best of nyc 1999

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Michael Musto's New York

Drag race winner: Escuelita’s angel sheridan
photo: Sylvia Plachy
The three most irresistible menus in town are off-limits to my new let's-stay-alive-shall-we? diet, but the memory of their majesty might command me to a suicidal pig-out very soon. The best Buffalo-style chicken wings by far are at Pluck U. (which has five locations, including 124 Nassau Street, 267-2468). The no-bullshit poultry palace features non-modified-forelimb-oriented items, of course, but going to Pluck U. for anything but the tangy, ennobling wings would be like visiting the Sistine Chapel to look at the floors.

The most outrageous brick-oven personal pan pizza is at Ovo (65 Second Avenue, 353-1444), a cozy little chat-'n'-chew which is too often half empty, considering how vividly their cuisine changed my life. Along with a brilliant salad and sensible soda, the $7.99 lunch nabs you a 10-inch circle of doughy, cheesy love splattered with three sensational items of your choice. You can't get diamonds, Metrocards, and crack, but I used to be perfectly content with anchovies, chopped olives, and garlic.

The third must-devour food source is Korean barbecue, an interactive indulgence centered on 32nd Street, where Koreatown's finest grillathons are lined up like beckoning brothels of beef. Among the top choices, Dae Dong (17 West 32nd Street, 967-1900) and Kum Gang San (49 West 32nd Street, 967-0909) are utterly delightful, despite the potentially vulgar names. But the temptation tiara goes to Empire Korea (6 East 32nd Street, 725-1333), one of the most pleasingly kitschy eateries in the metropolitan area and a shoo-in for the restaurant that most resembles a converted Marriott lobby. Spread out in your tacky booth, ignore the bizarre addition of "Italian bella cuisine," and ingest side dishes from kimchi to crispy anchovies without ever stopping to ask "What the fuck is it?" Then let them fling the meat strips onto your table grill until it's time for you to wrap it all up in a mutantly large piece of lettuce and shamelessly suck it in. ("Make sandwich! Make sandwich!" one waitress there is fond of exclaiming.) I'm a Seoul man.

While in Little Korea, you must sing for — or maybe after — your supper. Don't rule out karaoke as an option the way so many cultural snobs tend to. (Lord knows, if anyone had told me I'd be one of those Neanderthals screeching out Huey Lewis tunes for a Saturday night's entertainment, I would have gotten très violent.) It turns out to be a buoyant bonding experience, especially if you go with people who sing even worse than you do. At the most appealing karaoke spot — MBC Music Box Inc. (25 West 32nd Street, 967-2244) — your sexy private room comes with a disco ball, a choice of hundreds of tunes from Peggy Lee to the Rent score, and videos clearly showing the song's lyrics and inanities. "We Are the World" is the best group number, but be sure to check your egos at the door.

And don't leave the neighborhood just yet, because footsteps away there's some must-have inconspicuous consumption. It's the town's most glorious cheapo outlet — Jack's 99 Cent Store (110 West 32nd Street, 268-9962), which brims with pasta, teas, jams, and sodas, all of which fell off a truck, for all I care. Upstairs they even have an ABC Carpet & Home–type knockoff, where there are slightly fancier items that will cost you more (maybe $3.99), but it's still not exactly Bendel. With a coupon from the Valu-Pak, you can really cut corners.

While we're having cheap fun, the best drag queen in New York's a 100-way tie. I've come to realize that trannies are like snowflakes — all fabulous, in different ways — plus if I name one, the other 99 will sit on my face and kill me. Oh, hell, the best one is Escuelita's bodacious Angel Sheridan, an old-school diva who's so vital and well-rehearsed she can even breathe life into Bette Midler's version of Gypsy. Fuck the other 99.

And without question the best fuck-you New York attitude is given every Tuesday night at the gay soiree Beige at B Bar (358 Bowery, 475-2220), where there's no guest list or cover charge, but plenty of male fashionistas with chips on their designer shoulder pads. Beige is a wow, even though the core crowd seems to instinctively know that the second they enter, they are to assume the biggest 'tude since Britney Spears was visited by her drag impersonator. If you want some real attitude, tell them about the 99 Cent Store.

Other Essays categories:

Austin Bunn's New York

Fanboy's Best of NYC as told to Ward Sutton

Greg Tate's New York

Guy Trebay's New York

Lynn Yaeger's New York

Richard Goldstein's New York

Robert Christgau's New York

Toni Schlesinger's New York

Tristan Taormino's New York

William Bastone's New York