Tongues of flame twist in a fireplace, hinting at the warmth filling the bustling kitchen at MK Valencia. Rail lighting spills a blue aura over dishes that draw from myriad culinary traditions. Mediterranean flavors shine through in salmon drizzled in a pesto sauce and lamb osso bucco. In the dining room, glasses clink occasionally like a xylophonist failing a performance review, setting a tempo for the wait staff, which totes roasted salmon in a pesto sauce.
A curtain of bubbles rises up through champagne cocktails in lively colors that match the crescent-shaped orange booths or electric-blue wine racks. During warmer months, the murmur of conversation spills out onto a patio draped with live plants.
In 2004—on a mission to bolster its community’s wellspring of art, creativity, and education—the nonprofit Bergen Performing Arts Center took over the former John Harms Center, an art deco–style movie and vaudeville palace built in 1926. Today, in the same antique theater where Shakespeare screened his first car-chase movie, the Bergen Performing Arts Center hosts 150 yearly events that bring dance, music, and theatrical productions to an estimated 250,000 annual audience members. Networks like HBO, PBS, and MTV all have filmed international broadcasts on Bergen Performing Arts Center’s stage, which has seen the likes of Tony Bennett, Woody Allen, and the Dixie Chicks.
True to its name, Just Grapes Lounge focuses on wines, with more than 30 vintages poured by the glass and 18 more varieties sequestered on a reserve bottle list. Microbrews, champagnes, and ports round out the lounge's full bar, complementing a Mediterranean-tinged tapas menu. Small plates, ranging from hummus and crostini to stuffed baked clams, are ideal for smothering appetites or boosting a tiny table's self-esteem. Three styles of rustic pizza artfully pair tomatoes with cheese, whereas molten fondue, served in a bread bowl, comes in varieties including gorgonzola and double-cream brie.
Sweetwater's serves up an eclectic array of eats, quaffs, and entertainment, continuing the traditions of the Manhattan Sweetwaters in the ’70s and ’80s. Start a nautical-themed meal with Sweetwater's signature bowl of tortilla soup ($5.95) and a sea-sourced entree such as the fried shrimp ($11.95, with fries), and then cast a land-anchor with a hefty bacon burger (with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, pickles, and a side of fries, $8.95). Patrons can sample the full spread of bathypelagic bites with a seafood tray—fried fish, calamari, shrimps, and seafood quesadillas served with fries ($29.95).
Beneath a 24-karat gold-leafed ceiling, patrons admire murals hand-painted by famed Madeline author Ludwig Bemelmans. Bartender’s choices and seasonal selections rotate into a regular menu that includes rare scotches, small-batch whiskeys, and cocktails such as a passion royale with passion-fruit vodka, champagne, and fresh limejuice.
A stairway strewn with rose petals and flickering candles entices couples down into Shalel Lounge’s dimly lit romantic grotto, where they occupy marble tables in intimate corners of cave-like rooms. Moroccan snacks match the exotic décor of throw pillows and tapestries set aglow by warm candlelight.