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A version of this story first appeared in the April 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Two decades ago, the historic area around the cake slice-like Flatiron Building in Manhattan earned a new nickname, as upstart tech firms filled its empty office spaces: Silicon Alley. Since then, through boom and bust, it’s remained nerdvana, a mecca for tech firms, whether startups or multinationals (Apple installed its New York-based design team there). One upside to those virtual colleagues clustering in such close quarters: a thriving real-life social scene, anchored by a constantly changing selection of venues. Here are seven of the hottest Silicon Alley hangouts.
Cafe El Presidente
30 W 24th Street
A satellite of popular taco truck joint Tacombi in Nolita further downtown, this airy, bustling space combines a cafe, taco stand, juice bar and Mexican market, all centered on the open kitchen at its core. Owner Dario Wolos is a native of Monterrey, Mexico, but isn’t afraid to offset taco staples like al pastor with adventurous fillings like seared sea bream. The huevos rancheros alone make it worth booking a breakfast meeting here. Stop by during happy hour, though, and you’re more likely to spot employees from some of Silicon Alley’s staples.
35 East 21st Street
The new, low-lit, vaulted restaurant helmed by Mexico City-based chef Enrique Olvera has become the de facto canteen for eBay’s New York-based executive team since it opened late last fall. “The bar area is roomy, which allows for discreet business conversations, and plenty of personal space,” says Karina Sokolovsky, eBay’s senior director of global consumer engagement. She and her team gorge on the house-made tortillas, baked fresh daily from blue, yellow, purple and white corn using a specially imported Celorio machine. In the dining area, two dishes have emerged as standouts: the duck carnitas for two, braised in condensed milk and all-sugar Mexican Coke, then festooned with sour onions and wedges of lime to serve; and the husk meringue, an odd (and oddly delicious) dessert flavored with pulverized corn husk leaves.
55 Irving Place, 2nd Floor
The aptly named Meaghan Dorman presides over this jewel box-like cocktail bar on the second floor of a townhouse. The four railroad-style rooms are individually decorated — drawing inspiration from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (at least according to the designer) — and include a midcentury, Don Draper-style lounge that overlooks the street and a gloriously maximalist Marie Antoinette room in the rear, festooned with chandeliers and rich brocade furniture. As digital ad exec Natalie Monbiot from UMWW explains, the decor is a digital geek’s dream. “Tech entrepreneurs hang out where there’s an armchair, because you don’t want to feel overexposed — you have to find your own nook and cranny.” Hole up at a table anywhere, though, and you’ll never need to move: There are buzzers to discreetly summon waitstaff to order house cocktails such as the Girl Scout cookie-inspired Samoa, made from genever, bourbon, coconut cream and cacao nibs. That high-tech touch has doubtless endeared it to Linkedin, AppNexus and Sequoia Capital, all of which have hosted events here — and Google’s staff can often be found drinking there en masse.
225 Park Avenue South
Theater district restaurateur Shelly Fireman ventured downtown for the first time with this traditional steakhouse, which opened just before the holidays last year. The 12-seat burrata bar is ideal for quick lunches — the tastiest tweak is served carbonara-style, filled with egg — while the 200-seat main dining room offers steak as well as deliciously unexpected dishes like the half dozen “polenta pans,” a dish of parmesan- and pecorino-flavored cornmeal topped with various fixings (try the juicy slivers of cotechino sausage) Tech titans including Rent the Runway’s Jennifer Hyman and Jenny Fleiss and digital music pioneer Todd Moscowitz have become regulars — perhaps drawn as much by the decor as the food. In one corner, there’s a sculpture of a large woman, Miss Hospitality; to help guests more easily take souvenir snaps, there’s a gold throne — the Selfie Chair — handily positioned nearby.
Marta & Martha Washington
29 East 29th St.
Shake Shack’s Danny Meyer’s first venture into a casual pizzeria, tucked into the lobby of the newly reopened Martha Washington Hotel, has been a resounding success. Manick Bhan, an exec with ticketing outfit Rukkus, says Marta’s 10 or so thin-crust pizzas are “baked to absolute perfection in the wood-burning ovens”; he usually orders the margherita — opt for the buffalo mozzarella upgrade — while the funghi is a fancier riff on the standard, scattered with chanterelles and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. The Martha Washington itself was built as Manhattan’s first women-only boarding hotel in 1903, though now, its 265 sleek rooms (from $335, www.chelseahotels.com) are open to everyone — the framed, decoupage silhouettes of past residents like Eleanor Roosevelt above the headboards a sly nod to its original intent. Groupon, Linkedin and Rentrak have already made it one of their corporate boltholes for visiting staffers.
Seven Grams Caffe
275 7th Avenue
Named after the weight of ground coffee needed for the perfect Italian espresso, this 18-seat industrial-sleek cafe is one of the neighborhood’s newest coffee joints, but its perfectionist owner, Sharon Kazes, has quickly gained a Silicon Alley following. “Tech geeks are very snobbish about their coffee,” admits Techonomy CEO David Kirkpatrick, the author of The Facebook Effect, “But this place is a growing hangout among the cognoscenti.” If you drop in for a quick coffee, don’t be surprised to see teams from the billion-dollar web design startup Wix or video firm FreeWheel lining the wooden benches, or fashion startups, such as lingerie e-tailer Adore Me, recruiting from nearby FIT.
345 Park Ave. South
Chef Justin Smillie comes from a small town named Upland in San Bernardino County, and he named his restaurant as a nod to its fresh, California-inspired menu (the shelves of glowing, backlit jars of preserved lemons are a trippy tribute, too). Typical of Smillie’s cooking is the tangy five-leaf Caesar salad, which combines multicolored kale, Little Gem and radicchio in a bowl with lashings of anchovy and fresh shavings of radish or duck — rather than chicken — wings basted in chili pepper and yuzu paste. Crane cautiously around the 88-seat dining room, and don’t be surprised to glimpse a smattering of the new-media elite: Arianna Huffington, AOL’s Tim Armstrong and digital execs from Hearst or Conde Nast.
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