Manhattan’s Best New Bar Is Tucked Away in an Office Park
"If Wes Anderson designed a gay aperitivo bar” is how best to describe Midnight Cafe, a sneaky new cocktail haven in Manhattan West
Admittedly, it’s not the most appetizing route: Get out at Penn Station. Start walking west on 33rd (or 34th Street). Continue past the old post office / current Moynihan Train Hall. Notice the influx of honking cars puttering under a sign directing traffic via the Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey.
You’re not walking to Hudson Yards.
Instead, make it halfway between 9th and 10th Avenues — an area this writer has never visited in his 26 years in the city — and you’ll find yourself in a small business park called Manhattan West. Tucked away near a food hall, NHL Shop and Whole Foods you’ll find one of the best new dining and drinking experiences in Manhattan.
Welcome to the appropriately named Hidden Leaf restaurant and its sister cocktail bar Midnight Cafe, both located within the Midnight Theatre, an intimate performance venue opening this fall. Here, in any of the spaces, you can currently enjoy some of the best drinks in the city.
For dinner, go upstairs to Hidden Leaf, a pan-Asian restaurant hailing from Brooklyn restaurateur Josh Cohen (Chez Ma Tante, Lilia, Saint Vitus). It’s upscale but unpretentious, with a cocktail program that offers riffs on classic drinks infused with ingredients from Executive Chef Chai Trivedi’s pantry — witness the Tablet Negroni, which incorporates flavors of the South East Asian Tablet milk candies, or a baijiu-based Corpse Reviver No. 2 (called the Dead Ringer).
The cocktail program for all three venues is overseen by Iain Townshend Griffiths, via the creative agency Jellybone. To truly appreciate their drinks, head to the ground floor, a smaller space that offers up a playful disco vibe. “Imagine if Wes Anderson designed a gay aperitivo bar,” says Griffiths.
At Midnight Cafe, you’ll find the cocktail menu divided into categories like Aperitivo Classics and Spotlight Stealers, along with some rotating specials. Highlights include the Supernova 75 (a French 75 take that utilizes oleo-saccharum and kombucha while dialing down the citrus) and the Green Maggie, a margarita that incorporates matcha and a salted almond foam…but remains, at heart, a kickass and refreshing marg.
Griffiths, who arrived in New York on March 16, 2020 (“Three hours before lockdown,” they note dryly), made their name globally at venues such as Melbourne’s Black Pearl, Sydney’s Eau de Vie, Edinburgh’s Bramble and London’s Dandelyan, the world’s best bar in 2018. While the current owners of Hidden Leaf had initially imagined a series of pop-up bars downstairs, Griffiths convinced them to give Jellybone creative drinks control over the entire venue.
For many people, Manhattan West is an area they’ve probably never visited unless they happen to live there (or pass by on their way to Jersey or maybe Hudson Yards if they’re weirdly not taking the 7 train). But Griffiths thinks the area — which admittedly has plenty of outdoor space — has untapped potential.
“120,000 people walk past this building every day, and 60,000 work around here,” says Griffiths, who admits that prior to this new venture, they weren’t familiar with the area. “I’ve been to Madison Square Garden but never turned left. That said, you can go from standing up at MSG to having a drink at our bar in about 17 minutes.”
The full-time opening of the Midnight Theatre should also help lure people west of 9th Ave., while the restaurant and the bar continue to expand their menus and hours — they’ll be up to six days per week in August, and then “decide on Sundays” as they figure out demand.
“I know we opened a cocktail bar that only has the restaurant name in front in the middle of July. But we already have regulars,” says Griffiths. “I think we people are going to find us.”
Before he leaves the table, Griffiths offers up one other salient point. “Hilariously, even though we shut at midnight, we’re somehow the latest closing bar in the area.”
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