As a general rule, New Yorkers have to be at least a little masochistic. How else can we justify being crammed together, ribcage-to-ribcage, on sweltering subway cars, day after day after day? Yum, you exclaim, when your lips are blessed with a drop of A/C fluid from the heavens. Gee, a $900 rent increase? Ha ha, guess it’s time to pack up and begin the all-consuming task of finding a new $3,000/month hermit crab shell to crawl into! But if you really want to test your mettle against New York’s cartoonishly stupid, manufactured obstacles, you should check out this outdoor bar in SoHo.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, walking into a 24,000 square foot ode to a trendy place in Tulum on a Thursday evening. A pricey cocktail and a laugh? A decent place to sit outdoors for an hour after work? No, Gitano is a ghost story we will tell our children living in the glass-walled ruins of NoBoCoSide, and a nightmare for all without an expense account and an extremely high threshold for slapstick insanity.
There is a bar in there somewhere (Gothamist)
Walking past Gitano’s neon sign, you’re struck with a sense of chaos that is initially intriguing. It’s not the controlled mayhem found in many bustling restaurants, a million interlocking parts whirring to attention, but the holy crap there are a thousand people here all screaming and laughing in each other’s faces I could probably slice a flaming watermelon with a machete in midair and people would just Instagram it #tulumvibes. The noise is like approaching one of those islands that are full of millions of seabirds.
Gitano is festooned with palm trees, and its perimeter chain-link fence is blanketed in black tarp, which keeps out the sights and sounds and smells of the thousands of sad, angry drivers on Canal Street, desperately honking their way to the Holland Tunnel. While I was there, staff were actively digging a trench just a few feet behind us (likely for a reflecting pool, or a credit card sacrifice pit). Every so often, a huge plume of smoke would rise off from the kitchen, signaling that something that was once alive just got tossed on the grill.
The reflecting pool was still under construction (Gothamist)
Finding a seat on one of the many open-air benches surrounding the central covered bar was a breeze at 6 p.m., but getting a drink would prove tougher. Servers and food runners—seemingly dozens of them—ran by with grim looks on their faces, stepping through gaggles of men with Australian flag cufflinks blowing bubblegum vape clouds and couples Facetiming, to deliver a handful of drinks or a $27 dollar plate of four tacos, and disappear into the maw again. (Several of them were dusted with glitter, which was either part of their uniform, or evidence of something that went fabulously wrong.) The bar itself was two to three patrons deep, their giant silver watches reflecting the setting sun.
Initially a server told my friend and I that we weren’t part of her section, and she melted away to find the poor soul responsible for bringing us alcohol, only to return a few minutes later with a clarification that yep, she was our server, what would we like? A margarita and a gin and soda ($16 apiece) and a quesadilla felt acceptable, the booze was in our hands within 15 minutes, and they were reasonably strong.
Waiting for a $17 quesadilla gives you a lot to think about. Spectacles are fun. New York City is a spectacle! But what were we even looking at? A Mexican restaurant made for New Yorkers who vacation in Mexico, transported back to New York?
“A lot of people credit me with bringing New York to Tulum,” Gitano Tulum co-owner Melissa Perlman told us when the place opened here in June. “Now I’m bringing Tulum to New York.”
Roughly 30 minutes after our drinks had been drained, our server returned. “Still no quesadilla? I’m so sorry, I’m going to get the manager, just tell him to take it off the tab.”
A few minutes later, a man with an earpiece approached us.
“You missing a quesadilla?”
We nodded meekly.
“OK,” he replied, striding off purposefully into the din.
A Gitano quesadilla with one fourth eaten (Gothamist)
Almost immediately, he appeared with the quesadilla. It was tiny—the circumference of a single corn tortilla—and a little lukewarm. It is best described as an “outrageous bummer.” But I wasn’t about to ask him to remove it from the bill, considering he had just seemingly fought five alligators with his bare hands and narrowly avoided several assassins’ bullets to get it to us, our quesadilla, in fifteen seconds!
Our snack finished, and the sun now below the Hoboken skyline, we braced ourselves for the bill. The suspense turned to wonder when we realized that we would never see that bill. Our server had been devoured by the countless hordes who had arrived in the intervening hour, and they all demanded tequila and guac and braaaaaiiiiiiiins.
We flagged down one of the runners and gave him a $20 to give to our server, wherever she was. He nodded sagely and kept moving. A few more laps around the establishment and I found her.
“Hey, can I pay you?”
“Who are you?”
I guess I realized in that moment that I was just another faceless idiot paying a little more than $50 for two drinks and a quesadilla, but I told her where we’d been sitting and settled up.
A splendid view of 1 WTC (Gothamist)
It being a patch of land in the middle of SoHo, the bathrooms were some of those fancy trailers that you imagine movie stars use when they are forced to relieve themselves in a trailer. I tried pumping the soap dispenser, which was empty, when a hand shot out holding a tiny plastic ramekin of pink soap. “Here,” a smiling bathroom attendant said to me, as he poured the soap over my hands.
Gitano has a two-year lease on the space, and will be open through October.