It was dark and I was lost. A homeless man blocked my path and demanded $1 to pose for a selfie. I declined the photo opportunity but gave him a buck for his creative hustle. Several women stopped me and asked to borrow a light. I don’t know whether I look like a smoker, but evidently my light is much in demand with the local hookers.
I was somewhere in Nolita (NOrth of Little ITAly) a gentrified neighbourhood in Manhattan that hasn’t quite lost its seedy edge. Google maps led me down a dark alley smelling of pot smoke and urine. At the end of the alley stands Freemans, a local restaurant with a stellar reputation for both its food and drink.
Freemans’ decor is American rustic – bent wood chairs and animal heads on the walls. The crowd is young, hip and beautiful. The staff is quirky, bordering on strange. We were greeted by a chap wearing a shirt dress, black stockings and ballet pumps. He had good legs. Our waitress reminded me of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, mostly because she too was on some kind of acid trip. Our Dorothy had a little girl voice and colourful plastic flowers in her tightly permed 1950’s style hair. It was all a bit surreal.
My dinner companions were the tall blonde I call Big Bird, and a Jack Reacher type who posed as a graduate student but was actually a trainer with the Navy Seals. We drank faultless martinis made with Tito’s, my go to American vodka. Our food was the main event however. We ordered the house special – a tomahawk steak. This very American cut of beef has been showing up with increasing regularity in New York restaurants. It is essentially a huge, bone-in rib eye steak suitable for sharing. The meat is well marbled and melt in the mouth delicious. The point of ordering a tomahawk steak is in the presentation. The bone sticks out a good 12 inches from the meat; your dinner looks like a weapon from the set of a Cowboy western. It is also unnecessarily expensive because that long bone is heavy and meat is sold by weight. It does look bloody cool.
Freemans is a hoot. In a city with plenty of good restaurants it stands out for its quirkiness. The bar frequently makes it into blogger’s lists of New York’s finest. The restaurant is deceptively large. There’s even a private dining room which is used for weddings; apparently some people like having their wedding picture taken in a piss stained alley! If you can look beyond the hookers, the pot smoke and the piss stains, this is a hidden gem.