15 W. 18th St btw 5th and 6th Ave, Flatiron
The Place: A nice, big restaurant right in the middle of Union Square/Flatiron hullaballoo and is directly across from the studio where I’ve been rehearsing for the last month.
The Time: Thursday July 14, 5:45pm. It is a really hot day, as each day seems to be at this point in summer. I had an audition earlier not too far away and am meeting a friend in this area later so I have plenty of time to kill. Then, as summer likes to do, it started torrentially downpouring unexpectedly and I ran into reliable, overpriced City Bakery for shelter, only to be kicked out 20 minutes later because they were closing. I knew The Gander was right next door and I had no better ideas.
The Vibe: I don’t know anything about this place, but for getting here before 6pm, it's already filling up pretty fast. The hostess says hello but doesn’t tell me anything else, so I make my way to the enormous bar. There’s a nice big marble bar top. The space inside is huge, with a large area in the back slightly sectioned off, presumably for the “finer dining” experience. But nobody is in it. The front section where I am is populated by couples and small groups. At the bar, there are two single guys on their phones, a couple, and a group of three guys on the corner. There is no unifying factor of people except a mid-30s, post-work feel. There are these really tall illuminated panels on the bar made up of bottoms of clear wine bottles. It’s a neat trick. The music is all over the place, like it’s being controlled by the guy at the party with iPod ADD. But the general vibe is very pleasant.
The Bartender: I'm waiting at the bar for a while before anyone shows up. Eventually, a tall dude with a bushy beard dressed in all black makes an appearance. He is very nice and gets his stride quickly, but spends most of the time running around, pouring and re-pouring beer. They have this big fancy white wine contraption built into the bar, and I ask him about it. He tells me it basically makes bottles of wine come out on tap, but “it’s not working right now, and we’re having trouble with the keg too.” Rough night to work at the Gander.
The Drank: A mule off their 3-drink-long happy hour menu that I ask to be made with gin instead of vodka. Thank god for happy hour, because otherwise cocktails are normally $16 but now it’s $10. I really only order the mule because I’m cheap and the other two options don't appeal to me right now (a sazerac is too heavy for this time of day, and my other choice is a mysterious “rum punch”). The mule is fine, pretty basic. I want more ginger. They have two frozen cocktails in those big machines usually reserved for tiki bars and 7-11. This strikes me as odd because their regular cocktail list isn’t that innovative and has a lot of dumb names: Itza Spritza, Less Boozy Suzy, Matcha Scotcha. Like, come on guys, this isn’t a Dr. Seuss book. After a while, I order a side of cauliflower as a little snack, and the bartender tries to put a placemat down for me, which is awkward for both of us since I like to spread out all my stuff and pretend the bar is my home office. The food comes out super fast, and is really yummy–it’s a giant hunk of roasted (“charred”) cauliflower and I think it’s the closest I’ll come to feeling like I’m eating steak.
Was I Hit On? The solo guy to my left asks the bartender for another glass of wine without looking up from his phone. Rude. Then he sneezes and I say bless you and he doesn't say thank you! Ruder. Then when my food comes, he goes, “god that smells good,” gets up and literally STICKS HIS NOSE IN IT. Rudest! THEN he has the audacity to look at me and say, “Hi, I’m Gary.” Yo, Gary, see all these bar stools? Sit the fuck down. I say nothing and elbow him out of the way to get to my cauliflower. He leaves shortly after that.
Should You Drink Alone Here? I’m gonna say sure, but also, I wouldn’t seek this place out again. If the cauliflower I ate is any indication, come for dinner because it must be good. But the bar scene at The Gander isn’t anything special, even though it’s a nice spot. And I sure as hell don’t wanna run the risk of seeing Gary ever again.
*UPDATE* The Gander is now closed.