The best of 2012: Culture and nightlife

Sea Witch welcomes South Slope dwellers with its cozy interior.

All week long, Metro will be highlighting our selections of the city’s best — from dining spots to health and beauty oases — of 2012. Check back tomorrow for our picks in retail and fashion.

Best new arena in the city: Barclays Center

620 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, 212-359-6387,

Sure, it’s the only new arena in the city (and considering the logistical nightmare it was getting it built, probably the only new arena in a long long time), but kudos to the Barclays for creating a stadium that seems chic. After all, when was the last time you felt cool saying, “I’m catching a show at MSG”?

Great place to catch a show that won’t hurt your feet: City Winery

155 Varick St., 212-608-0555

Some nights you want to rage against the dying light with domestic beers and sweaty concert-goers at the Bowery Ballroom, and some nights you just want to catch some top-notch music while you sit at an honest-to-God table that isn’t covered in stale beer. For those nights (and, well, most any nights you want to see music), go to City Winery. Not only does it let you enjoy music in a refined setting, but it also hosts neat workshops and free music on Tuesday nights during the summer on its outdoor stage.

Best spot to catch the next big-lit-thing perform a reading: Housing Works

126 Crosby St., 212-334-3324

We know, we know: Book readings bring to mind tweedy old white dudes stuttering into a podium. But the events at Housing Works are — dare we say it — hip. We’re especially fond the readings by Tumblr authors — a kind of next-generation reading series.

Best rooftop bar that won’t worsen your fear of heights: Treehouse at The James NY

27 Grand St., 212-465-2000

The multitiered deck at The James doesn’t go very high, so you can still make out what’s happening below you. Enjoy the views or just people-watch from the banquettes inside. Order from David Burke’s rotating dinner menu, or swing by after dinner for $5 drinks and snacks such as dumplings, tacos and a killer dessert menu boasting donut holes and deep-fried PB&J sandwiches (all $5).

Best new South Slope drinking oasis: Sea Witch

703 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn,  347-227-7166,

As you get into the higher-numbered streets in Brooklyn, Park Slope becomes less of the yuppie haven it’s known to be. That’s why this low-key outlier is perfectly suited to its borderline locale. With nautical murals adorning the walls and a warm, cozy atmosphere, this South Slope watering hole is a neighborhood favorite.

Best underground club that’ll make Bushwick seem like the new frontier: Cheap Storage

49 Wyckoff Ave., between Starr Street and Willoughby Avenue, Brooklyn

With no phone number and no website to speak of, Cheap Storage is off the radar and probably wants to stay that way. Stepping into this venue makes you feel like the aughts never happened, rave culture is still cool and certain civil liberties haven’t yet been banned.  

Best Queens theater that plays offbeat indie movies: Kew Gardens Cinemas

81-05 Lefferts Boulevard, Queens, 718-441-9835,

Who said you have to trek to Manhattan to catch indie flicks? Queens residents enjoy underground films in the comfort of their own borough thanks to the Kew Gardens Cinema, which has been around since the 1930s. This charming old movie house plays the same hits you’ll find at Angelika or Lincoln Center, along with a selection of foreign films, too. Bonus: On Bargain Tuesdays and Thursdays, tickets are just $7.

Best place to drink free: Name Night at No Idea Bar

30 E. 20th St., 212-777-0100,

It’s a pretty sweet deal to show up and have your drinks taken care of when it’s not your birthday. Check the monthly calendar at to find out when it’s your turn to celebrate a night of gratis booze. The rules: Free drinks between 5 and 11 p.m., and you must bring friends.

Best bar to order whatever the hell you want, they’ll make it: Ward III

111 Reade St., 212-240-9194

Bespoke cocktails are the name of the game at this swanky, low-lit space, which carries a number of rare whiskeys. Tell them what you like — sweet, herbal, dry, something else? — and what kind of booze you prefer and they’ll pick your poison. Just don’t blame them if you go in for round two, three or four. Temper your drinks with eats like duck nachos and lamb shank tacos.  

Best bar to take a date that’s going sour: Barcade

388 Union Ave., Brooklyn, 718-302-6464,

The conversation reached a lull three drinks ago, and your date is now just flat-out starting to annoy you. Can’t escape? Hit Barcade for its wall of old-school video games, and let the silence speak for itself.

Best simultaneous use of eating and walking: Original Greenwich Village Food and Culture Walking Tour

$49, tickets at

You frequent the West Village, but do you know its history? Learn (and taste) it during this three-hour trek up and down the nabe’s tree-lined streets, where along the way you’ll wolf down six tastings from some of the area’s most noted venues, like Joe’s Pizza and Murray’s Cheese Shop.

Best museum for fully immersing yourself in old New York:The Merchant’s House

29 E. Fourth St., 212-777-1089

The Merchant’s House Museum is a living testament to the 19th century: It’s the only family home in NYC from that era preserved inside and out. Built in 1832 and inhabited by a wealthy family for almost 100 years, the museum has over 3,000 items — from furniture to clothing to photos — on view.

Best theater for the perfect downtown date-night combo of cheap drinks, quality shows and good seats: SoHo Playhouse

15 Vandam St., 212-691-1555

With uninhibited and gut-busting comedies like “Triassic Parq” and “5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche” running alongside dramas such as “Ingenious Nature,” SoHo Playhouse is an intimate, 200-seat venue packed with not-to-be-missed plays (at prices you can actually afford!) that’s blessedly off the beaten path of the Great White Way. Be sure to arrive early for a drink at the wallet-friendly bar/cabaret downstairs.


Best all-in-one upscale venue for cocktails, dinner and a show without stepping foot outside:

The Public Theater

425 Lafayette St., 212-539-8500  

Having recently completed a $40 million renovation in the fall of 2012, The Public Theater is enjoying a new attitude along with its long-overdue facelift. The nonprofit, best-known for its 50 years of Shakespeare in the Park offerings, now boasts not only the adjacent Joe’s Pub for shows and drinks, but also The Library restaurant upstairs and a bright lobby downstairs that’s welcoming for show-goers to linger and socialize between acts.


Best stage actor/actress to name-drop to sound in-the-know: Michael Shannon (“Uncle Vanya,” “Grace”) Tracee Chimo (“Harvey,” “Bad Jews”)

“Grace”: Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., 212-239-6200,

“Bad Jews”: Black Box Theatre, 111 W. 46th St., 212-719-1300,   

It’s almost too easy to crow about seeing well-established, big-name stage stars like Al Pacino or Patti LuPone. Your family back home might be impressed — but to name-check with authority in Midtown, try catching Michael Shannon in “Grace” before Jan. 6 or Tracee Chimo in “Bad Jews” through Dec. 30. Being able to comment on his riveting intensity or her blindsiding turnabouts will get you true theater cred, as will snapping up tickets to whatever these two show-stealers turn up in next.


Best up-and-coming multimedia performance company to show you something unexpected:

Third Rail Projects (“Steampunk Haunted House,” “Then She Fell”)  

Did you just love Punchdrunk’s “Sleep No More” and feel compelled to gush over it every time a friend’s in town asking what to do? That’s sooo 2011. Refresh your immersive theater vocabulary with Third Rail Project’s “Then She Fell,” which manifested through years of work into an interactive show that turns “Alice in Wonderland” on its head and, catering to only 15 audience members at a time, is constantly sold out. Watch for its newest incarnation coming to Manhattan in 2013.


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