From trips to Europe to trips to the movies, my ability and desire to do things on my own has always sparked a touch of confusion in people. I love my friends and could probably pretty easily talk at least one of them into any of these activities, but sometimes I just really value my own company. I have always been able to be content with my own company and really enjoy being able to treat myself to something nice - "alone time" for me doesn't always need to be bubble baths and crawling into bed early, sometime it's treating myself to a nicer-than-normal meal for one or a trip to the movies where I'm there on my own but still have the chance to interact with people.
This really throws some of my friends for a loop - the level of discomfort I see in some people when I'm eating alone is honestly startling at times. I've been toying with the idea of writing a series like this for a while, but didn't have a solid idea of what I wanted the scope to be. I've decided that I think I want to start with a series of NYC restaurant reviews of places that I like to take myself out to to treat myself- either as a guide for fellow NYC locals who are likewise inclined towards treating yourself to some out-of-the-house alone time, or I thought there could be interest from people visiting the city on work trips who might want to get away from their teams for a bit (inspired by the time my mom told me that she's pretty sure she's eaten at California Pizza Kitchen in every mall she'd opened a store in, because she trusted them to be consistent).
In this series I'll consider a number of factors that all come together to create a good solo dining experience - from ambiance and aesthetic, to how chatty the bartenders and servers are, to the food itself.
Now that the house keeping is out of the way, onto my first review! Lupa in Greenwich Village is a new find for me that has quickly skyrocketed to being an all-time favorite. Located on Thompson and Houston there is no shortage of delicious eats nearby, but Lupa should be the top of your list - solo or otherwise.
I actually ended up at Lupa entirely by accident one Tuesday night a couple of weeks ago. I had had a few hours to kill between work and rehearsal and, having a long day, thought I might treat myself to a nice bowl of pasta to recenter myself. I was going to go to a place a two blocks uptown that had been recommended to me on a few different occasions, but the host there was very rude and when I asked for a table he told me "there's a wait, maybe come back later" and refused to give me an estimated wait time. I decided that the food couldn't possibly be good enough to make up for the bad vibes that the man was giving off, so I sat on their stoop outside and used the last 2% of my phone battery to research an alternative Italian spot. A google search brought me to a Conde Nast listicle, which in turn brought me to Lupa.
I walked in to a buzzing, yet comfortable environment where the hostess told me that they didn't have any tables available, but that I was welcome to seat myself at the bar. The recess lighting and brickwork were classy but didn't feel overly pretentious, and everything that went past me smelled amazing. I ended up sitting at the very end of the bar, next to another young woman who was finishing her own solo meal - seeing that she had a book out that she'd been reading before her food arrived encouraged me to do the same.
Even for a small restaurant, it was packed considering it was early in the evening on a Tuesday. The restaurant was buzzing with pleasant conversation but not so loud that I couldn't read comfortably at the bar. My bartender was friendly and helped me settle on a rosé that would fit the summer mood as well as compliment what I was planning on ordering for my main course, and had the thoughtfulness to ask a server for a "single serving" bread basket - something I hadn't heard of before. He never interrupted my reading, but when a couple sat down next to me as I was finishing my meal and I started up a conversation with them, he overheard that I work in theatre and he chimed in to say that he was a working actor and just about to leave the city to perform in a production of Camelot in Michigan - which he then followed with a stellar dessert recommendation. He also charged my very dead phone for me, so he was the real MVP of my evening.
The bartender, whom I have regretfully forgotten the name of, was reflective of everyone else I interacted with who was working that night. As I was at the end of the bar, servers were back-and-forth all night putting in drink orders and chatting during the few lulls. From the positive-but-overwhelmed kid working his first day to the woman who stopped in the middle of reading a ticket to let me know that I'd ordered her favorite dish on the menu and that she hoped I enjoyed it as much as she did, the whole restaurant staff clearly liked one another and knew that they were part of putting out some of the best Italian food I've eaten in the city. My fellow patrons were also more than pleasant to be around, the couple I chatted up told me that they'd ended up at Lupa accidentally one night and it became a fast favorite for them, too.
The food itself was superb. There is no better comfort food than pasta, and Lupa does it right. I'm a sucker for a good pasta carbonara, and theirs rivals anything I've eaten in Italy. I also want to take a moment to praise the serving size - much like how the vibe of Lupa is somewhere between super-high-end and family-style, the serving size reflects that - it wasn't such a small serving that it was straight out of a satyrical movie scene, but it wasn't so big that I was over-full when I finished the serving. Wrapping up with a cup of tea and a biscotti was a delightful end to my evening - and even though the restaurant was only getting busier, no one made me feel like I was being rushed out to free up the table top.
All in all, my accidental early evening at Lupa ended up being exactly the kind of positive energy I needed. It was the perfect place to recharge on my own while still being surrounded by positive people who were happy to be there. The bar at Lupa was the perfect place to be alone but not lonely on a nice night out, and I can't recommend it enough for a "self-date" or a place to go with a few other people to split a carafe and to pick off each others' plates as a "treat yo'self" night in the village.