Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Porch for the People in Park for the People

At the opening party the crowd enjoys The Southwest Porch at Bryant Park. Photo by Diane Bondareff.

ON the way out of The Southwest Porch at Bryant Park opening party, I am saying goodbye to “Top Chef” host Tom Colicchio and his ’wichcraft partners, Sisha Ortuzar and Jeffrey Zurofsky. I’d just risen from a power nod in a comfortable Adirondack chair and I’m telling TC how I appreciate that it’s dark and there are no mosquitoes messing about me or the porch.

Instead of concurring, he crafts a tall tale of myriad menacing mosquitoes in New York, especially in the neighborhood of his high-rise on the far west side of Manhattan. “It’s been raining a lot here, and the mosquitoes are gonna be really bad,” says this New Jersey boy to Yours Truly, a Louisiana belle. He’s my co-host, so I show deference. But, really. By the time I leave Himself, however, he is conceding that perhaps the mosquitoes, in say, the bayous and swamps of Louisiana are a tad more worrisome than any that exist in New Jersey or New York. Incidentally, during our tête-à-tête neither of us is bitten. Nor do we bat away anything.

So it goes on the Southwest Porch, so named for the airline that built it. The outdoor lounge is the means by which the Dallas-based air carrier chooses to inform anyone who cares to know that circa late June 2009 it is flying in and out of LaGuardia Airport (to Chicago and Baltimore). Aptly, it is located in the southwest corner of the park. Ingenious! Why post garish billboards all over town when you can simply construct an outdoor space complete with wooden beams, swings, chairs Adirondack and rocking, trellises, cacti, power outlets, complimentary honey roasted peanuts, as well as a sign bearing your name, lest anyone thinks s/he’s at a fanciful sandwich emporium? Those marigold-colored cushions, though, are going to need regular laundering.

In case you’re wondering what sandwich purveyor, ’wichcraft, has to do with the porch. Simple: “Southwest approached us about partnering with them because we are in the southwest corner of the park,” TC said about an hour before that mad riff about mosquitoes. “They asked us to create a menu that captures the spirit of their new service ... It’s a natural collaboration.” Besides, it doesn’t do to have a porch/lounge without food and drinks.

Down South, the front porch is for genteel consumptions like sipping mint juleps and iced tea with lemon and maybe a little too much sugar. Conversely, the back porch is for doing the unmentionable to watermelon and such. But at the Southwest Porch it’s OK to consume anything on the menu that ’wichcraft built, including one of four sandwiches that makeup its centerpiece and that also pay homage to Southwest destinations.

The Meatball Parm is New York’s own; Bratwurst for Chicago, the Soft Shell Crab for Baltimore. And for headquarters, the Southwestern Pork, which self-described foodie Elizabeth Lieb took a liking to. “You think of barbecue sauce as something you get in South Carolina, but this is different,” she says, referring to the flavors she susses out: cinnamon, clove, Morodcan spice rub, etc. Not bad, EL. TC says the pork is seasoned with chiles, cinnamon, cloves and cayenne pepper. No doubt, he left something out.

In any case, the wiches are there for the ordering. But porch visitors can sit all day and not order a thing. They can even bring their own eats, because here anything goes as long as it’s legal and within the confines of decorum and decency. The porch, ’wichcraft’s SO gives me to know, is for anybody and everybody.

And its builder agrees. " ... we are incredibly proud to be bringing the signature Southwest spirit to all New Yorkers at The Southwest Porch at Bryant Park ... We hope everyone will come to relax and have fun ..." says CEO Gary Kelly.

“It’s very democratic; it’s for the people of New York,” SO says, repeating a main talking point of the Bryant Park Corporation, which operates the park.

The BPC is big on democracy – of the people, by the people, for the people. Bryant Park, including the porch, is one place in Gotham where the huddled masses enjoy an open invitation – even the homeless. “You deal with them as you would anybody else,” SO declares. “As long as nobody bothers anybody, they’re welcome.”

And so they are. A few days after the party I am sitting on the porch with the Crazy Jordanians (see 5 July post/“On the Yellow Brick Road with Crazy Js”). To our right, lounging and dozing on a large ottoman is a homeless man; every now and then he takes a nip from his half pint of vodka. No one shoos him away.

Gotta love democracy.

The Southwest Porch at Bryant Park (@6th Avenue b/w 40th and 41st streets) is open to the public during park hours. Through mid-September, food and beverage service is available from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday-Thursday, and noon-9 p.m. on Friday.

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