Wait times go down at some of Manhattan’s busiest restaurants. Noisy dining rooms quiet down. Neighborhood bars and restaurants in Brooklyn throw open the doors to their cute little secluded back gardens. The pace and rhythm of an evening meal becomes a little more European, a little languid and laid-back. Welcome to dining in New York City in the summer — the best season for eating out.
It’s no secret that summertime in New York means that most of the city’s wealthiest abandon the city in favor of summer homes, clearing out Manhattan restaurants and filling up Hamptons ones, especially on the weekends. The thick heat of NYC summers slows city life down, because it’s physically insufferable to move too much when it’s that dang hot.
But the slower pace can be a nice change. Summer nights are the time to walk right on in to Manhattan restaurants that are harder to snag seats at other times of the year. And even when there are waits, they’re more bearable when not having to worry about frigid temps and the chance of snow. New openings slow in the summer as well, so instead of just trying to stay on top of what’s hot, it’s an ideal time to revisit old standbys.
A later sun also means lingering natural light even during dinner. Huy Bui, who designed Greenpoint’s gorgeous Di An Di, even made a point to tell me to mark my calendar for summer solstice (June 21) this year because he says the twilight that night will light up the dining room perfectly.
Yes, sure, the smells of garbage soup and human sweat are often associated with NYC summer — and rightfully so. This city quite literally stinks in the summer.
But the season also brings fresh seafood and creamy soft serve and good smells like citrus and smoked meats. Spring and summer produce like ramps and berries and rhubarb appear at farmers markets and on the menus of restaurants that center seasonality, like Misi and Via Carota and Atomix and Chez Ma Tante.
There are, of course, the specifically summery spots, the seasonal rooftop bars and boat restaurants and various pop-ups dedicated to summer revelry. Though those are — with their menus of vaguely fusiony, underwhelming bar food — on the whole, just fine, they’re still worthy additions to the scene. Sometimes a hot day just calls for a somewhat basic night of drinking spritzes up high while looking at the sun-kissed skyline.
And a lobster roll on a boat is almost always delightful. The Frying Pan — the party boat once known for a crowd of 20-somethings drinking to the point where they probably should not be on a rocking boat — is...surprisingly good in 2019? It offers a perfect vantage point to watch the sun set over the water with a sweating beer in hand. The crowd, too, seems to have aged with the restaurant, significantly reducing the fratty vibes. Shooting oysters at Pilot in Brooklyn Bridge Park remains an ideal way to spend the afternoon, and Governors Island’s Island Oyster is like a little getaway without having to really go anywhere.
Even some of the city’s more gimmicky summer dining attractions have their merits. A glass of Prosecco with a popsicle thrown in it should probably be illegal, and yet, I’m going to live my truth and admit that Loopy Doopy’s stupid creation is actually a Good Drink, like Italian ice but boozy. Kindly do not @ me.
But ultimately it’s not really the overtly summer spots that make NYC summer dining special. It’s the stuff that’s around year-round. MeMe’s Diner in Prospect Heights feels particularly alive in the summer. Nearby, Olmsted’s garden is the perfect summer getaway for a drink. Take a slice of Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop to-go down to the water in Greenpoint. The slight energy shift among the city’s top restaurants, the lovely gardens and patios that lend more space, and a more calming setting make eating out in these months a special, slowed-down experience. Get out there and eat.