes, so we made friends with our floor neighbors in the meantime, helping them with a battle over their bottle of red’s cork (Sofar is also BYO!) and bonding over losing our Sofar virginities with one another. Three separate musical acts took the front of the room throughout the night, all performing original tunes. The last group, Zoochie, stood out the most: a spunky 20-something with wild curls and a powerhouse voice backed by a band of guitarists and a bassist. Her style was playful and powerful, and by the end the entire crowd was snapping, bobbing, and downloading their song “Matador.”
Step 3: Drink the Gin n’ Roses at the Wren
Transition from the LES to NoHo in a matter of a few blocks. Stepping inside the Wren is like checking into a spa. You feel your breathing ease and all your toxins float away—if only for a few minutes before you get your first well-mixed drink. The place just has a chic, easy, “everything is going to be OK” vibe that you don’t get at many bars. The Wren also has great outdoor seating and a perfectly cozy booth in the front for winter nights, but I always head downstairs for smaller crowds and better access to the bartender. Order the Gin n’ Roses, arguably my favorite cocktail in NYC, with Cocchi Rosa (an aperitif that pairs the sweetness of sangria with the spice of a mulled wine), some rosé liqueur, and a zingy burst of fresh lemon. What could be better?