When the torch is lit and the crown beckons, you gleefully abide
The name, Torch and Crown, incites a sense of melodrama one may associate with something George R.R. Martin envisioned when he was crafting Game of Thrones, but it is instead an uptown brewery in the heart of New York’s Union Square at 14th named aptly after the Statue of Liberty’s torch that is always lit and the crown of freedom. The Torch and Crown is not only located on a prime piece of New York real estate, it is located in the heart of where the city comes together. There from Los Angeles, the story there begins with my love of New York. It is among the few places left in the United States where I feel free to be myself and feel more like a local than a tourist. That said, on this particular day in June, my best friend and I were there to celebrate #PRIDE. It’s also where I had one of the more memorable meals I’ve had while in the city, but before we talk about the cuisine, let me begin by taking you on a journey to this wondrous little happy stop …
Photos: Dawn Garcia and Torch and Crown
The journey begins at the JFK airport where a girl from California and a girl from Texas would saunter out of their iconic TWA Hotel room, down the ascending red carpet tunnel, and out through the historic doors that have more stories to tell than one can possibly fathom. These besties (obviously, I mean my bestie and I) walk out into the sweltering heat towards the elevator leading to the AirTrain, hop on, hop off, transfer to the Long Island Railroad, and eventually stop at Penn Station where they will foolishly walk miles and miles in 90 degree heat—in what felt like 190 percent humidity—nursing a bit of a sleepless night and gentle hangover from the epic wedding the night before. As they hustle in the heat to make their way towards the sound of happy #PROUD New Yorkers parading through the city, they marvel at the beautiful souls in an array of rainbow attire and the more daring and bold that chose a little twist of dominatrix, this year’s parade meant so much more than celebrating the LGBTQ+ communities. This year, as hundreds of anti-LGBT legislation soils the nation’s courts with their toxic and hateful verbiage, the show of love and solidarity for our queer and trans family is bigger than any piece of oppressive legislation could ever be.
After celebrating unity and love, we adhered to the rumblings of our hunger and made our way to Union Square where we would be indulging in an afternoon of dance, cocktails, and surprisingly good bar fare.
Walking up to Torch and Crown (T & C), it has an open entry, outdoor seating, a beer garden, a simple indoor patio with an outdoor facing bar and a full menu. Greeted by the front-of-the-house, we were seated up the steps at a bartop facing the Square. The air is heavy with heat, but the beats being spun by DJ AD Foster feed the energy of the plentiful crowd. We scan the QR code on the bartop and browse the menu. Rounding the corner with two ice cold waters in hand, we are greeted by General Manager, Carlos Mayes. With a disarming smile, we immediately feel at ease. The staff set the pace as the crowd continued to pour in. We watch how Mayes interacts with the staff and guests. His level of professionalism and hospitality is above par, and these days, that’s hard to find. We discuss the culinary program, talk about the latest brews, #PRIDE, and then he asks us if we’re ready for a cocktail. The answer is a hearty yes. As we sit at the bar facing out into the beer garden and open Square, the joy on the faces of those celebrating LGBTQ+ is contagious. The outdoor “camper” bar starts blowing bubbles that zoom through the air like happy little bursts of childhood nostalgia. Kids in rainbow tulle celebrate #PRIDE in the courtyard, dancing around with their parents, while couples laugh and talk. The chatter of the crowd, the playlist DJ AD Foster spins … all of it on this New York Sunday afternoon is one of love, activism and a passion to change the narrative to one of unity.
Our drink arrives thanks to Mayes. He serves us what he says is a must-drink, “Hip To Be Square”, consisting of mezcal espadín, plum, lime, cherry, Serrano pepper, with a smoked chili rim. To follow is a charcuterie plate followed by a fromage (cheese) plate from Murray’s Cheese in the West Village, and their signature bowl of the in-house heirloom popcorn with rosemary, parmesan, and black pepper. Between the ice cold cocktail, ice water, and starter spread, our tastebuds were ready to dive in. Sip by glorious sip, as the summer East Coast heat bore down, a subtle breeze blew and that cocktail tasted like an oasis in the dessert after a long day. As we sipped and dug into the charcuterie and cheeses, the quality of meats and cheeses from Murray’s Cheese is a local delight.
As we took in the ambiance, Mayes came by to check in and see how we liked everything so far, then we preceded to talk about the gleeful crowd, the killer music, and then we watched this one mom and her child play a very fun (and competitive) game of Jumbo Jenga in the beer garden. The kid watched as their mom pulled the final piece that would make it topple. Victory! The vibe of connectedness, on this particular day, never seemed to dull— and that acted as a reminder that the world isn’t as broken and lost as it appears. There is tremendous joy to be had.
Next up, we order the dry-rubbed wings and the crispy chicken sandwich. Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of barbecue or Buffalo sauce, so dry rub is my go-to. The wings arrive and the rub is intense (in a good way) with what tastes like a blend of cayenne, cajun, coriander, fenugreek, maybe a touch of marjoram, and the cook is perfect. These wings are scrumptious as are the fries, cooked with just the right amount of crisp, sprinkled with black pepper. The crispy chicken sandwich is welcomed gluttony and the brioche bun that houses it is sourced locally from Union Square’s, Bread Bakery. When you bite into the sandwich, your tastebuds get a gratifying blend of textures; the savoriness of the pickles, a kick of heat from the Sriracha coleslaw, the smooth creaminess of the honey mustard aioli, the crispy cook of the fried chicken, and the warmth of the brioche bun. Together it is a happy marriage of flavor and texture. For our next cocktail, we order the Ladies’ Mile bourbon cocktail.
The rest of the meal is spent enjoying the tunes of DJ AD Foster, the hospitality of Carlos Mayes, the dancing of the crowd, and the feel of love thanks to the City PRIDE. At the end of the summer days, Torch and Crown brings the fun, the food, and the libations. As an aside, they are known for their in-house brews but since I’m allergic to wheat, I had to pass on tasting those, but I do recommend exploring their wine, cocktails, and beer menu. That said, for those beer lovers out there there are a variety of house-made brews to choose from. They include Share House Summer Ale, Kald Cold IPA, Almost Famous IPA, Dive Beer Lager, Intersect Session IPA (blend using HBC586 new hops), Hypersonic Pale Ale, Sub Rosa Lager, Cheat Code West Coast IPA, and Power Lunch Double IPA.
Thank you to Carlos Mayes for an unforgettable afternoon of exceptional hospitality, the bubble maker for making us feel like kids again, DJ AD Foster for dance-worthy tunes, and the entire staff that were busting their booties in the thick of summer heat.
What We Ordered
HIP TO BE SQUARE
mezcal espadín, plum, lime, cherry, serrano pepper, smoked chili rim
bourbon, peach, lemon, ginger-sugar rim
HEIRLOOM POPCORN – rosemary, parmesan, cracked black pepper – gf, v
NEW YORK STATE CHEESE PLATE – rotating chef’s selection, seasonal accoutrement – Murray’s Cheese, West Village | Breads Bakery, Union Square
CHARCUTERIE BOARD – 24-month prosciutto, wild boar bresaola,volpe salumi, seasonal accoutrement – Murray’s Cheese, West Village | Breads Bakery, Union Square
DRY-RUBBED WINGS – special southern dry-rubbed wings
CRISPY CHICKEN SANDWICH – crispy chicken thighs, sriracha coleslaw, pickles, and honey mustard aioli on brioche
+ add a side of french fries or green market salad | Breads Bakery | Union Square