I’ve been married long enough to know that I need not spend my anniversary at some romantic restaurant staring into the eyes of my beloved. We’ve gone that route before and usually end up telling one another we need new glasses and Botox. So last May 31, when my husband and I found ourselves up against our big night with no big plans on the the board, we took a Meat Packing District denizen’s recommendation, and popped into Buddhabar for a coupla drinks and dinner.
Neither of us knew squat about the place…other than that it wasn’t Buddakan, the super luxe temple of excess where the uber hip flock for overpriced Asian food. I guess we both assumed that because the word “bar” was tacked onto the name Buddha (in itself comical), this spot would be more cajz--perhaps a good place to throw back a few Kirins and order a round of dumplings.
We must have walked up and down hipster-packed Little West 12th Street five times looking for Buddahbar before we realized it was the spot fronted by a pair of those tell tale red velvet club ropes. Hmmm. We hauled open a pair of enormous doors, the sunlight slipped away behind us, and we were suddenly walking through a darkened tunnel flanked by luminescent Buddhas. We were greeted at the end of this tunnel by one of the most cavernous and spectacular spaces I’ve seen yet in Manhattan. And by a coat-hanger of a hostess (and her many clones), whose neckline scooped so low it revealed her belly button. (I am not exaggerating.)
The place was virtually empty--no self respecting clubber would be seen anywhere at 7 on a Saturday, of course. So we ambled over to the bar area, climbed onto a pair of bordello-inspired couches and ordered up some absurd club cocktails--I think mine was a, don’t laugh, Buddhatini. As we moved from cocktails to dinner, and as the place started filling up with studiously garbed Buddha babes and beaus, the truth about Buddhabar became hilariously apparent: When you see more than five girls yank down their black minidresses in a span of 15 minutes, it’s a dead give away they have bought a new dress for the occasion and are probably from Paramus or Peoria. This place--with its flames, sky-high statues, meandering indoor streams, costumed characters, and kooky drinks and eats--was basically a high-end theme restaurant just a hair away from being a big-time bridge and tunnel attraction. Moments after a buxom 20-something-year- old girl fell off her platform shoe and nearly landed in our sashimi, Paul and I looked intently into each other’s eyes and said, virtually at the same time: “The boys would think this place rocks.”
Flash forward to a late Saturday afternoon in early August: We get the boys into the closest thing they have to unstudied casual chic--khaki shorts with rolled up, slightly wrinkly oxfords on top. We cruise into the Meatpacking District and snag a parking spot right on the street (again, no one really shows up til 9 or 10 around there). We take a walk around--the people watching (and window shopping if you’re into it) is pretty snappy. Then we saunter into the restaurant. The boys’ eyes nearly pop out of their heads. (And not because of all the short skirts.) They love the whole experience, the whole side show feel of the place…right down to the “copper waterfall sink and the guy giving out free gum” in the men’s room (don’t think Noah knew a tip was in order). “This,” declares my 13 year old, “is what I call an insanely cool restaurant.” Mission accomplished.
We top off the evening by heading diagonally across the street and climbing a stairway up to the High Line, that spectacular park that’s just opened along what used to be the abandoned elevated train tracks. I am a bit nervous at first about going up--it is about 9 PM and Paul has gone uptown to work a concert, so I am alone with the boys. But once we get there, all worries fall away. The place is teeming with people--strolling, lying on the park’s skyline-view chaise lounges, soaking up the hot August night. We buy some Ronnybrook ice cream cones and lap them up as we stroll. It is all we dream New York can be. Then we pop back down to street level and jump in the car for the burbs. Now that’s a theme night grown up and kids can all handle.
Wanna Go? Need to Know….
Getting There: In case you don’t know this already, Little West 12th Street is in a weird spot. You can take the Lincoln Tunnel, go down Ninth Avenue, turn right on 14th, then take left on Washington Street and then a left on Little West 12th. If you Mapquest it, the address is 25 Little West 12th. If you go early, there’s usually parking right on the street. Call the restaurant for reservations (and garage info if you want it): (212) 647-7314.
Trail Tips: If you don’t want to blow money on dinner at Buddhabar, you can grab a couple of drinks and appies there, then walk over to Chelsea Market and pick up some good eats (I think it closes at 9). If you want to go to the High Line after Buddhabar, come out of the restaurant, cross over Little West 12th and walk toward the river (to the right). The nearest entrance to the High Line is at Gansevoort and Washington Streets (literally right there). The northernmost entrance is at 20th Street.
When to Go: If you go to Buddhabar early in the evening, you‘ll be fine: The night crowds aren’t out yet, rezzies are pretty easy to get even on a Saturday, and there’s often still parking outside. If you have dinner at about 7, you’ll still have time for a stroll on the High Line, which closes at about 10 (I believe).
What to Bring: Don’t look like you’re going to a wedding. And don’t look like you just finished a trip on the Circle Line. I got away with a long sundress, (I’d wear slacks otherwise). Paul wore , a good t-shirt and casual jacket. You’ll see I have none of my own pictures in this blog. Just couldn’t bring myself to do it. You might be a bit more self-actualized, so you might want a camera. Your call. Don’t bring any child young enough to cry in a restaurant. Same goes for a kid too young too sit still in her/his seat. I’d say this is a perfect adventure for tweens/teens and their parents/generous aunts and/or uncles.
Costs: I think each cocktail at Buddhabar was about $16. Dinner can include things like sushi, sashimi, dumplings and some hot entrees. Both times we’ve been it’s been fine. Not spectacular. But certainly better than the stuff you’ll get at Planet Hollywood. We got out for under $150 for the 4 of us, booze included. (We ordered a bunch of rolls, some apps, and one hot main for the boys.)
Fear Factor: The only thing to be afraid of in the Meat Packing district is fatal pretentiousness. You, like me, will be able to get past it. I know it.