Drinking in one of New York City's classic hotel bars feels very different from drinking in your local neighbourhood juke joint.
The hotel bars of New York City have no shortage of
stories detailing their eclectic histories. Many have been in existence for
close to a century and have functioned as haunts for celebrated figures of
film, theatre, literature, politics and the arts. The bartenders at these
establishments are of a different breed, usually older gentlemen dressed
smartly and exuding an aura of calm and sophistication that can soothe even the
most frazzled tourist. Of course, the drinks are not cheap, averaging around
$20 for most classic cocktails. But the service is generally attentive and the
environment usually posh, offering a brief respite from the sometimes humdrum
reality of day-to-day life. Visiting these bars is a tour of bygone days.
The best place to have a drink at the Algonquin Hotel is in the lobby. Cool
jazz fills the room as guests sit on couches and at tables enjoying the dim
atmosphere. An Asian-inspired fresco decorates the wall above the registration
desk, and the overall vibe is casual but elegant. The Algonquin opened in 1902
and was a centre of New York City literary and theatrical life in its heyday.
The hotel claims that William Faulkner wrote his Nobel Prize acceptance speech
there in 1950.
The hotel’s Oak Room Supper Club
features live cabaret and jazz performances Tuesday through Saturday nights,
but with a $50 cover charge and a $30 drink minimum, it might be too expensive
for many. This seems to be the point, though, as the Oak Room tends to draw
decidedly upscale clientele. Next door is the hotel’s more modern Blue Bar, a small and quiet
reprieve from the busy midtown streets. Oldies play over the speakers as the
mindful waitstaff take orders and ensure that the bowls of bar snacks remain
full. Blue leather booths line the walls covered with Al Hirschfeld drawings,
underneath dark wood molding contrasted with a modern splash of blue light at
the ceiling's edge. Blue Bar's Old Fashioned cocktail is excellent, its
Manhattans are made with Grand Marnier instead of bitters, and its signature
drink, the Algonquin, is a refreshing mix of rye, dry vermouth and pineapple
Hotel, near Grand Central Terminal, opened in 1924 and was celebrated
bandleader Guy Lombardo's performance venue for 30 years. Skip the modern
Vander Bar, the kind of establishment that hosts "Friday Afternoon
Fiestas" where you can purchase buckets of Corona and pitchers of
margaritas, for the old-school Madison
Club Lounge instead. This classic establishment lines the wall of the hotel
facing Madison Avenue, which can be seen through stained glass windows behind
the bar, and is a perfect place to sip an aperitif and watch hotel guests go
about their business.
The famed Waldorf
Astoria opened at its current location in 1931. The Bull and
Bear is a steakhouse located just outside the hotel lobby, and it is the
kind of restaurant that dictates an "elegant casual" dress code on
its website. However, what you are wearing is less of a concern if you just
visit the beautiful old bar adjacent to the dining room. This is the classic
New York City hotel bar at its best. The low lighting highlights the impressive
namesake statue perched atop the cocktail shelving, a reference to Wall
Street's fickle moods. Paintings of horses hang along the walls surrounding the
room, where guests casually chat with amiable bartenders. The ambience feels
relaxed and chic, the perfect place for a happy hour cocktail or a witching
King Cole Bar at
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.