We’d been so busy staying away from Little Italy’s cheesy Italian restaurants that we never realized a nightlife gem is nestled in the neighborhood. What sets Florio’s Restaurant apart is their smoking license. Across from Ferrara’s, the spot looks like it’s just another place to get overpriced (and soggy) gnocchi. Once you step inside, it’s a different story. No one is eating the pasta, because everyone is too busy puffing on cigars and enjoying a scotch. There are plenty of places in the city that try to recreate the vibe of old New York and fail. Florio’s isn’t trying to recreate anything. A few tokes of the cigar will show you: this place is old New York.
Mind you, we’re not going so far to say it’s good. We didn’t try the grub and the wine was straight from the magnum tripe. The staff looks old and weary – perhaps from the smoke, but more likely from month and months of serving the tourist hordes. It’s not the menu, it’s not the service, it’s the spirit. A smoky room full of dozens of laughing folk, young and old alike, brings us back. Not to a cheesy 1950’s fantasy of what the city was, but to a pre smoking ban, pre Trade Center vibe that we remember quite well.
For those who really want to bask in nostalgia, we found out that part of Florio’s is a private, member’s only club. For a fee ranging from 450 -750 / year, you can have access to this hidden section. Though it’s normally just restricted to members and guests, we worked our way in on a recent visit. We found a group of patrons sitting around a flat screen smoking cigars and watching the game. Another group (with the requisite attractive female cigar smoker in tow) sat and admired selections from the club’s massive knife collection. A table waited in the corner, ready for a pick up game of poker. Everyone puffed away, tipsy and contented.
We won’t say too much more about the private space as we don’t want the authentic old time owners to come after us with one of those knives. The Restaurant, located at 192 Grand Street, is definitely worth a visit. Be sure to bring your cigar money, and be ready to reek the next day. Don’t go rush off to the dry cleaner’s too quickly. That’s the smell of nostalgia.