New York City’s Hands-On Hot Spots


A Japanese barbecue joint with three locations in Manhattan, this DIY dining experience takes the hibachi style to a whole new level. Rather than have a chef prepare your food in front of your table, you do it yourself. Each table has a circular, gas-powered grill in the middle and your order is delivered in foil with instructions for how long each item should be cooked and how frequently it should be flipped. Gyu-Kaku offers seafood, steak, chicken, and ribs accompanied by soups, salads, and vegetables. The restaurant offers rates for couples and groups with the freedom to sample a whole medley of meats. 

Ward III

This one-of-a-kind Tribeca watering hole not only lets you concoct your own cocktail, but you can also name it and save the recipe there if it’s good. The Ward’s trademark Bespoke Cocktail menu features choices of spirits, textures, spices, flavors, and fruit varieties so the bartender can help you develop a drink customized to your liking. The bartenders (who are also the co-founders) use trial and error — and their expertise — to perfect your potion, and have their own favorite creations available on the menu. 

Brandy’s Piano Bar

To celebrate such an accomplished night on the town creating your own cocktails, make your way to the Upper East Side. Brandy’s Piano Bar lies unassuming on East 84th Street, but it’s far more charming than run-of-the-mill pubs in the area and is open until 3 a.m. For decades Brandy’s has been home to New York City’s rising stars, Broadway and musical professionals who entertain for some extra cash. You can sing along to show tunes and oldies if you can squeeze into the modest room. Be patient for a seat and tip generously as the bartenders are the cast, and keep those hips under control… they’ll kick you out for dancing.

16 Handles

Try your hand at dessert at 16 Handles, which rivals Pinkberry by putting you in charge of your frozen yogurt. Entirely self-serve, the new sweet spot delivers 16 flavors a day with more than 40 revolving toppings to choose from. You can sample the handles before you commit and combine as much as you’d like — you pay by the ounce.

Hill Country

Only in Manhattan would a Southern BBQ joint have you serve yourself. Don’t get too comfortable when you finally get a table; you’re heading to the butcher to customize your meat order then over to the market to shop for sides. Hill Country uses a card system to tally your total as you piece together your meal à la carte. 

AOA Bar and Grill

Tribeca’s largest pizza and beer sports pub hosts pizza-making classes every Saturday and Sunday. Learn the entire cooking process, from kneading dough to firing up the brick oven, and score a few tips on calzones and focaccia bread in the process. Classes are $80 a person, $150 a couple, and of course, you’ll be eating the final products.

Miette Culinary Studio

Take a cooking class with small groups of 12 or less for an intimate, hands-on experience. Choose a themed menu from regional to product-based and participate in each course’s creation with guidance from a chef before dining as a group on the fruits of your labor. Classes run from $80 to $110 and sell out quickly, so book in advance or set up private lessons for $200 an hour.

Murdered by the Mob

When all else fails, fall back on the classic murder mystery show — Murdered by the Mob is New York City’s not-so-standard version of interactive dinner theater. The show’s lasted 15 years, longer than any other mystery dinner show, and still has critics rolling and raving. To get in on the investigation and play a part of your own, book tickets in advance for the weekend showings.