A few weeks ago, a reader emailed us and asked if we knew about any New York City restaurants where kids could play while parents ate. As she so bluntly put it: "My almost three-year-old boy wants nothing to do with sitting quietly." We've so been there.
While there are plenty of family-friendly restaurants in NYC, when it comes to keeping kids occupied, usually all they have to offer are crayons, coloring pages and maybe a chalkboard. So we set out to find places where kids can actually play, and we were pretty shocked by what we discovered. Most of the city's eat-and-play restaurants have closed over the past few years, including Boerum Hill's Cafe Boo Bah with its giant Duplo wall and Park Slope's PSbklyn, which had an arcade on its lower level. There are still restaurants that feature kids' entertainment, like sing-alongs, storytimes and magic shows, but very few with straight-up playtime.
Before you resign yourself to dining at Dave & Buster's or Chuck E. Cheese's, we did come up with three NYC restaurants that offer good food and fun for kids—one even has multiple locations in Manhattan.
The Moxie Spot – Brooklyn Heights
Unfortunately, Moxie Spot closed in December 2014.
In the past, we've mentioned this self-described "restaurant and play space" as a good place to romp or catch a free flick. Located just two blocks from Brooklyn Bridge Park's awesome Pier 6 Playground, it's a great gathering spot for families. Yes it's loud, and it takes a while for the decent, diner-like food to arrive, but there's lots to entertain kids in the meantime. On the first floor, there's a large chalkboard, a TV perpetually set to Nick Jr. and art supplies. But the real fun's upstairs, where you'll find a Foosball table, well-worn toys, play sets, old board games, arts and crafts supplies, children's books and large building blocks. The challenge for me was convincing my preschooler to sit down to eat when our food arrived! There's a fee of $2.50 per kid to visit the second floor on weekdays until 5:30pm. Another great deal: Your kid can eat free every night after 5:30pm with the purchase of a full-priced adult meal (other restrictions apply. The website has all the fine print). The Moxie Spot also hosts frequent events for families like disco parties, sing-alongs, Wii games and movie nights, and also offers birthday party packages, so check the calendar before you visit.
Brother Jimmy's BBQ – Manhattan
Multiple Manhattan locations. Visit the website for a complete list.
I'll be honest, even though we'd written about this barbecue chain before in our post on restaurants where kids eat for free, I worried it had too much of a twentysomething bar scene to be good for families. I was totally wrong. I visited the Upper West Side location on Amsterdam Avenue and found the staff and patrons polite and respectful (no cursing, etc.) In fact, my daughter remarked on how nice our waitress was. The waitstaff seemed very patient, even with high-maintenance children (the kids at the table next to ours were screaming and pounding on tables). If the rustic decor, laid-back vibe and arcade games aren't enough for you (the UWS location has Ms. Pac-man, Galaga, a golf game and a hunting game), kids under 12 eat free anytime with the purchase of a full-priced adult meal, like po' boys, pulled pork, chicken, catfish, ribs and yummy side dishes. The children's menu includes the usual (chicken nuggets, etc.) and a side like corn on the cob, which my daughter tried for the first time here. She'll always remember that! For dessert, order the World's Smallest Sundae: It's just a couple of bucks. My daughter also walked away with a balloon and an alligator toy, which really made her day. In addition to the UWS location, there are outposts on the Upper East Side, in Midtown West, Murray Hill and Union Square. Each one has different games and hours, so call ahead if you want specifics.
BCD Tofu House – Bayside
220-05 Northern Boulevard between 220th Street and 220th Place
Opened in 2012, our Queens blogger, Kelly, discovered this little-know gem, a great Korean restaurant with a separate playroom featuring a rock-climbing wall, a train table, a slide and toys. Check out her full review for more info.
Moomah – Tribeca
161 Hudson Street between Laight and Hubert Streets
As of May 2012, Moomah is only open to the public as a cafe. However, kids can still enjoy crafts and the Funky Forest if you book a private party. The brainchild of Tracey Stewart (who happens to be the wife of The Daily Show's Jon Stewart), Moomah is a very popular cafe and art space. There's no elbowroom at lunch or on weekends or holidays. There are art tables and booths in the back and the staff is patient, helpful and knowledgeable. They'll assist you in picking just the right craft project for your kid, based on age and interests, and your budget. (Kits generally start around $15.) Entry to the spot's famous Funky Forest is free with the purchase of a project. Kids can wave their arms and trees and branches will grow, or they can try to catch butterflies or push log pillows on the floor. Call ahead: The Funky Forest is closed to the public during classes or private events. The food is natural and presented in a fun way, and there are gluten-free options. The SuperTryer Samplers served in a bamboo steamer, pizza bagels and Froggy Dipper (guacamole with a frog face) are all very popular.
The art projects here are gift-worthy. Kids can paint on wood vehicles or keepsake boxes, make framed collages or craft beaded jewelry. We saw tweens having a blast making designs on T-shirts. Make sure to price out the projects, otherwise you may end up with a hefty bill (although my kid is really enjoying bragging about her $35 wooden birdhouse on our mantle).
Read about other family-friendly restaurants and cool places to play indoors.
Originally published on January 11, 2012.