Drinking In High StyleNYC Glamour Bars Are Perfect For Your Holiday Festivities
Reclaimed barn beams and Edison light bulbs, can become a little tiresome. So why not indulge in a cocktail at one of these glamorous New York bars that are particularly festive during the holidays.
Carefully crafted—and pricey—cocktails are served in luxurious glassware. Posh settings conjure images of a tuxedo clad James Bond ordering his Martini or of the stylish detectives Nick and Nora Charles who seemed to spend as much time imbibing as they did sleuthing.
THE POOL LOUNGE
“We definitely think that there is a palpable desire for a return to glamor by restaurant and bar guests,” said Major Food Group managing partner Jeff Zalaznick on the occasion of the first anniversary celebration of the Pool Lounge, which is part of the reimagining of the former Four Seasons on East 52nd Street. “While stripped down, industrial chic settings have their place, guests increasingly want to be pampered and feel special.” The Pool Lounge, which was a mezzanine for private parties at the former Four Seasons, overlooks the Pool restaurant and is adjacent to the Grill restaurant and bar. Guests are seated at cocktail tables and served contemporary riffs on classic cocktails concocted by Major Food Group’s master mixologist Thomas Waugh. One of the most spectacular, Cucumber ($18), is a play on the Gimlet served in a coupe lined with tiny cucumber wheels. Caviar service ($45) or oysters on the half shell can be ordered to pair with the cocktails. At the Grill bar, the cocktail menu pays homage to the classics with an extensive list of Martinis poured from cut crystal decanters.
Meanwhile, the original Four Seasons restaurant has reopened on East 49th Street after a $30 million buildout. It boasts an elegant bar as well as a cocktail and Champagne lounge called the Treehouse tucked away on the second floor. A Big Apple Martini is $25. Managing partners Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder maintain their status as the hosts with the most and aim to attract as powerful a power lunch crowd as they did at their original post in the Seagram building a few blocks away. Executive chef Diego Garcia stays true to some classics like the signature farmhouse roast duck and updates other staples like crab cakes while former White House pastry chef Bill Yoses, dubbed the crust master by Obama, takes care of the sweet side. Though the restaurant was considered one of the most important in America when it debuted in 1959, in recent years it was more lauded for the grandeur of its spaces designed by Philip Johnson and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Downtown, Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, has opened Manhatta, perched on the 60th floor of a financial district tower. A dedicated elevator whisks guests skyward. Here the drop dead view of lower Manhattan and its waterways is front and center. In case you forgot that Manhattan is an island, this will remind you. (The name derives from the Lenni Lenape name Manahatta or Mannahatta meaning island of many hills.) And if you want a close up of Lady Liberty, binoculars are provided. There’s not even a back bar lest the views should be obstructed. By Manhattan standards, the prices are somewhat reasonable, cocktails $18, a 3-course price fixe menu, service included $78. The goal is to be a neighborhood gathering place, albeit for a neighborhood of well compensated young professionals: elegant, yet casual. The luxurious wine glass stems are so thin you wonder how they can even make it from the bare wood tables to the dishwasher. The hospitality is fine-tuned as befits a Danny Meyer restaurant. Reservations are somewhat hard to come by, but walk-ins are welcome at the bar. This is glamor 2018 style.
The Baccarat Hotel across from the Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street is trés elegant. Inspired by the stables of Versailles and glamorous French ballrooms, the 60-foot-long bar has black and white checked floors, and three Baccarat chandeliers that would look right at home in Versailles itself. If one needed to entertain the head of a French luxury brand visiting from Paris, this opulent setting would be the place. Here one sips Champagne and cocktails (average $26) out of 40 different types of Baccarat crystal. The hotel has a collection of 15,000 pieces of Baccarat crystal and employs glass attendants to care for it. The attendants are also required to be knowledgeable about the dozens of designs used and their value. There is an art to its care and cleaning. A separate dishwasher with special detergent is used and there are special polishing cloths. After the glasses are completely polished, the white-gloved attendants lift them up to the light and make sure they have no smudges, stains, chips or scratches. The glassware is also available for purchase.
Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle, a Rosewood hotel, personifies classic New York. Named in honor of Ludwig Bemelmans, the creator of the Madeline books for children, the bar exudes an art deco elegance. Its super-size murals depicting ice skating elephants and picnicking rabbits are the only surviving Bemelmans commission open to the public. The Carlyle has been host to presidents, European royalty, movie stars and moguls, and yet maintains the cachet of an elegant upper East side boite where a neighborhood resident can enjoy a sophisticated cocktail and live music nightly. After 9 p.m. there’s a cover charge for hearing the likes of Earl Rose, Loston Harris, or David Budway. Bobby Short, the inimitable icon of New York song, was a fixture at the adjacent Café Carlyle from 1968 until his death at 80 in 2005. You can still hear him play in the excellent documentary “Always at the Carlyle” (available on Amazon or iTunes) which captures the magic that celebrities and civilians alike claim to feel in the glow of Bemelmans and the entire hotel. This is the kind of bar that puts one in the mood for a glass of Champagne or a classic Martini (drinks $21 to $26). Comfortably seated on chocolate brown leather banquettes, you will be served by waiters in white dinner jackets and feel a twinge of envy if you’re not in evening dress yourself.
At the Aviary, on the 35th floor of the Mandarin hotel overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park, the drinks themselves seem like magic tricks. Most are served in other worldly glassware resembling a porthole or laboratory flasks and may be enhanced by billowing frozen liquid nitrogen. Trickery aside, they are the same delicious cocktails devised at the Chicago home base of chef Grant Achatz who made his name with modernist cuisine at Alinea. There is no bar per se. Bar chefs work in a glass enclosed kitchen at the back of the lobby. The cocktails are whimsically named. Wake & Bake ($25) is meant to conjure a perfect New York breakfast: coffee, orange juice, bagels and, yes, whiskey. A rye Manhattan is made with orange and coffee infused Vermouth. A pillow with the scent of everything bagels is opened tableside. In the Rocks ($24) is meant to play on New Year’s Eve in New York before and after the ball drops. First a glass of Champagne. Then a riff on an “old fashioned”, enclosed inside a hollow shell. Then Crème de Cassis granita melts into a Kir Royale style cocktail that might be sipped the morning after. I tried a Margarita-ish ($19) which paired nicely with a snack called Pineapple that involved some mole. An adjacent speakeasy style bar called The Office is a dark, clubby affair featuring classic cocktails. In the words of Achatz, Aviary is the “future” and The Office is the “past”. One nod to the past is a collection of dusty vintage bottles whose contents sell for a king’s ransom.