Walking into Maison Premiere is like being whisked back in time to New Orleans in the late 1800s. Smartly dressed bar-staff in striped shirts and braces prepare cocktails behind a dark wood, horseshoe-shaped bar to a soundtrack of jazz and blues. There's even a fully functional marble absinthe fountain.
The big difference, of course, is that the bar's patrons are mostly skinny-jeaned Brooklynites rather than top hat and tails-wearing Southern gentlemen.
Over the last 20 years, the Brooklyn suburb of Williamsburg has famously morphed from a semi-industrial wasteland to an achingly cool (and increasingly expensive) hipster haven of galleries, independent stores, edgy bars and restaurants.
The challenge now is figuring out which of the suburb's hundreds of eateries are actually worth patronising – an endeavour that could easily see you squander half your holiday on TripAdvisor and Yelp.
Enter Avital Tours, a company that has created a four-course progressive dinner to showcase a selection of the district's best restaurants. Following our guide, Rod, we edge past a throng of people waiting to be seated and out into a cute gravel terrace where there's a table ready and waiting. Soon we enjoy some of the restaurant's trademark oysters Rockefeller, large gulf coast oysters smothered in a buttery spinach sauce with a dash of absinthe and topped with breadcrumbs. Why Rockefeller I ask our server? "Because it's so rich they figured they should name it after a billionaire," he replies.
To wash it down is one of Maison Premiere's signature cocktails, the Absinthe Colada, a potent mix of absinthe, rum, coconut and creme de menthe. Rod explains that absinthe was banned in the US for almost 100 years because of its alleged hallucinogenic properties but the ban was revoked in 2007 and now the bar has one of the largest selections in the country.
Next stop is Birds of a Feather, an offshoot of Cafe China, a Michelin Bib Gourmand-rated Sichuan restaurant in Manhattan. While Cafe China's opulent decor is reminiscent of 1930s Shanghai, Birds of a Feather is a light, pared-back space with exposed walls and a long communal dining table. Yet the cuisine is similar – strong, spicy flavours thanks to lashings of garlic, chilli and peppercorns. A bowl of dan dan noodles is a slippery tangle of minced pork, spinach, noodles, mustard greens and peppercorn oil that leaves a pleasant tingling on the lips and tongue. Less fiery is a serving of tender sweet and sour ribs dusted with sesame seeds, a good match with a hoppy IPA by Brooklyn-based Other Half brewery.
From the cuisine of south-west China, we return to more standard fare at Egg, a Williamsburg institution that's been serving sustainably-sourced breakfast treats since 2005. Our chosen dish is its signature Eggs Rothko, a chunky doorstep of brioche containing an egg that's been smothered in melted cheddar cheese. It's named after artist Mark Rothko, who allegedly told the owner it's his favourite way to eat eggs.
Dessert is the tour's only flat note, given it's a cookie from Mast Chocolate, an artisanal chocolate maker that got into hot water in 2015 for using re-melted industrial chocolate. The store has since closed so hopefully Avital has found a more fitting finale.
All in all, it's been a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. Sure, you could just visit each of the venues on your own, but not without an amount of research, planning and advance reservations. The tour works because it removes the hassle and guesswork, which surely is what being on holiday is all about.
Rob McFarland was a guest of United Airlines, Avital Tours and Times Square Edition.
United Airlines flies to New York via Los Angeles, Houston and San Francisco. See united.com
The 452-room Times Square Edition has a fine-dining restaurant by Michelin-starred chef John Fraser plus an exclusive supper club and performance venue called the Paradise Club. See editionhotels.com
The Williamsburg tour runs on Saturdays and Sundays from 3pm to 6pm for $US99 or $US125 with two paired alcoholic drinks. Avital also has tours in New York's East Village and Flatiron district plus Los Angeles and San Francisco. See avitaltours.com