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In the midst of Veganuary, it’s Football Sunday in Hell’s Kitchen — and while you may be prepared to gorge yourself for hours on end on bar burgers and beer, there is another way. Long-standing 9th Avenue sports pub Mercury Bar West is debuting a set of vegan menu options that are tasty enough to satisfy the vegan, vegan-curious and vegan-skeptic sports fan in your life. It’s a win-win!
While the bar’s vegan specials are being finalized, Mercury currently offers a tasty selection of game day friendly treats like Beyond Meat burgers, vegan pizza using NUMU vegan cheese, Beyond Meat sausage tacos and vegan egg-substitute omelettes — all near-indistinguishable from their non-vegan counterparts in taste.
“I’m not a vegan, but I am a huge animal lover,” said Mercury Bar’s Nicola Acari, who added that while offering high-quality, house-made bar food has always been a priority, the path to exploring vegan options was recent. The restaurateur has operated the well-loved 9th Avenue pub with her family and lived above the bar in Hell’s Kitchen for almost 25 years, where her involvement with the local animal-rights community inspired her to look into meat-free options.
“I’ve volunteered at the ACC (Animal Care Centers of NYC), I have multiple rescue dogs and a rescue horse,” she said, “and over time I’ve become more and more conscious of the issues around meat.” After witnessing New York carriage horse Ryder’s distressing collapse outside the bar on 9th Avenue this summer, Nicola connected with fellow city animal-rights activists and vegans: “The more I saw, the more I didn’t feel comfortable anymore eating meat, ethically.”
She felt that there was a dearth of vegan options in Hell’s Kitchen — especially in the meat-heavy sports bar space — and set out to experiment with creating tasty plant-based meals that would appeal to vegetarians and omnivores alike. “Our chefs are excellent — they’ll already modify whatever you want,” said Nicola. “So we just started trying out different vegan products we found on Amazon Fresh or I had eaten in other restaurants to come up with ideas.” Friends and fellow animal activists she met through the hospitality business helped to brainstorm a few crowd favorites — pizza, burgers, tacos, ice cream — that the team was able to put a signature Mercury Bar seasoning spin on: “It’s really all about the seasoning and the sauces,” Nicola said.
“We’ve had a lot of very positive feedback,” she added, and everyone from the staff to regular patrons is excited to try the new offerings. “I had some regulars try the Beyond Meat sausages the other day and they really couldn’t tell the difference. Because we’re a sports bar, we’ve found that there are people who come in who say, ‘Oh, I’d never eat vegan food’ and end up changed. It doesn’t convert them completely, but they have converted to trying it!”
The initiative “isn’t meant to be preachy” or even convert patrons to veganism, she added, and meat options are still on the bar’s menu. “I’m not completely vegan — right now I’m vegetarian,” said Nicola. “I’m trying my best, but my biggest downfall is chocolate!” She hopes that giving people choices opens up a conversation about making meatless options a default, even at sports bars like Mercury. “We need to make it more mainstream and affordable to eat vegan,” she said.
The trend may sweep Hell’s Kitchen sooner than later — Smilers Deli next door has recently adopted a new vegan menu and Nicola expects to see more and more meatless meals pop up in area restaurants. “I definitely feel there’s a shift going on,” she said. “So many fast food chains are adding in vegan options — they do market research and are always ahead of the curve.”
At Mercury, a vegan nacho may grace the menu soon — with Nicola keen to point out that the initiative was part of a larger effort to be more sustainable. “We’re transitioning all our plastic products to recyclable materials,” she told W42ST. “We’re going green.”
For now, as the team at Mercury continues to establish an array of vegan offerings, the priority is to give regular bar patrons tasty, simple options that don’t sacrifice flavor, said Nicola. “I think a lot of people will like them — whether they’re vegan or not.”
Mercury Bar West is located at 659 9th Avenue (bw W45/W46th Streets) and has a rotating menu of different vegan specials daily.