Filled with cobblestone streets, cheap eats and dank drinking holes, Manhattan's West Village still retains remnants of the avant-garde past that made it a poor artist's dream in the '50s and 60's. Dylan Thomas soused himself to death there, the Beat poets stumbled from bar to bar and jazz greats played till dawn. So opening a cigar bar there might seem akin to opening a hot dog stand in Monte Carlo--a bit incongruous.
But Hudson Bar and Books, an elegant and cozy lounge located on Hudson Street between Horatio and Jane, has thrived since it opened in 1991. Why? Owner Raju Mirchandani, a veteran of the hotel and restaurant business, thinks he has the answer.
"We have the only four-star bar in a neighborhood filled with three-star restaurants," said Bombay-born Mirchandani. "When kicking back and drinking fine booze, you don't want a jukebox bar. The neighborhood has plenty of those."
Throw a rock in the West Village and you'll hit a would-be writer--a fact that's apparently not lost on Mirchandani, who's created a decor that cleverly exploits the neighborhood's intellectual self-image. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases cover most of the wall space. Intimate tables line the wall opposite the fully-stocked bar. And the room converges into a back area where a U-shaped couch gives off a salon-like feel. The effect is comfortable, dark and literary (despite the Prince Charles and late Lady Di photo album).
Sporting a dark mustache, slick-backed black hair, a double-breasted blue blazer, rep tie atop a checkered shirt and thin-wool slacks, Mirchandani could be James Bond's contact in Bombay. His bar, come to think of it, would suit 007's taste--and expense account--just fine. Martinis go for $8.50 a pop, Champagne cocktails for $9.50 and wine for $7 to $25 a glass. Although small, the wine list is well chosen. White offerings include a 1995 Maurice Franbois Sancerre and a 1996 Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc; among the reds are a 1995 Michel Picard Merlot and a 1994 Coppola Rubicon Meritage.
Bring your own smokes. Cigars, purchased by Mirchandani at Alfred Dunhills, are overpriced, even by cigar bar standards. A sampling: Montecristo No. 2 Torpedos are $36 ($13.20 suggested retail price), Montecruz Tubos are $16 ($4.85 SRP), Partagas Humitubes are $22 ($4.75 SRP), and Punch Rothschilds are $15 ($2.40 SRP).
Service was extraordinary. Beer glasses were frosted, new wine glasses were presented with each pour, and the 30 or so customers dressed casually to just shy of formal felt at home, never having to wait for a drink. Glasses of cold water accompanied each serving and were constantly replenished. A waiter, outfitted nattily in a white server's coat and black bow tie, tripled as bartender, barback and chef, descending to the kitchen through a trap door behind the bar to prepare what Mirchandani calls "cocktail cuisine." These are costly appetizers such as a seafood plate ($20), a small designer pizza ($10.50) and caviar ($50 for 30 grams).
With a full stock of premium single-malt Scotches, Bourbons, Cognac and Armagnac, the bar is top-flight. If you've got the cash and are in the mood, the "Connoisseur's Selection" menu lists a bottle of 1945 Croft Port (99 points on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale) for $650. Or you can straddle a bar stool, order a beer, light up and feel right at home. On Friday and Saturday nights, a two-drink minimum is your ticket to live jazz.
Hudson Bar and Books has a sister location, Lexington Bar and Books, on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
Hudson Bar and Books
636 Hudson Street
New York, New York
Weekdays 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Weekends 6 p.m. to 4 a.m.