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Let Me Tell You—these are my dandelion wishes for NYC restaurants and bars this spring

Time Out restaurant critic Amber Sutherland-Namako’s eternal hopes for spring.

Amber Sutherland-Namako
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Amber Sutherland-Namako

“Let Me Tell You” is a series of columns from our expert editors about NYC living, including the best things to do, where to eat and drink, and what to see at the theater. They publish each Wednesday so you’re hearing from us each week. Last month, Food & Drink Editor and Critic Amber Sutherland-Namako argued that there are only two ways to enjoy a martini in NYC.

As I mentioned the other day, spring is second only to New Year’s Eve in the broadly observed calendar moments most likely to inspire and/or bedevil. Both evoke a drive to begin anew, and with that drive comes its bummer of a logical conclusion: follow through. Read: One million resolution tropes, and so on. 

Fall’s similar, largely because of residual back-to-school-type vibes, but also because of all the possibilities each year’s potentially metamorphic Halloween costume brings. In that spirit, last September, I wrote about my hopes for the season’s eatings, and a few came about half true: While reservations are both still hard to get and practically required, the loudest of the pay-to-book services seem to have quieted, and the conversation around what to do about outdoor dining inches ever closer to an answer. 

With a similar intention to manifest, plus pressure from the provocative tick-tock of the clock, I’ve considered even more all these six months later. Here’s everything that I hope blooms like a rosebud on the side of the BQE this spring. 

1. Later hours for restaurants and bars

NYC still hasn’t bounced back to its pre-pandemic City That Never Sleeps status. Just last weekend I was at a seemingly effortlessly cool new restaurant and bar with friends in Queens, poised to order another round when 10pm pumpkined into last call. One of my regular spots was closing up shop only a little later back in Brooklyn. The third try was fine, but even at that large and decently populated bar it was intimated that they only happened to be open until the not very witchy minutes nearing midnight. You can certainly still seek places open late, but advance planning isn’t synonymous with those first a.m. hours.

2. Better lighting  

At brunch, I expect to look like an olde sea witch—the sun’s mocking midday rays like death’s own whispered promise across my face. At dinner and drinks, I want the good light; that honey-hued candle-like illumination, whether it’s real, artificial or some combination ultimately approximating a lower golden hour. One of my most frequent gripes at new restaurants last year was that they were too bright, and I haven’t noticed any significant dim so far into 2023.

3. One name for zero-ABV drinks

The above plus booze-free, dry, mindful drinking, mocktail, no-proof, soft cocktail, spirit-free, spiritless, temperance and zero-proof are a few ways non-alcoholic drinks are listed on present menus all over town, and I think we can pick one to stick. My choice isn’t even among the above, but I don’t really care as long as we don’t go with spiritless because it makes me imagine a sad cartoon ghost. 

4. Booths

I do not wish to cause alarm, but I’ve been to two otherwise apparently studiously constructed new restaurants in recent weeks that were both absent a single booth or banquette. Again, two is so few, but that’s how these things begin, and before you know it everything’s a table and they’re also all, somehow, right in the middle of the room. If I’m spending sums that seem to increase by the day, I want to settle into a booth or banquette’s comforting hug, not the hospitality equivalent of a standing desk. 

5. More themes 

By this time last year, it was clear that new speakeasy-themed bars were trending again. They've since abated without a monolith to take their place, and themed restaurants are the heir apparent. Those Prohibition cosplayers are basically themed anyway, and there are plenty more niches to explore. Even with all the devils, dolls and rock ‘n’ roll-oriented chains in town, 13 options just aren’t enough.

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