11/02/2012 10:37:00 AM

Restaurant Hopping in the Powerless Zone: A Look at Downtown NYC

Dinner by lantern at La Bonbonniere
A spokesperson for Con Edison announced that power should be restored to much of Manhattan today, and that news comes as welcome relief to the thousands who have been conducting their business by flashlight in the affected areas of Downtown. Restaurants below the dividing line have served as an important hub for residents, with employees outfitted in headlamps serving limited menus by candlelight. A visit to the West Village and the Meatpacking District last night found a surprising number of restaurants open.

The candles blazed at Dublin 6, which had also poured drinks during the storm. Tired neighborhood residents traded rumors of electricity as they sipped cold beers at the full bar. "My sister just got power on Leroy Street," one woman shared. Everyone's head turned as they mentally counted the number of blocks separating the areas. Another currency was cell phone reception - with most of the Village out, residents shared info on where they could make a call. "If you have AT&T and stand on the corner across the street from the Spotted Pig, you can get a signal."

Those who headed over to the Pig could also get a full meal. April Bloomfield's restaurant also kept things going by candlelight, serving a menu of dishes like grilled prosciutto sandwiches with pesto mayo and salad.

The half-full downstairs room also had stacks of board games for neighborhood residents who were eager for a little R&R, in any form possible. Another form of entertainment was evident at a few of the darkened eateries: music. A low din of jazz drew people over to sister bars Turks & Frogs and Orient Express, which had so many candles blazing that it lit the sidewalk outside. Italian eatery Spasso also fired up an iPad, keeping the guests who huddled around the bar entertained with tunes by Elton John as they ate from a limited menu of four pasta dishes. "We stay open as long as the chef has enough light to cook," the bartender informed us, while a patron who was halfway through her plate chimed in, "I've had this pasta on a normal night and it's just as good. In fact, I think we got a little extra."

Though most of the diners camping at the restaurant counters seemed like neighborhood dwellers, a few were admitted interlopers from the well-lit zones Uptown. One diner at Spasso admitted that she was having dinner because "if we didn't come, we'd feel like we were missing out." Those folks weren't planning on sticking around after dark though. The staff at Meatpacking District eatery Revel had opened for happy hour and were grilling kebabs on charcoal outside the doorway. As the cook offered us a skewer, he was blunt about the neighborhood: "When it gets dark out, it gets kind of scary."

And as night started to fall, neighborhood dwellers convened at impromptu gatherings, like the barbecue outside of Bonsignour on Jane Street (which was next to a crowded bar at Tavern on Jane). Signs on the tiny eatery advertised "Neighborhood Cook Out, Come and Share," but it was the generator more than the free hamburgers that seemed to lure folks over. The restaurant generously plugged in a number of power strips, which were promptly filled with bundles of wires as folks charged their dormant devices. Across the street, lanterns blazed on the lunch counter of La Bonbonniere, which has kept the kitchen going since Monday.

A few doors down, at Italian restaurant Lievito, the owner, Andrea, also took pride that they served the neighborhood in a time of need. Tonight they were offering a small selection of dishes like beef tripe with tomato sauce and Brussels sprouts, with Andrea purchasing the ingredients Uptown and delivering them via taxi. He reflected on the experience in the dining room lit by fire. "People are going early to bed, and they are getting up early, just as nature intended," he said, and then promised to stay open through the night "until we can." As we walked out, he said thank you and thoughtlessly threw in a hug. At normal times, it would have seemed awkward, but in a candlelit dining room in the darkened West Village, it seemed like just what the neighborhood needed.


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