Vito's Madison Grill
927 Ninth Ave, 682-2695
Wed June 29, 10:40 pm

As someone who harbors deep affections for the scattered dive bars of this fair city, I feel idiotic for having never set foot in Vito's. When I walk into the smoky, dimly lit lobby, I'm even more aware that I've been missing out on a dirty gem of a joint. It's salsa night, and though things are quiet at the moment, the bemused nod of the doorperson makes it evident things will be heating up soon. After a trip to a ladies' room decorated with a framed photo of Al Pacino (circa Scarface), we sink into the most beautifully preserved red vinyl booths I've ever seen: Each shiny fold is tucked and pinned precisely, forming a delightful cocoon highly suitable for sipping our tall whiskey cocktails. The DJ/MC announces the arrival of a handsome pair (one of half of which is from Thailand) who are currently lighting up the dance floor. I strike up a conversation with a young couple named Leah and Lazaro who are sitting next to us. Lazaro, a Cuban native, began coming here a year ago because they play music from his hometown, and it's clear that he and Leah are devout regulars—and for damn good reason. HANNAH LEVIN