K presented M with a very important question several months before his 30th birthday: ‘Would you like to have a 30th birthday party? Or a 30th birthday vacation?’ For M, it was a no-brainer! He chose to be taken to a far away land to celebrate (K was hoping he’d choose this one!). When asked if he could go anywhere, what city would he choose, he immediately said ‘Prague’. Prague had been on our travel radar for quite some time, and we heard how especially magical and enchanting it is in the wintertime; it is best to see ‘White Prague,’ glistening everywhere…snow-covered. We knew M couldn’t celebrate his 30th birthday without his twin sister, so when we asked Manny’s sister Nicole and her husband Joe if they wanted to join, they instantly said ‘Yes!’ Since Joe was also celebrating his 30th birthday just a few weeks prior, we decided this would be the 30th birthday celebration extravaganza. When we started looking at flights, we found a great deal on a flight that flew into Berlin and back from Prague. So we decided, why not spend a couple of days in Berlin and then take a superfast German train to Prague for the remainder of our trip?! And so, our trip was born (Berlin/Prague Travelogue coming soon!)…..
As Manny’s actual birthday was two weeks after our trip, we still wanted to do something to celebrate his 30th birthday. In fact, we decided to make a weekend of it (naturally)! While we didn’t want to plan a blow-out party, M did want to celebrate with his closest friends and family. For the first evening’s celebration, K made reservations for the two of them to go out to dinner and spend some quality time celebrating this milestone together. After much grappling over where to make a reservation, K chose a little spot she had been numerous times in Greenwich Village called Cuba. M had wanted to find a place for some great live music for his Saturday night birthday celebration with friends, but we couldn’t find anything just right. That’s when K remembered Cuba… they have a live Cuban band every weekend, which adds that much more authenticity and liveliness to this straight-out-of-Havana restaurant. Since it was a Friday night and we had been working all day, we weren’t able to make it to any pre-drink spots, so we headed right to Cuba for our first round of delicious cocktails. Since there were so many things on the menu we had to try, we opted to order a selection of appetizers to share, as well as the special Paella of the day!
After a couple of hours of tippling, snacking, and swaying along to some Cuban beats, we were ready to move on to another quieter, more intimate location for a digestif. Although M had to work the next morning (really? on the Saturday of M’s birthday weekend?), he said he was up for one after-dinner drink close by. K had already selected some choice spots within walking distance of Cuba. Greenwich Village can be tricky, though, as it is a college neighborhood. Venues here can be hit or miss — either packed with locals who adore cozy basement venues, or jammed with college kids who have fake IDs or escape an ID check altogether. Well, we figured we’d take our chances, as it was one of the coldest nights of the year, with a wine bar just a block away, just off Washington Square Park.
The Wine Spot is one of the coziest little wine bars we’ve ever seen! We descended into the venue and disappeared into the depths of New York City and into a little secret living room, complete with couches and a fireplace (though not in use with logs and a roaring fire, it was stacked with oversized candles!). It was certainly the perfect haven for a bitter evening, and the menu was equipped with an array of beer, wine, and bubbly. Obviously a mixed crowd… including one couple who either just met or were hoping to keep their affair private (except, obnoxiously public) in this secret little den.
After two post-dinner drinks and incredible quality time together, we were all warmed up and ready to brave the cold to make our migration home…only to do it all over again in Hell’s Kitchen the next night! Yes, that’s right. We had a full agenda planned for Saturday evening with M’s closest friends at Valhalla, a Viking-inspired Biergarten. A+L had been in South America and unfortunately couldn’t attend the Saturday night festivities, but they assured us they would join us (basically straight from the airport!) for the birthday lunch the following afternoon with the family! Awesome! A jam-packed weekend of birthday fun! What a way to celebrate a 30th birthday…. a 3-week-long, multi-country celebration with the people we love most. We are so lucky.
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Dinner (K+M)www.cubanyc.com Cuban, Cocktails, Manhattan
This may be the closest an American can get to Cuba for a while, so thank goodness for a little taste of Havana in NYC! K had been here a couple of times prior and always loved the drinks and the live music. She finally had the chance to bring M to experience the unique Cuban food, tasty cocktails, and some authentic music.
On the night of K+M’s intimate birthday celebration, we were seated right next to the band, and though lively and vibrant, we wouldn’t exactly recommend this, unless you want to text each other (or shout) the whole night. We did our best to enjoy the energetic vibe of Cuban drum beats along with our interestingly delicious Paella con Coco (Coconut Paella), and most of all, the Mojitos (Warning: you can not taste the liquor, but it is there believe us)! We would have liked the service to be a little more energetic to complement the music and the vibrancy of the place. A few of our dishes were taken away before we were finished and before we had a chance to say anything (during mid-sip or mid-bite). Yikes. The food really is tasty and overall the restaurant feels very authentic. Though, part of what we love about dining so much is connecting and conversing with our server, and having some laughs. We know this isn’t possible everywhere, but it is what sets restaurants apart. K has had some great nights here, so we certainly are not going to write it off. Perhaps Happy Hour is more the way to go for the $5 drinks and apps specials. They also feature freshly rolled on-the-spot cigars for free (tips are appreciated )! In the meantime…more Mojitos!
What we ate…
- Sangria (K)
- Classic Mojito (M)
- Whiskey with Cinnamon & Sugar (M)
- Calamares con Tamarindo (K+M)
- Papas Rellenas- stuffed potatoes with beef and cheese, tomato salsa (K+M)
- Montadito de Chorizo- Spanish chorizo, jalapeño, chimichurri (K+M)
- Paella con Coco [Coconut Paella] -Special of the day (K+M)
- Side of Yucca Frita (K+M)
- Guava and Cream Cheese Empanadas (K+M)
K: This was approximately my 5th visit to Cuba. I’ve always had a great time here. Cuba is always bustling and vibrant, and I’ve always experienced passionate, energetic waitstaff and tasty food. Something was missing on this night… perhaps it was the (missing) connection with our server (he just didn’t seem invested in any of his tables), or maybe we were just sitting too close to the band (Manny and I had to shout at each other). Either way, I’ve had better experiences here,so I was just slightly disappointed.
M: I thought the band was good, but next time would choose not to sit on top of them. The drinks were the highlight of this place. Could make it a pre-dinner spot or after-dinner spot next time. Or maybe stop here mid afternoon for a couple of the Mojitos. Don’t forget to grab a couple of cigars on your way out!
Our Rating Scale…
- Scene- Energetic and authentic… transported straight to Havana.
- Food/Drinks- 3: Pleasantly surprised (Drinks definitely pushed it to a 3).
- Tip Worthy- 3: Gratuity included
- Coordinates- 4: Neighborhood- Centrally located! (Although surrounded by bars, most are catered to college kids)
- Return Rate- Yellow Light- Probably just for drinks & apps the bar, and to catch a set of the live Cuban Music.
After Dinner Drinks (K+M)www.winespotnyc.com Wine, Small Plates, Manhattan
Head down the stairs into this cozy, candlelit, romantic wine cellar, just off Washington Square Park. Grab a table by the fireplace, or at one of the high bistro tables to sit and enjoy a glass of your favorite vintage, which may turn into a bottle by the time you are done. We were in the mood for just a glass of wine and bubbly, and a little more quality time before ending the night. The menu at The Wine Spot includes a small selection of Domestic and International wines by the glass and bottle, as well as some Dessert Wines, and beers. Since we were pleasantly full from dinner, we didn’t partake in the cheese and meat plates, or creative small plates (though they sounded tasty)!
We were drawn in by the lanterns and candlelight that lined the stairs all the way down to this sub-level locale. One potential hindrance with this spot (and many Greenwich Village lounges, restaurants, etc.) is that the neighborhood itself attracts many college students who have not learned to control their drinking (or their PDA). Two “patrons” mistook the cozy, private, at-home feeling of this place a little too far. After about five minutes of lip-locking (and some other undisclosed actions), the waiter came over and stopped the show, asking them to restrain or to go “find a room”. Shocked and red-faced (as if they just realized they were not the only ones there), the youngins high-tailed it out of there pretty quickly. Once they left, the entire dynamic of the Wine Spot changed. The cozy, intimate vibe we felt upon entering overwhelmed the space, and we were finally able to enjoy our conversation and some drinks. Our suggestion is to head down, take a look around, and get a feeling for the crowd before committing.
- Rhone Blend (M)
- Cava [Spanish sparkling wine] (K)
K: This place is certainly cozy and super cute. I think it’s hit or miss in Greenwich Village when it comes to the crowd. Anything goes. I was highly offended by the people next to us who were engaging in some serious hanky panky — way too much for a public venue. Fortunately, one of the waiters finally asked them to leave. Had they not been there, I might have felt differently about this place overall; however, that’s the reality of this neighborhood…you never know what you’re going to get!
M: Loved the look of this place. Huge fireplace, good choices of wine. Think if it wasn’t for the girl on top of the guy less then a footaway from our table and the man who staggered in the door and almost knocked me over it would have been a better time. Maybe the next visit might be better.
Our Rating Scale…
- Scene- Cozy, basement space with exposed brick and antique mirrors and couches.
- Drinks- 3: Pleasantly surprised… some thoughtful choices on the wine list.
- Tip Worthy- 2- Leave ‘em a Euro.
- Coordinates- 4: Neighborhood -Centrally located.
- Restaurant Return Rate- Yellow Light – If we were in the neighborhood.
Dinner and Drinks (K+M)+10
If you love your beer, and hearty classic German pub food, this is the spot for you. Valhalla is an indoor Beer Garden, with plenty of long tables to sit and plenty of benches around the bar. The bartenders, although a little hard to get to look your way, are friendly and know their beer. The selection is almost endless, starting from local American beer, to German, French, Belgian, Japanese, and beers from the Netherlands. There are over 30 beers on tap and even more served by the bottle. If you are stuck and you can’t deicide on one from the array of choices, try the “Flight Around the World.” It may help you find the beer you want. M didn’t like everything he had, but did manage to find a beer that he stuck with all night. Two of our friends knew exactly which beers they wanted so they ordered it in “Das Boot”! They only have two of these huge glass boots, so if you see them up on the bar and you think you can handle it…go for it! But beware, because it sounds great a first, but if you choose the wrong beer and/or you take a little too long to get through it all, it’s not as much fun in the end.
Valhalla also has a large assortment of encased meats, giant pretzels, and other Nordic treats to complement any beer. Traditionally, there isn’t much that is gourmet about German food, so you certainly won’t find anything fancy on the menu; however, all the selections are hearty, perfect for the wintertime, and also perfect for sharing with friends! This place is truly great for groups and beer-lovers! For those who aren’t lovers of beer, there are also mixed drinks and a small selection of wines by the glass. Prost!
What we ate…
- Viking Sampler [Spicy chedder wurst & traditional pork bratwurst, served with red cabbage and sauerkraut] (K+M)
- Jumbo Pretzel served with horseradish mustard (K+M)
- German Frites (K+M)
K: Traditional German food is hearty and the perfect cuisine in the winter. Valhalla’s snacks were tasty and hit the spot. Nothing fancy about it, and not necessarily the best Beer Garden food I’ve had– but it was edible and didn’t give me heartburn– so I’ll give that a thumb’s up!
M: It was a cold weekend and I wasn’t looking to go jumping from bar to bar. Just wanted to hang out with some friends that I hadn’t seen a in while , catch up and drink some beer. The food was simple and the beer was good. Hot pretzels, good beer, great friends…we stayed here all night.
Our Rating Scale…
- Scene- Viking-inspired, Norse Biergarten
- Food and Drinks- 3: Food was surprisingly edible! The Beers are what really makes it a 3.
- Tip Worthy- Leave ‘em a Euro
- Coordinates- 5: Fun is right next door
- Restaurant Return Rate- Green light: Great for beers and groups