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Ludo
The More Things Change…
Arabian Nights without the Arabia

Written by Jack Curtin
Photographed by Krisztina Fazekas


There are certain restaurants and bars that, for whatever reason, I haven’t been to. Sometimes it seems they’re just too logical, too easy. I’m of the opinion that New Yorkers are – at times at least - inclined to think certain things aren’t worth doing if a certain amount of challenge or toil isn’t involved. Take Taboon, by all accounts one of Manhattan’s finest Middle Eastern restaurants and less than ten blocks from my front door. Despite opening nearly three years ago, I had never been. Largely glowing reviews from publications like New York magazine and The New York Times still weren’t enough to get me over there. And guess what – when my girlfriend and I finally did have a meal at the polished bar (all the tables were fully booked) - we both loved it.

Ludo, a restaurant/bar in the East Village, is for me a similar situation. Though not particularly close to my Hell’s Kitchen home, it’s a place that, for well over two years - I’ve had every intention of checking out. For whatever reason though, I never made it. This is not a disparagement against Ludo – it’s just that every Friday or Saturday night I seemed to have something else going on. Which is why, when my roommate decided to throw a going-away party at Ludo on a recent evening, I realized it was the perfect time to see what this place is all about.

I actually went to Ludo a few years ago for another going-away party. Back then it was known as Chez Es Saada and – with preponderance of votives, rose petals, arches, low seats and cushions – looked like something out of Arabian Nights. The redesign – it still has the arches and spiral staircase – has toned down the Marrakech motif and turned up the volume. Located on two levels, the upstairs – with a smaller bar and seating area – seems to function as a prelude to the more spacious and lively downstairs. To reach the lower level, patrons walk down a spiral staircase where the ethereal blue light swaths the entire space. Downstairs is divided into several rooms, the largest of which is dominated by what has to be one of Manhattan’s longest bars. Much of the Middle Eastern decoration - like the rose petals – has either been replaced with less-culturally specific material or removed entirely. There’s more of that piscean, aquamarine light. The crowd tends to be spirited without being raucous – on a recent Saturday the DJ’s mix of danceable hip-hop seemed to suit the crowded floor just fine. And while a good many people look as though they passed through a bridge or tunnel to get here, everyone is generally relaxed and here to have a good time. One caveat: while the door policy leans to the friendly side of the spectrum, I wouldn’t suggest showing up in sneakers or sweatpants.

Though the current incarnation of 42 East 1st Street is a bit busier than I remember, for all the reinvention this little East Village gem hasn’t changed all that much. While change is good, any change at Ludo seems more an evolution or adaptation to an ever-developing neighborhood and nightlife scene. Ludo’s motto might be: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it - too much. And that’s not a bad thing.

Ludo 42 East 1st St. between First and Second Avenue (212) 777-5617

 

 


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