It’s a balmy summer evening, but the United Nations neighborhood has few places where you can grab a beer and a burger or a salad under the glow of office towers.
So it was a pleasant surprise to be invited by old friends for drinks at Tuttles Bar & Grill, where two well-concealed outdoor terraces provide easy access to good drinks and serviceable fare.
If you walked by Tuttles, on busy Second Avenue, you might not notice the sidewalk sign promoting “Lunch Time in the Garden.” The front bar room looks like any other New York bar. But if you walked past the bar to the back, you would find a surprising expanse of open space lined with foliage and filled with picnic tables.
It’s not the Garden of Eden. You can still hear traffic and the thrum of jackhammers, and most of the seating is on backless benches. But it’s a pleasant outdoor spot, and you are more likely to get a table here than at other East Side oases that are better known or more visible.
Even if the back is packed, there’s also a second floor that is partly open to the outside and much quieter. (You can also rent the second floor for a private party.)
Tuttles aims to please both the beer and cocktail crowds, with 31 beers either on tap ($7 to $14) or in bottles ($6 to $9) as well as a half-dozen house cocktails and frozen drinks ($12). We liked a pink, mildly sweet concoction called Poitin Punch, featuring Irish moonshine. For Midtown, a house gin and tonic was a reasonable $8. The wine list is minimal, with glasses about $10 and bottles about $38.
During happy hours, from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, all wines and well drinks — plus Murphy’s Stout — go for $6 while sangria is $7 a glass.
While the diverse crowd reflects proximity to the UN, the food is mainstream American. Sandwiches include tender, succulent sliced steak on a focaccia roll piled with Swiss cheese and sautéed peppers, mushrooms and onions ($18). The steak comes with salad or fries: spring for the crispy sweet-potato ones for a dollar more.
The most popular dish appears to be the juicy Chef’s 8-Ounce Angus Burger ($15) with the traditional slice of raw onion, lettuce and tomato. Choose salad or fries but don’t ask for Dijon mustard; ballpark mustard is the only one on hand.
Fish tacos are tasty, and you can’t complain about a half-avocado stuffed with shrimp salad or a handsome beet salad, shaped like a water tank and served with arugula and bits of orange, cherry tomato and goat cheese (all three $14 each). One-dollar oysters may be on the menu but they were not on hand the times we visited.
If it’s quiet you’re seeking, eat at lunch or in midafternoon. But on Friday evenings in summertime, you’ll find yourself shouting across your communal picnic table. And speaking of the curious customs of young New Yorkers, why do places like Tuttles feel compelled to line their bars with TVs? Is the goal to see who can shriek loudest over ESPN?
A tip of the hat to the management: the giant-screen TVs in the back garden blast the game with the volume turned off.
Tuttles Bar & Grill is open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. It is located at 735 Second Avenue between 39th and 40th Streets. (646) 422-7072
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Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.