Over the past few years, my husband has been taking two-week, twice-yearly work trips, and while he’s away, I’ve made it a point to take myself out, solo, to a few nice meals. I almost always sit at the bar, where I’m able to absorb a bit more of the surrounding buzz. I generally choose spots that are vibrant, but not too new or trendy, so I can read an article, write a poem, or just generally enjoy myself without high-pitched drunken screeching in the background. (Note: it’s crazy how much your tolerance for aforementioned screeching dovetails once you enter your 30s). Also, a nice long bar that’s somewhat removed from any kind of waiting area helps ensure that you’re not dodging elbows the whole night. There are other spots I frequent alone if I’m really craving a signature dish and am willing to contend with the crowds, i.e. the cacio e pepe at Via Carota, the burger at Raoul’s, or the very different but equally as crave-worthy burger at Bar Sardine, but here are the ones I turn to where a low-key yet festive evening is nearly guaranteed.
Ed’s Lobster Bar: This pocket-size restaurant is mostly bar and is probably the most mellow of the bunch. It has a nice, classic Soho vibe, and one afternoon a few years ago, my husband and I saw both Bobby Flay and Alejandro Inárritu (the multiple-Oscar winning director) dining here. I generally come here on a weeknight, get the half lobster roll—plenty of lobster meat, full-size roll, full order of textbook-perfect fries, and nearly half the price at $20—and de-stress from the day.
Porsena: On the Friday night I chose to eat here, there were three other solo diners at the bar, including some industry folk. It was busy, but not crazy—a perfect place to come on a weekend night when you want to be out, but not you know, OUT. It helped that the pasta I had, an anelloni with spicy sausage, mustard greens and toasted bread crumbs, was one of my favorite dishes of the past year.
Simon and the Whale or Studio: I am a huge fan of the cuisine at all of Gabe Stulman’s restaurants, though they tend to get a little nutty during peak hours. Which is why his two outposts at the Freehand hotel in Gramercy, many blocks away from most of his spots in the West Village, feel like a nice respite. The crowd is varied in age, and there is plenty of room to spread out. The other night, I started with a memorable fish sandwich at flagship restaurant Simon and the Whale then moved upstairs for a cocktail and a scoop of ice cream at all-day cafe Studio. And, I felt perfectly at ease in both spaces. On a Friday night, no less!
Fausto: I may be a bit biased, since this restaurant is a 4-minute walk from my apartment, but it’s a solid choice when choosing to dine alone in Brooklyn. I’ve eaten dinner at the bar with my husband, but I recently came for a solo brunch, where I tucked into a massive plate of Instagram-worthy ricotta pancakes. The experience made for a relaxing morning, and the pancakes were divine, albeit the size of a hubcap.
Cervo’s: There’s something special about this Lower East Side Spanish-Portuguese seafood spot. It feels like an undiscovered gem, somehow both revelatory and classic. Here, the bar seats are some of the best in the house, where you can watch the almost entirely female cooking staff whip up dishes like crispy shrimp, Spanish mackerel, and my favorite, a lamb burger with white anchovy.