07/06/2011 06:58 pm ET | Updated Sep 05, 2011

On the Culture Front: Todd English's New Gothic Bar and Zarkana

Malls make me cringe, especially when they take over iconic city buildings, like the Limelight Marketplace has done with the formerly infamous club. So I was nervous to say the least when I walked into Crossbar, Todd English's new gastropub in the building. Thankfully, though, it was actually quite a pleasant experience. The place sits on the edge of the building with its own entrance and makes use of wonderful Gothic architecture. It's easy to sidle up at the bar for a beer on a Friday night. The stools are plush and invite lingering and the friendly bartenders lack any of the Chelsea attitude present at some of the trendier places, and the beer list bests just about any other bar in the neighborhood save for The Half King. Some of the tap highlights include a subtly nuanced Blue Fin stout from Maine's Shipyard Brewing Co. and a delightfuly aggressively oaked Arrogant Bastard, from the bold brewers of Stone.

Rare Rooftop Chelsea nearby sadly has a much more limited beer menu, but with a Brooklyn in hand gazing at the skyline, it's easy to forgive. Perched atop the Hilton New York Fashion District Hotel, the outdoor space abounds with comfy white couches, making it ideal for a quick summer getaway. For food, though, you have to head downstairs to the Bar and Grill. Just remember to finish your drinks first because they don't allow them on the elevator. The grill occupies a cavernous basement space that gives off steakhouse vibes, and the meat doesn't disappoint. All the burgers I tried were excellent in an unpretentious but delicious way, but it's hard to beat the M&M Burger. Contrary to its name, the eight-oz patty isn't topped with chocolate candies but instead is flambéed in whiskey and layered with cheddar cheese, apple-smoked bacon, and carmelized shallots.

On a non-culinary note, I checked out the opening of the new Cirque du Soleil show. The group was created by Guy Laliberte, a street musician, as an artsy alternative to the standard circus formula, but has grown over the years to Barnum and Bailey proportions. As I watched Zarkana last week at Radio City, I couldn't help but feel that struggle manifest itself onstage. The show, directed by Francois Girard (The Red Violin) wants to take us into a "delightfully twisted realm" but he seems to be afraid of actually being delightfully twisted, save for one scene featuring a cringe-inducing giant snake that provides a backdrop for one of the show's stunning acrobatic scenes.

Read more about the show in my Classical TV column.