Bull’s penis, grasshopper tacos, kangaroo. Yep, NYC offers a lot more than just the Statue of Liberty and a couple of nice parks. If you search hard enough, you’ll find some of the craziest, most unexpected foods around. When you’re sick of the usual pasta alla vodka dish and beef enchilada – and craving a wild dining experience – consult our list of NYC’s top places to eat really crazy shit.
Tomorrow, January 26, is Australia Day, which marks the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788. While I’ve never been “down under” myself, I’d visit in a heartbeat right now just to escape this exceptionally dreary winter we’re enduring in New York. But absent a business class ticket on Qantas, the next best thing is to check out the festivities at some of the city’s best Australian bars and restaurants, where the beers are big, the meat pies savory, and the servers are a lot friendlier than you’re used to.
The Sunburnt Cow in Alphabet City, Bondi Road on Rivington, and the fancy uptown Sunburnt Calf – which happen to be operated by the “Moo Life Group” – are marking the day with drink and food specials and DJ’s spinning Aussie tunage. Show up for a $20 or $30 happy hour (depending on just how “premium” your tastes are), murder a few pints of Coopers (they don’t really drink Foster’s), and sup on kangaroo sausage and Lamingtons, which are vanilla spongecake squares with strawberry jam, chocolate, and coconut. There’s also a $2 appeal for Queensland flood victims, so cough up a couple of bucks for a worthy cause.
Eight Mile Creek, meanwhile, has a beer and pie tasting (my two favorite things), as well as a special dinner menu and Tyrone Noonan of the Brisbane band George playing classic Australian music downstairs. (I’m pretty sure they’ve moved on from Men at Work, so don’t ask.)
If you’re looking for a mellower scene, take the L train to Williamsburg and head to Wombat on Grand Street, where you can toast the the Sunburnt Country with Australian wines, oysters, and Tetley Tea-marinated hanger steak, all under the loving gaze of George the Wombat (pictured).
Nick Mathers’ lounge Baddies, under Kingswood, is a step up from his ultra-small restaurant Ruby’s. I live in Nolita, surrounded by some pretty great places to catch a meal. Ruby’s is one of those joints that keeps me coming. In the winter it’s often so cold you have to wear your coat and sit by the pipe. I’ve seen my breath more than a few times. Yet there’s something about the place that makes me endure and indeed celebrate its smallness. Ruby’s seats about 25 people, and that’s practically sitting on your neighbor’s lap. Neighbor is the key word; you’re made to feel like you belong, that it’s your neighbors and friends that you’re eating with. Celebrities are a regular sight. I go for the best burger in town, the Whaley’s, or maybe the pasta or pear and walnut salad. I don’t’ think I’ve tried anything else, and I’ve been there a hundred times. Baddies and Kingswood bring that same casual friendliness. Everyone in town awaits the return of Beatrice and every hipster joint is declared its heir apparent. Baddies will do until the return of the baddest boy in town, my dear friend Paul Sevigny. Until then I’ll be hanging with Nick Mathers and his mates.
I’m in a bar called Baddies, which is one of my favorite names so far. Where did the name come from? Nick Mathers: A few of my boys, which means mates or friends.
You’re both Australians, but I live in Nolita, so I eat and drink at Eight Mile Creek and I eat at Ruby’s. I’m used to Australians. But many of my readers will not understand. So you and your mates … NM: So me and my mates, we were down here and we didn’t have a name. We never have names for anything until things really start to come together because the whole interior, the feeling, the vibe you get creates the name … it’s not the name creating the space.
It’s like a dog … you don’t name a dog in advance. NM: You pick a couple names right, and then … I had picked a lot of names, and we were down here, we were having a big night, everyone was just throwing stuff around and someone just goes “it’s Baddies, this place is Baddies.” And it just sort of stuck. It’s just such a cute name, and we love it. It’s kind of fun. We’re taking a lighter version on this whole thing, you know, it’s hard to say a different name would be kind of cool, but it’s good to take the piss out of yourself and take a lighter stance, and with Baddies, it’s all a bit of a pun.
I think the word is “whimsical.” It’s a whimsical name, and I think it really does set a tone that makes you feel comfortable. Any place that’s too stuck up, it can’t be really any fun. I think that’s the reason the name “Beatrice” worked because it was just such a put your feet up kind of place that you had a good time. NM:Yeah it’s like being in a friend’s living room, and that’s why Lit works…
You’re a polished version of Lit and Beatrice, but what about the design? Nick, are you a part of the design? NM: Yeah, it’s me and another guy, Scott. What’s Scotty’s last name? Scooter? I don’t know anyone’s last name. Scotty’s sort of a surfer dude; he’s a Cali boy, he’s not Australian.
Let’s talk about the cabinets. They’re a cross between Morticia Adams and the woman from The Incredibles, sort of like strange figurines. So, we have two words: whimsical and figurines. So these whimsical figurines, tell me why they’re in here. NM: Around the corner there is also another man, and he’s kind of spooky and fits the whole theme. Tim Burton, that’s my theme. Even when you see our logo for Baddies, it’s all very Edward Scissorhands sort of stuff. When I was speaking to Scott, I told him, we’ve got to do these marionettes, and I want you to run with it, and he was like yeah, let’s make this cabinet. We like to change everything in the cabinets, and we also like to change the art, use different artists and keep it really fresh.
You also have crystals and apothecary type old-school stuff here. NM: And we have coral, and it’s a mix, and it sort of comes together, funnily enough.
Tell me about the cherries. NM: The cherries I can’t tell you — Scott said, “We’ve got to have cherries in there.” You’ll have to ask him. I said we needed a little bit of color.
This place is bad. It’s just fun. You have big oversize ostrich-skin couches. Is it real ostrich? NM: It comes from cattle but then that’s the style. All our furniture is … well, we have zebra, and then we have pony hair and real leather, there’s no vinyl. Everything is done to the nines. I’ve got a really good guy that I work with, and we sit down and draw up the couches, and we go through the colors, and he makes them for us, and he’s amazing.
I’m looking at hot chicks in strange underwater shots, and you put the drawers underneath, which we invented in Marquee. When I was designing Marquee, Jason Strauss and I both ate at Craft the day before we did the couches, and I dropped my fork on the floor, and the waiter opened the drawer of the table, and that’s where the idea came. The same thing happened to Jason, and we both had the same idea at the same time. It’s a great idea for many reasons, for people keep their bags in. NM: The picture were taken in Indonesia. They’re my mates who went down and shot everything underwater. They made up these whole scenes that were all done underwater, and they were done with tanks. Even the photographer had a tank on; they spent days underwater coming up with these scenes.
What’s the name of the French designer who inspired you with the strong colors and sharp angles? NM: There was Philippe Boisselier, and then I brought out Verner Panton. I just think he just has a way with the colors, and it’s that 70s thing that works well. It’s a really bad era, but I love his whole thing. You’ll see that he’s going to give even more of a drive to the red. The floor is the highest gloss, it’s like a fiberglass red floor, and then you’re going to get these cabinets in red, and it’s just going to pop. So you’re going to feel like you’re in a brothel.
So Baddies, am I a Baddy? People coming here, are they Baddies? The staff, are they Baddies? Who’s a Baddy? NM: No one is a baddy, it’s just a concept. You come down, it’s bad, it’s fun, it’s not about who’s bad and who’s not.
How much of your crowd is Australian? Is that your core crowd? NM: Down here, I’d think like five percent. Maybe ten percent maximum.
Let’s talk about this location. NM: It’s killer.
Are you the alternative Beatrice now? The new Beatrice? It’s got to cross your mind. NM: I mean, we have similar promoters and DJs, and our doorman, Simonenz, you had to realize that he is going to attract that crowd. Beatrice closed and we’re a viable alternative, but it’s big shoes to fill.
But this place is much more buttoned up. It’s cleaner. And the cocktail menu is really spectacular. Beatrice had their cucumber mint drink, and Rose Bar has their Rose Bar drink. What’s the Baddies drink? Dylan Hales: We’re doing a recreation of classic 70s cocktails, so we’re doing a white Russian, a Martini Rossi dry vermouth cocktail, a tequila sunrise. We’re all along that theme. We’re going to expand our cocktail list, so we’re going to get into some more classics. Like I was saying about the artwork, we’re going to switch out the cocktail list as well. There were so many amazing cocktails in the 70s, and so we’re going to start bringing a lot of those back.
So who is your crowd? Is it the Beatrice crowd? NM: Well of course we get the Beatrice crowd … we do get the hipsters. But it’s not too heavily hipster, it’s a nice mix, because it’s more like a 25-30 crowd. We want a casual, cheap version of the bottle, but you can come down and we sell bottles. So we’ve got three places where you can buy bottles, and it’s been popular to come down and buy bottles, and then of course we always have the promoters run tables.
What kind of music? NM: In general, I’d say we’ve been mixing up a lot, but I’d say like more disco-house, not rock. Not rock, more fun, it’s disco.
You guys are having routine DJs who are all very hip, and in tune to what’s happening on the scene. NM: Yeah, so it’s not rock at all, its not Rolling Stones, it’s not Sting. But we’re doing a rock ‘n’ roll night on Mondays.
You having Lizzy Truly DJ? NM: Yeah Lizzy Truly is DJing here, and we’ve got Franco.
What are your restaurants? NM: There’s Ruby’s little café, then there’s upstairs and we have one with Ralph Lauren in Georgetown.
Do you feel that the restaurant is going to drive the lounge? Or does it just happen to be under it? NM: It just happens to under it. Separate entities. It was really nice to be able to go into the restaurant, but from a design point of view, it’s just an extremely different feeling to what you get when you come in here.
Do you spend a lot of time down here? NM:Yeah, Dylan spends most nights here. I come about every three nights. DH: Yeah, luckily for me, I’m a very high-energy person.
The hours of the restaurant, the stresses are different. At a nightclub, or a lounge, you have to worry about people being drunk, acting crazy, doing drugs, people breaking up with their girlfriends publicly. There’s a whole new set of rules that you’ve got to learn. How do you prepare for that? Do you watch movies, or do you just hang out in clubs? NM: We didn’t prepare … there’s no point in preparing. You’ve got to just throw yourself in there, and find out for yourself. You know what you do, you touch the iron and it’s hot, and you’ve got to find out how to touch it with a cold mitt.
Why the restaurant business? You’re a bright boy, why aren’t you a lawyer? NM: I’ve got ADD for starters, so lawyer is no good for me. I worked in restaurants here and there in Australia while I was going through school, university, and then I came out here, and I wanted to get a visa. I love New York. When I got here, I had a girlfriend I was going to meet in Europe, and I called her up and said I just signed a 10-year lease on a restaurant on Mulberry Street, and she was like “what!?”. And then I rang my mom as well.
Ruby’s is yours right? Yeah, Ruby’s is mine. I traveled a lot when I was a kid, and I wondered why I hadn’t been to New York until I was 25. It was always the place I wanted to go and I know why now, because when I got there, I was never going to leave. Someone told me, “Ya know, get a bike in New York and you’ll never leave.” So the first week I got here, I got a bike and I rode around the city all day, and I was just like, “I’m never going to leave this city.”
Ruby’s is the most impossible restaurant in the world. It’s insanely small but everyone goes. Yeah, Kingswood is great, but Ruby’s is where my heart is. I was in LA, and I said oh we have this restaurant Kingswood and someone said, “Oh, he also has this restaurant Ruby’s,” and they said, “Oh! I know Ruby’s.” Everyone knows that place. I had someone calling me, talking about doing the franchise in the Middle East, and I was like “What the fuck?” It’s insane. It’s the size of a bathroom, and I’ve had — Can we get it in Sweden? Can we get it in Paris? Can we get it in Tokyo? Can we get it in Dubai, and can we get it in Sydney? I mean that’s six different countries of very different natures approaching me saying “We love this place.” Kingswood came out of Ruby’s. But what makes Ruby’s is people like Dylan who started there, and James, and it’s the different characters that come through.
There’s this whole Australian expat group that goes there, but also the food is good and I revel at the efficiency of it. What I’m getting at is that you have this incredibly small space but yet you’ve got a great menu, the crowd is cool as hell, and now you’re taking it to the next level. Now I’m realizing that Kingswood is totally the next level. NM: Yeah, and now we’re doing now 60-200 covers a night, and we’ve got the bar, so maybe 60 people walk through Ruby’s on a night, and maybe 300 or 400 walk through a night here. It’s a big jump.
You got a bar upstairs? NM: Yeah we’ve got an island bar upstairs. It was voted best bar to eat at by New York magazine last year.
I live in Nolita but seldom hang in the neighborhood joints — Southside may change that. Around the corner from neighborhood staple La Esquina, Southside is a smallish basement boite catering to a crowd that is mixed and mature. The vibe is just right; you walk in and feel a cool that comes from operators who aren’t forcing it. A well-dressed but casual Nolita crowd with fun music and a lack of pretentiousness sets this place apart from so many others. Owners Anthony Martignetti andF James Willis took a few moments to give me the full story on the joint, so here’s Part 1 of the conversation; check back tomorrow for Part 2.
You’ve opened up Southside, which I attended the other night and had a great time. I think the place is beautiful. Anthony, I think you had a secret ambition to be a designer at one point, is that about right? Anthony Martignetti: Yeah, I started a design company when I graduated school, and basically that’s why I moved to New York, to design places and build furniture. Then I found out that you couldn’t make any money doing that, so I decided to start bartending at night.
We’ve had a different path. I started off running nightclubs and bars and decided I couldn’t make any money at that anymore, and then I got into design making a pretty decent living. AM: I’m actually learning now that once you start designing for other people, you make money; when you design for yourself, you only save a lot. You don’t see the money, but it’s actually there.
Now, one of my favorite restaurants, especially in Nolita, is a place called Ruby’s. James, I know you from Ruby’s, a place where I’ll have my pasta with hot Italian sausage and that pear salad I’ve been eating for years. When I read the post from Rachelle from Guest of a Guest, I saw there were Aussies everywhere, and I couldn’t figure out where they came from, and then I saw you. Tell me about the Aussie Nolita crew. James Willis: Well, basically when I first moved to New York, when I was in Australia, my friends hooked me up with the Ruby’s boys, and on Mulberry Street, you have Eight Mile Creek as well, the Aussie pub, which is where we go and watch the rugby games. It was such a small community of Aussies then. I think everyone just drew themselves to Ruby’s to go and maybe hang out with an Aussie or get some burgers, some food.
You don’t have ugly Aussies; everybody in your crew is like model material. It’s a really beautiful Aussie crowd, is that a rule? Is there a height requirement? JW: Well, if you worked at Ruby’s if you’re a male, you had to be an Aussie. Because the Aussie’s wouldn’t get along with one Swedish, or one American guy, because they would cop so much shit all day that they couldn’t handle the sense of humor. But the girls.
The girls are hot. JW: Yeah, but it was great working for them. I came to New York knowing two people, and I actually came here to do a fashion interview and didn’t take the job. And so I met the boys and started working with them and just created a friendship with the people that used to come in. Dudes who lived in Nolita and Soho, and that’s how I met Anthony.
There was a club downstairs before Southside, and it was a pretty raucous club. Sometimes I didn’t walk down the street because I would go to La Esquina and I’d peek around the corner, and there was a crowd that wasn’t my scene. How did you guys come to take it over? AM: Basically, James had moved over to Kingswood; we’d known each other and partied with each other for a bunch of years, and we just started saying if we put our two crews [together] … I can get all the socialite babes, for some reason, I don’t know why. I’ve known them because I used to bartend at Dorian’s and Suite 16. I don’t like to admit it, but I used to be a promoter back in the day.
You said the “P” word. AM: Yeah, I know … maybe you don’t want to use that. So we just wanted to make a place that was just an awesome nightclub for an older crew. Downstairs used to be really young, 20, 21, not your crowd.
But with Bar Martignetti, I was always amazed at the balance of it. Just enough yuppies to make money, and yet it’s still hip, which is a very rare balance. You just usually don’t get those crews mixing; it’s either the yuppies or the hipsters. But this place has a mix. JW: Yeah, we’ve got a strong mix of that, especially with the new club.
I think that’s really, really difficult thing to do, and I’m sure its conscious, so tell me the steps you took to balance that. AM: If you can put together groups of people where the room is heterogeneous, and you’ve got a hairstylist next to … I just wanted different. I want to see James’ Aussie surfer buddies sitting next to … I just, I want to see a mix of people. Those are the places that are going to last, and not like I was around in the 70s and 80s for nightclubs, but I imagine that that’s what they had as a mix. When you see old pictures, you see a politician who’s 45 years old sitting next to a young hustler, next to a gorgeous model, and you’ve got a mix of people that I think will make the place more interesting.
I ran the Palladium on 14th street back in the day. Back then without email or text messaging, you had to have a mailing list. I had 160,000-plus names on my mailing list, and when we promoted a party, what we would do, as it was all in zip code order, we could say we want a thousand artists crowd from this zip code, and we want 3,000 of this, 500 of that, and we’d mix it. We literally engineered the crowd, and that’s why we were successful. Then at the door, we’d adjust it; if you’re getting too many yuppies, let more of these in, just to keep that balance. And the door would be instructed as to what we were trying to achieve … 2% this, 10% that. AM: This is exactly what we’re doing every night, because Thursday night is the party that me and James host together, and we go through our phone on Thursday. He comes up with a list of people he wants to have from all different backgrounds, because I don’t want to invite ten of my friends that I went to school with. If I know ten best friends that I went to college with, I want to have one of them, but then I want to have one guy that I used to weld in Brooklyn with. And then one guy who’s a friend of a friend who’s a hairstylist. And James will bring one guy that he knows who is a surfer dude, and one guy he knows that always hangs out with a couple models, and then one guys he knows that’s just an Aussie hedge fund guy.
That’s what I hear is happening, that’s what I see is happening. I think it’s what’s necessary in this neighborhood. Because I think that’s what this neighborhood is about.
Come back Thursday for Part 2 of this interview.