Late-Night Dining Is Back. Sort Of.

June 6, 2024
Dining & Wine
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In the early months of writing this newsletter, I used to receive many a reader email asking where to eat a proper meal after 9 or 10 p.m. The pandemic had destroyed what I would call later-night dining, and what others like to call post-theater dining.

“Post-pandemic New York, a late-dining city by American standards,” the reporter Rachel Sugar wrote in a 2022 article for T Magazine, “has fallen in line with places like Los Angeles or Austin, Texas, in embracing the joys of twilight dinner.” But it seems that four years later, we are finally shaking off the dust and tiptoeing our way back toward being what Eric Adams has surely called the Madrid or Paris or Hong Kong of America.

Maybe you heard the news that Veselka, Ukrainian American jewel of the East Village, will soon return to 24-hour service on weekends, though exactly when that will happen is a bit cloudy. (Jason Birchard, the third-generation owner of the restaurant, said he was waiting for the post-pandemic dining mania to wear off a bit.) What is absolutely certain, however, is that there is now a new Veselka location, with a 48-year lease, in East Williamsburg near the rowdy intersection of Union and Metropolitan Avenues.

“I’ll be in my late 80s when it’s wrapping up,” said Justin Birchard, Veselka’s chief operating officer and Jason’s cousin. “But, you know, we got a good deal.”

Like the mother ship, Veselka Williamsburg will be open fairly late, until 11 p.m. and serving all the pierogies and chicken paprikash you can stomach. I can already imagine many a sloppy night at Rocka Rolla starting in its generously sized booths.

646 Lorimer Street (Jackson Street)

Recently, after spending about three hours soaking in a bathhouse in Flatiron, I made my way to the Lions Bar & Grill in the East Village, a large, low-lit drinking hole open since February on First Avenue. I’d come for the mortadella sandwich with pistachio-flecked meat smothered with blue cheese and pickled peppers between two pieces of toast.

They could have gone a little lighter on the pickled peppers, but that was easy to let slide given the hours of availability. Maybe for you, a fancy bologna sandwich does not a meal make, so you can also order linguine in clam sauce, a chicken club or a cheffed-up baked potato with egg yolk and Cheddar gratin followed by chocolate pot de crème — and you can do so until midnight on Sundays and Mondays, or 1 a.m. the rest of the week.

132 First Avenue (St Marks Place)

In case you thought the new drive toward later dining was purely Manhattan-focused, there’s the aptly named Hellbender Nighttime Café in Ridgewood, Queens, the latest in a string of trendy restaurants that are either gentrifying the neighborhood or turning it into a dining destination, depending on who you ask.

What does a “nighttime café” entail? Fusion-y Mexican food from Yara Herrera, a California native who is serving shrimp and corn fried rice perfumed with fish sauce and lime juice; chicken fajitas that nearly make up for the fact that the only Chili’s restaurants in the city are in Glendale, Queens, and on Staten Island; and fried Oaxacan cheese with tomatillo salsa that puts all mozzarella sticks to shame. And it’s all available until midnight Monday through Saturday, and until 11 p.m. on Sunday.

68-22 Forest Avenue (68th Road)

Dedicated readers may remember that last year I waxed poetic about Chrissy’s Pizza, a pandemic-era pop-up turned tiny pizza shop in the old Superiority Burger space. Things didn’t quite work out for Chris Hansell at that location, but his late-night residency at the new Superiority Burger on Avenue A, where he’s serving variations on the New York-style pies that made him locally famous, is even more exciting. Thursday through Saturday, he slings pizza from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m. Reservations are released in batches (they’re currently booked through June 15), but no-shows happen fairly regularly if you find yourself stumbling through the East Village and want to try your luck.

119 Avenue A (St. Marks Place)

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