Under the Lights

Under the Lights

When it comes to celebrating your birthday, there’s a lot of pressure to get it right. When it comes to celebrating a milestone birthday, that pressure increases tenfold. This past October, I was stricken with anxiety when contemplating how to celebrate the big 3-0. I knew I had to do something memorable, but I wasn’t about to go all out with a wild birthday bash on a rainy Wednesday evening. So, I decided to make plans with a few friends to have a nice dinner in a cool, unique eatery—enter the East Village’s Panna II Garden Indian Restaurant. With five friends in tow, the adventure began as soon as we set foot on First Ave. between E. 5th and E. 6th sts.—the area fondly known by New Yorkers as “Little Bombay,” due to the large concentration of Indian restaurants on the south side of E. 6th St. It’s fun to walk through the area as the waitstaff at the competing eateries stand outside their doors and try their hardest to lure passersby into their establishments. My friends and I had our hearts set on Panna II and politely denied offers from the other eateries. Our destination, which rests on the second floor of a small building, is quite cramped and always packed, but for good reason: the food is great and the décor is definitely lively. After about a 10-minute wait, we were seated at a large table and, not long after ordering, steaming plates of fragrant Indian delicacies were placed before us (think succulent Chicken Tikka Masala, buttery naan, spicy curries and aromatic basmati rice). The restaurant is BYOB (bring your own bottle), but there are plenty of corner stores with bubbly beverages in the area to go around—a few even stock several Indian brews. The food is great, but it’s only half the reason to head to the downtown spot. Christmas lights and red chili pepper lights hover low above the tables and bathe the entire place in warm red, vibrant blue and bright purple hues. The ample lighting is switched to a strobe-light effect when the staff is alerted to a birthday bash. While enjoying the light show, I, along with a few other patrons, were given ice cream to celebrate the occasion. I still don’t know which of my friends spilled the beans, but it was a great night and definitely one to remember.        

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