The aromas (and the eager, coupon-toting, door-opening, dinner-special-pushing maitre d’s) of Little India’s block of Indian eateries (6th St. between 1st and 2nd Ave.) beckon passersby into their world of savory spices. Somehow they all manage to stay in business even with the competition right next door. While some prove to serve up more delectable cuisine than others (Mitali, 334 E. 6th, 533-2508, is a critics’ fave), you’re guaranteed a sensual dining experience – often including live Indian music – at any of them. One tip: Try to get home before your post-curry coma sets in.
Help yourself to a hit off a hookah at Sahara East (184 1st Ave., 353-9000). The sweet, apple-spiced tobacco smoothes out the heavy garlic and cumin flavors of Sahara East’s North African/Middle Eastern fare – though the spices are sublime enough to drug you into a mellow gastronomical stupor all by themselves. If you’re in any sort of hurry, though, opt for take-out; the waitstaff spends more time hanging out with dining friends and their wandering staff cat than refilling your water glass, reminding one of a truly authentic (and therefore frustrating for us overly frenzied Westerners) low-key Moroccan dining experience.
Feel like starch and fat are missing from your diet? Me neither. But when you’re craving eggs, potatoes, baked beans, and bread denser than your four-year-old futon, St. Dymphna’s (118 St. Mark’s Pl., 254-6636) does the trick. Don’t forget the $3 Irish pints from 4-7 every day and during the summer be sure to hang out in the spacious garden out back. While you’re waiting for your order, pass the time by picking out your favorite, famous Irish American from among St. Dymphna’s collection of framed magazine covers – or occasionally in person at the table next to you.
Alt.coffee (137 Ave. A, 529-2233) definitely found all its furniture on the street, and the atmosphere here rings a bit too reminiscent of grungy collegiate pseudo-intellectualism. But somehow I’m charmed by the technological graveyard/bathroom – a ceiling-scraping pile of junked computer parts fills a decomissioned bathtub. If you’re interested in working hardware, get online at $2.50 for 15 minutes or $40 for 5 hours at one of Alt.coffee’s Internet stations. The coffee here’s not half-bad, but steer clear of young men with laptops eager to read you their screenplay.
If the “Art of the Motorcycle” show at the Guggenheim was too artsy for you, stroll past the gorgeous bikes lined up in neat, shiny rows on the street in front of the Hell’s Angel’s HQ (3rd St. b/w 1st and 2nd Ave.). Remember that scene from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure? The one where he knocks over all the motorcycles in front of that biker bar and almost gets killed? Don’t do that.
A performance space with two theatres, a gallery and a day care center, P.S. 122 (150 1st Ave., 477-5288) is the preeminent alternative cultural center in the East Village; this not-for-profit institution has been committed to encouraging new artists (and some not-so-new, like Spalding Gray and Karen Finley) for close to twenty years. “Performance” here can mean anything from opera to DJ-ing – the only criteria being that the art push the boundaries of the form. Attending P.S. 122 events is a great way to support your neighborhood starving artists (on top of that 40 cents you tossed into the coffeeshop tip jar).
The bottled beer selection at Ave. B Social Club (99 Ave. B) impresses (Red Tail, Chimay, Stoudt, and more). The ambience here is defined by great jazz tunes on the jukebox (unfortunately priced at 2 songs for $1) and the moody red glow of the exit signs (which provide most of the light in this joint). Ave. B’s vibe is so mellow you’ll want to do nothing else all night but lounge in your chair and practice the ancient art of conversation. But loud live jazz on the weekend forces conversationalists to the steamy downstairs; be prepared to fight for a leather sofa seat.
Old Devil Moon (511 12th St., 475-4357) blends Southern, Cajun, and healthy cuisine (a combination which seems nearly impossible, but somehow they pull it off) and serves it in a space so spooky-dark (squint and you’ll be able to discern wacky 50s-inspired decor) and crowded, you’ll think you’re in a weekend bar – even at brunch. A rocker crowd feasts on dishes like Huevos Oaxaca – a spicy, scrambled egg breakfast – or the more conventional biscuits-and-gravy. Even if you opt for the vegan or vegetarian substitutes (like veggie sausage or tofu instead of eggs), you’ll find yourself stuffed in the classic Southern way, in search of a porch swing or a sunny stroll to ride out the digestion.
Specializing in 30s and 40s-style suits – broad lapels, wide chest, no vents – Savoia (125 E. 7th St., 358-9182) takes the concept of customization to the extreme. Orders (prices for suits start at $2000) begin with a personalized consultation so that Savoia himself – who designed this stunning store, as well as the richly-colored tattoos covering his arms – can take hair color, complexion, occasion, and lifestyle into consideration. And he’ll customize anything – from hats and sweaters to undershirts and socks. No wonder he’s landed work on period-piece movies and has earned the patronage of retro-stylish movie stars (his customers include Matt Dillon, Robert DeNiro and Lenny Kravitz).
Holy Basil (149 2nd Ave., 460-5557), serves the best Thai food I’ve found in New York (so far). They take it seriously here when you say “extra spicy,” so get ready to sweat and make sure your beer glass is full (that’s your free tip of the day, dear reader: beer works better than water at neutralizing spicy foods). Holy Basil’s flavorful dishes are beautiful to look at, too, garnished as they are with basil sprigs, crinkle-cut carrots, and plump broccoli. Jazz standards get regular rotation on the sound system and the Thai decor manages to avoid tackiness without sacrificing authenticity.