Match Collecting Has Become A New Yorker's Way Of Knowing The City
For Samantha Friedman, matchbooks are a guide to the city's best restaurants, and to the city itself.
What started out as a silly little matchbook collection turned out to be much bigger than I originally intended after snagging just one from a hostess stand. What began as a hobby, sparked 100 in counting in under a month, thanks to my obsessive compulsive disorder. Naturally, when I have a slight interest in anything it takes hold of me, becoming my entire personality. It becomes something I can’t go a day without thinking about until I find a new hyperfixation.
Memories from various dive bars, iconic hotels, and downtown to uptown restaurants, each encapsulating a story of their own, sit in a porcelain bowl on my bedside table bearing the names, logos, and branding of spots that won’t always be around. My scavenger hunt through the streets resulted in a timepiece from this constantly evolving city. Gathering these tiny mementos helped me discover spots I never knew existed.
Take, for instance, the “hidden gem,” Le Dive. That sexy little French wine bar offers prime people-watching sidewalk seating, oysters, and ricotta with honey. Their neon orange and pop of pink matchbooks are just about as sexy as those who dine there. You’re welcome.
If you’ve already been there, done that, I suggest visiting what feels like its provocative Italian cousin, Casino, just a few blocks away in Chinatown. You’ll want to document the art Deco entryway on your Instagram Story, and they offer a matchbook too good not to steal, bolstering an impressive Italian Navel orange tree graphic on the interior flap.
It’s exhilarating to walk into fancy restaurants not to spend a single dime on steak frites but just to steal a matchbook from the maitre’d stand and flee the scene. The looks I got at spots like Le CouCou, highly praised Via Carota, and Milan-inspired Sant Ambroeus in my pajama adjacent work-from-home “clothes” were truly hilarious by those dressed to the nines.
No, I’m not here for the Michelin Star snails, my dear. And though I'll probably never dine beneath their grand chandeliers, just holding Le CouCou’s satin-like matte-finish matchbook makes me feel like I have few Picassos at home and screams of a triple-digit check.
On the far more approachable end of things, is the one from the Crosby Hotel. It’s a sweet lilac color, illustrating a dog on a leash being held by someone in cowgirl boots. To me, it’s timeless and remains among my top favorites.
A funny little matchbook design is the one from Charlie Bird. This Soho casual and cool spot features a toddler in spectacles holding an ice cream cone in one hand and a fist in the other on the front. To me, it’s an accurate portrayal of the recklessness of childhood, just as reckless as the “36-month” prosciutto on their lunch menu.
Nat’s on Bleeker, by far the wackiest of the bunch, has a sweet little John Lennon quote on the back, “Time that you enjoy wasting is not wasted” and art school folks will be the first to tell the DaDa movement inspired it with just one look at its spontaneous shaped, absurdly bold font.
And god bless Saint Theo’s in the West Village. A spot that says, “I live in LA half the year,” proves that a good font design goes a very long way. Just don’t ask me the name of it. The simple neon yellow paired with a fun, mismatched font also translates to “I spend my salary at Aime Leon Dore and Aesop.”
Sadeles of Soho, known for their infamous bagel and lox brunch tower, will make carb lovers swoon with the illustration of stacked everything bagels on the back. Though getting a reservation there takes weeks, there’s no wait to snag one of these thin, rectangular, green, and white bad boys when you first walk in.
Not your average red sauce joint in the West Village, Don Angie’s is serving roaring 20s with its gold and red design. It’s on the tinier side but a great one to add to the collection for some Gatsby-era flare. I’ve also heard it’s a go-to spot for some stuffed garlic flatbread.
Lafayette, home to house-made breads and flaky circular croissants in NoHo has 24/7 lines down the street and foodies from Instagram Reels flocking to the scene like pigeons. Lucky for us, their matchbooks are just as sweet as their pastries. Mirroring their pristine aesthetic, their blue and white striped design language will surely inspire the next “Sporty and Rich” Country Club Collection.
A Mexican comfort food chain with flair in Tribeca, Fonda, has the phrase “Call me” on the front flap. On the inside, and cheesier than their own queso, a pickup line. It’s a must-add to the collection for good measure and good humor. Just don’t leave without getting their guac.
The Marlton Hotel has one that makes my heart sing. “The beauty of things is that they must end," in script on the interior flap, said by American novelist, Jack Kerouac. It has a black and white portrait of him inside smoking a cig, ideal to add to the collection for any literature majors dying to discuss Kafka at the drop of a hat.
Cozy Nolita gem, Rubirosa’s cube-shape matchbook has green checkers, with yellow and red nuances, reminiscent of their one-of-a-kind Italiano Tie-Dye vodka slices. Dimly lit, their decor feels almost tomato-basil inspired and it smells good enough inside that you’ll want to take home their signature roasted garlic scent that hangs in the air too.
American Bar, home to the humble chopped salad in the West Village, has a caricature of a group of people sitting around a table drinking wine, staring blankly at empty plates on the front. They look quite hangry to me but don’t tell the artist I said that. As one of the most colorful matchbooks in my collection, I adore her unlike any other. Favoritism at its finest, you’ll understand once you snag one yourself.
Dante, mecca for the mighty Instagram influencer and a negroni you’ll never forget, has the audacity to charge $6 for their larger-than-life matchbooks with the Statue of Liberty holding a martini glass on the front. I did end up splurging on them, though, because of the quote inside: “Oh, darling, you are not smoking again, are you?” To me, this is 100% justified.
Drake would be disappointed that I can’t get a reservation in Carbone, but I indeed have matches from there. Unfortunately, they’re nothing too extraordinary, but maybe they will sell for a cool one grand on eBay one day.
The Standard Cafe has the tiniest matchbooks in mini cubes that spell out the word “cafe” when placed beside each other, each with a singular letter on them. The hostess must not have liked me asking for one since she gave me two with the letter “f” on them. How kind.
Wayla, hidden in a basement on the Lower East Side, distracted me with its cool Thai cuisine. Smells of coconut ice cream and savory curries left me salivating, leaving with a reservation in my mind and a vintage, cream-colored matchbook.
Joseph Leonard, an American bistro in the West Village, reminds us of the very power that patterns paired with color hold. On the front, they use a bold sans serif that makes its way to italicized, and on the back, it gets thinner and thinner in green, yellow, red, purple, and blue. Inside, they have flatter matches that feel just as premium as the “petite” steak on their dinner menu.
If TikTok hasn’t ruined Jack’s Wife Frieda for you yet, then their “We’re a perfect match” matchbooks certainly will! The cringiest in the collection for sure, but a must-have for pop-culture purposes, of course. Oh, and be sure to scan the Parisian-inspired aisles of street tables for celebs like Joe Jonas. You’ll also be enjoying a showing of the famous east villains skateboarding out front with your meal. You ought to ask them for their autographs, too.
Mr. Chow, a true narcissist himself, has a portrait of him illustrated on the front flap in a very vibrant manner, but, hey, he’s allowed to be self-indulgent because The Beatles, Givenchy, and Frank Sinatra all adore his high Chinese cuisine. Just one taste of the Beijing duck or chicken satay, and you’ll understand what I mean.
JG Melon’s matchbook is, without a doubt, the most thought-out. Art directors alike will adore this juicy cantaloupe with JG branded on it. It’s clever wordplay on the restaurant name, exposing its sweet center with a little slice taken out of the melon that will make any creative person proud. For anyone living in New York City reading this, you’ll think that means you.
These matchbooks are a testament to my obsession with seizing the essence of unique spots around the city. They symbolize my relentless passion for capturing moments that would otherwise fade into the background.
Your Very Own Manhattan Matchbook Hitlist:
Pillow Cat Books
DS & Durga
The Bowery Hotel
Kings Co Imperial
The Happiest Hour
The River Cafe
Tom & Jerry’s Bar
Left Bank Books
The Flower Shop
Up & Up
Olio E Piu
Beauty & Essex
Arthur & Sons
Jack’s Wife Frieda
Cut By WolfGang
The Mulberry Bar
Soho Cigar Bar
White Horse Tavern
Mah Ze Dahr
Broome Street Bar