New York City's classic hotel bars
King Cole Bar at the St Regis is instantly recognizable for its Maxfield Parrish mural that lines the wall behind the bar. According to the hotel's website, famous patrons over the years have included Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Salvador Dali and John Lennon. No doubt some of these famous names have tried the Red Snapper, a signature cocktail that is said to be the original Bloody Mary. On a Friday night, the St Regis' stodgy Astor Court restaurant was nearly empty. Even so, the maitre d' insisted that bar patrons not walk through the empty dining room and instead use a hallway skirting the area -- a hint as to what kind of atmosphere the hotel tries to maintain. But once you get to the bar, you will find lively chatter, stiff drinks and an impressive whiskey collection featuring bottles from nearly every region of Scotland.
The Carlyle Hotel's Bemelmans bar is perhaps the stuffiest of New York's hotel bars, and one that requires a cover charge after 9:30 pm when various jazz musicians perform. Even through the darkened atmosphere, one can see that the clientele looks like money, dressed in designer suits and gowns, and not thrown off at all by the menu prices. The bar snacks, featuring spicy cheese twists, are some of the best and are a sensible alternative to the enticing raw bar and caviar that starts at $65. Drinks are appropriately stiff, and Bemelmans' excellent martinis come with a small decanter full of the drink that could not fit into your glass.
Hotel Elysee's Monkey Bar dates back to 1936 and is really more of a restaurant than a proper bar. But it is worth a visit for its Manhattan alone. Watch for bits of flying ice as the bartender chips smaller pieces from their custom-made ice blocks into a cocktail shaker. The crowd here is a mix of young and old, tourists and natives alike, nestled into booths and perched at the bar. The walls are decorated with paintings by Ed Sorel that are meant to recall the Jazz Age of the 1930s, many featuring the eponymous primates performing various activities. Now owned by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, Monkey Bar seems most likely of all of New York's classic hotel bars to be a destination for people out on the town.
The Plaza Hotel's famous Oak Bar and Oak Room, featuring stunning views of Central Park, are currently closed. The hotel's website says to check back for more details, but does not give a hard date as to when they will reopen.
There are so many sights to see and things to do in New York City, but visiting a few of these classic hotel bars should not be excluded from any visitor's list. After all, what better way to enjoy a piece of history than sitting in a leather booth in a dimly lit room with a cocktail in hand? The Statue of Liberty will still be there in an hour.