It is winter, the economy is bleak, what better time to explore Eastern Europe? Technically, I headed west from my hub in Boerum Hill, BK, to the borough of Manhattan across the bridge. But our adventure was set in the Eastern Bloc. We are on a spinning globe, it’s all relative.
First stop was Tschaikovsky’s Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. It works for adults too, FYI. Put on a dress you don’t get to wear much, drink the Prosecco, and take a Serbian financial analyst with a penchant for Borat quotes.
After the ballet we went to Saro, newly opened Balkan bistro in the LES, and sat at a table with a red-pepper centerpiece. We chatted with owner and chef Erin Elhalal and I learned more about my family heritage through Eastern European food history, sitting in a pocket-sized bistro in the LES, than I did in seven years of Hebrew school. It was BYOB and the Serb chose well. We ate chicken schnitzel and Mediterranean eggplant and my date praised each item’s authenticity.
Just at the corner was the cocktail bravado of Schiller’s Liquor Bar and there was room at the actual bar, courtesy of the rain and it being the night before Christmas Eve. While Schiller’s is not USSR-ish, its founding bar staff certainly was. Before Empolyees Only, the speakeasy in the Meatpacking/Greenwich Village started by Balkan badboy bartenders, Dushan Zaric made Schiller’s delicious through his personal mixology talents. So Schiller’s was on the thematic menu. (It also employs Wakey Wakey, an artist I was soon to catch up with at SXSW in Austin.)
At Schiller’s I am loyal to the Sparkling Mango and tonight was no exception, it having vodka and all, it fell into the thematic rhythm. We left Rivington and Norfolk and in two blocks we were at the Bulgarian Bar. Wild gypsy punk rock greeted us, obligatory nod to Eugene Hutz at the bar where Gogol Bordello got its start. There was also the requisite South American Manu Chao stylings and some Yugoslavian hits I never got to as a child. Igor did though, so he informed me of their greatness.
Next up, the Russian Turkish Baths in the East Village. Of course to do the real thing, one would go east in actual Brooklyn – to Brighton Beach. There’s plenty of post-Soviet on the to-do list.