With such a strong season on Broadway this year, it’s tempting to exclusively explore options like American Son, The Lifespan of a Fact, and The New One. But sometimes the hordes of tourists and the promise of something surprising make a detour downtown worth it.
You may only know Chistopher Street’s Lucille Lortel Theater from the Friends episode “The One With the Tiny T-Shirt,” but we can assure you that its current production is definitely better than Joey’s subpar performance. Sandwich Jocelyn Bioh’s buzzy play School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play with a drink and dinner in one of NYC’s best culinary neighborhoods.
Step 1: Make Your Own Old-Fashioned at Due West
Recently opened Due West is the perfect mix of sports bar and cocktail lounge. Tucked away on West 10th Street, it’s a great spot to observe the crowds hustling between Bar Sardine and Smalls Jazz Club through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Since the play starts at 7:30 p.m., you’ll be able to fully indulge in the happy-hour deal: $1 oysters, $5 drafts, and $9 cocktails until 7 p.m. My favorite here unfortunately isn’t included in the deal, but it’s worth the $15 splurge: Order the Due Your Own Old-Fashioned and customize your hearty drink by choosing the spirit, sugar, and bitters. The flavors range from classic to inventive (think: mole bitters). I like to switch it up every time, but a favorite combo has been the American rye, vanilla sugar, and aromatic bitters.
Step 2: Catch The African Mean Girls Before It Closes on December 9
Jocelyn Bioh’s adaption of Tina Fey’s Mean Girls offers new sides of this theatrical trope. School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play transforms Regina George into Paulina, a queen bee in a Ghanaian high school looking to be the next Miss Universe. When a newcomer from America begins attending the school and catches the attention of the Miss Ghana recruiter, Paulina’s insecurities with her skin color, economic status, and family come to the surface. The play is simultaneously lighthearted and deep, touching on little-discussed problems of racism and American influence in Africa.
The play may not have the production value of a Broadway show, but the exceptional acting and fresh perspective make it more than worthwhile. You never know what you’ll find off-Broadway. (Looking at you, Hamilton!)
Step 3: Feel at Home at Via Carota
Via Carota feels like home in every detail, from the mismatched plates to the comforting food. It is there for you any time of day, whether that’s a leisurely breakfast or a much-needed Negroni at the bar. This feeling is exactly what Jody Williams and Rita Sodi want to evoke, in a space that summons Sodi’s hillside childhood home in Florence. The walls are decorated how I imagine those of the couple’s personal home is, with plenty of heirloom china, crunchy bread, and bowls of fruit.
Order everything to share. On a recent visit, I focused on the Verdure section, which offers simply prepared vegetable dishes. The two standouts were the castelfranco and funghi. The former consists of crisp, large-cut white radicchio; creamy robiola cheese; hazelnuts, and slight accents of honey—flavors and textures that balance one another perfectly. The latter is a delightful, delicious array of mushrooms grilled and baked into a smoked scamorza cheese.
For your mains, it’s essential you order at least two pastas. I happily went with the Meyer lemon and olive oil risotto, which was served a bit lighter and creamier than typical for this rice dish. You can’t really go wrong with your choice, but most people at our table were taken by the cacio e pepe whisked into tonnarelli, a thick-cut spaghetti.
We also opted for VC’s famous Svizzerina, a hand-chopped, grass-fed steak. Out of all the amazing burger options in the neighborhood, this one may be best. Spread the soft-cooked garlic across the burger as if it’s ketchup and take a bite. See what I mean?!
Finally, kick back with a Negroni at your cozy table, reflecting on this perfect night of culture and culinary finds.