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EATING OUT IN THE CITY - NEW YORK'S THEME RESTAURANTS

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by Serena Gordon

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As you head into New York City this holiday season to see the tree or catch a show, you may want to add one of the city's theme restaurants to your itinerary. From alien landscapes to old-fashioned diners to sports memorabilia galore, New York has some great theme restaurants that can please just about any youngster. Here are some:

America 9 East 18th Street (between Broadway and Fifth Avenue), (212) 505-2110 America offers the most sedate décor of all the restaurants mentioned, though there is a human-sized Statue of Liberty standing guard and ribbons of neon lights streak the ceiling. On the weekends, America offers a brunch from noon-4pm with a magician and balloon artist to entertain the kids, and story time from noon-1pm on Saturdays. The menu here is exhaustive, listing favorites from across the country. Offerings vary from such standard kids’ fare as the Fluffernutter sandwich all the way to adult favorites, like a traditional turkey dinner served with stuffing and cornbread.

Barking Dog Luncheonette 1678 Third Avenue (at 94th Street), (212) 831-1800 1453 York Avenue (at 77th Street), (212) 861-3600 While you won't find any real barking dogs inside, you will be doggone pleased with the completely canine decor. Comfort food is what you'll find at the Barking Dog and breakfast is served till 4pm. If the kids get antsy while they're waiting for their meal, let them browse through the puppy on sale.

The Brooklyn Diner 212 West 57th Street at Seventh Avenue, (212) 581-8900 The Brooklyn Diner is another popular retro-diner in New York. Walk through these doors and you'll feel as if you've stepped back in time. Bring your appetite because the Brooklyn Diner serves food like Mama used to make and the portions are huge.

Carnegie Delicatessen and Restaurant 854 Seventh Avenue (between 54th and 55th Streets), (212) 757-2245 No trip to Manhattan is complete without a stop at this New York City landmark. Just steps from Carnegie Hall, stars of photos line the walls of the Carnegie Deli, and some stars have even made it onto the menu. See if you and your kids can pick them out. Dine on NYC deli favorites like corned beef and pastrami sandwiches. And there's no need to duck if you hear someone shouting for a pistol — it's just a nickname for a pastrami sandwich. Don't leave the Carnegie Deli without sampling their famous cheesecake.

Ellen's Stardust Diner 1650 Broadway (at 51st Street), (212) 956-5151 Ellen's Stardust Diner is a retro diner with an extensive menu of American favorites and soda shop classics, like the egg cream. But the big draw is the singing wait staff and variety shows. You can't sit in Ellen's Stardust too long without being serenaded, and in between songs, you can watch as nostalgic videos play on 1950s TVs throughout the restaurant and the large toy train as it chugs its way around the room. "Ellen's Stardust Diner is my four-year old Darcie's favorite restaurant," says Manhattan resident Nadine Woloshin. "The first time we went, one of the singing waitresses told Darcie she looked just like Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and then serenaded her with 'Somewhere over the Rainbow'."

ESPN Zone 1472 Broadway (at 42nd Street), (212) 921-3776 ESPN Zone New York offers sports fans an interactive area with a basketball court, rock climbing wall and putting green. As you dine on American staples, you'll be surrounded by dozens of TVs dedicated to, you guessed it, sports programming.

Hard Rock Café 221 West 57th Street, (212) 489-6565 Hard Rock Café is for music lovers of all ages. Finding New York's version of this national chain of restaurants is easy — just look for the 1950s Cadillac hanging out of the side of the building! Rock and roll memorabilia seems to cover every inch of the interior, so this is a great place to play "I Spy" while you're waiting for your food. The Hard Rock serves American cuisine, and of course, there is a Hard Rock Café gift shop next to the restaurant.

Jekyll and Hyde Club 1409 Sixth Avenue (at 57th Street) and 91 Seventh Avenue South, (212) 541-9505 The Jekyll and Hyde Club will thrill older children who enjoy the macabre. This restaurant is filled with spooky artifacts and frightening characters. Diners can expect a surprise every 10 minutes or so. Jekyll and Hyde's offers an extensive menu of 62 dishes and you can create your own Monster Burgers. There is a children's menu for young explorers and mad scientists. It's definitely not for the very young or those who scare easily.

Mars 2112 1633 Broadway (at 51st Street), (212) 582-2112 Mars 2112 is a science fiction fan's dream come true. As you descend into this restaurant, prepare to board a shuttle (actually a motion ride) that will rocket you to Mars. Once you arrive on the Red Planet, you'll dine in the Chrystal Crater where you can feast on such delicacies as Martian Seafood Stew or Satellite Shortribs. Kids can enjoy Pluto's Pasta, Solar Flare Chicken Fingers, a Full Moon Pizza and more from the kid's menu. After you've replenished your food supplies, travel to CyberStreet for video games and pinball. Christine Murray, a mother of three from Croton-on-Hudson, had her daughter's birthday party at Mars 2112. "The kids had such a ball," she says. "Aliens come around to the tables and they're really nice about posing with the kids for pictures."

Mickey Mantle's 42 Central Park South (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), (212) 688-7777 Sports fans will feel right at home in Mickey Mantle's, a sports memorabilia restaurant focusing plenty of attention on one of baseball's most famous characters. Parents can select from typical sports bar munchies and kids get to choose from the "Little League" menu. Autographed items from sports stars are for sale here. Of particular interest to those on a budget: Mickey Mantle's also has a restaurant in the Palisades Mall in West Nyack, which offers free meals for up to two children with each paying adult.

Planet Hollywood 1540 Broadway (at 45th Street), (212) 333-7827 Like the Hard Rock, Planet Hollywood's walls are covered with memorabilia, only here it's of the movie star variety, and you never know when one of the restaurant's famous owners might pop in. The food is standard American fare.

Peanut Butter and Company 240 Sullivan Street (between Bleecker and West 3rd Streets), (212) 677-3995 Speaking of the Fluffernutter, only in New York could you find a restaurant dedicated to serving peanut butter sandwiches. At Peanut Butter and Company you'll find six different types of freshly ground peanut butter. Popular sandwiches include the Fluffernutter and the Elvis, which is made with peanut butter, bananas, honey and sometimes bacon! Finish off your meal with peanut butter cookies or Death by Peanut Butter. And if your family includes someone who (gasp!) doesn't care for peanut butter, PB & Co offers other sandwiches as well.

One final word: These restaurants are popular with locals and tourists alike and can get crowded. Try to go early or at off times, or have a small snack with you, because there's nothing fun about having to make a hungry child wait! You can’t miss The Hard Rock Café with the 1950s Cadillac hanging over its front door.


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