As part of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in the late '90s, Pershing Square Cafe opened under the Park Avenue viaduct. The fare is American and straightforward, with burgers and chicken pot pies, steaks and fish. The pancakes, served all day, are a big crowd pleaser. Up front, commuters sipping coffee, reading, and chatting while awaiting the next train, inhabit a more cafe-esque area. When speaking with the manager one day, he was proud to tell me that both Friends with Benefits and the Avengers were filmed at Pershing.
The location was renamed in 2023 as The Flatiron Room Murray Hill. This feature was first published in September 2017. Fine & Rare, shorthand for “fine food and rare spirits” is the latest creation of Tommy Tardie, restaurateur and owner of the Flatiron Room on West 26th Street. In contrast to the more common restaurant theme of the 1920s and 30s, which Tommy considers to have “played out, ” Fine & Rare aims to be an aristocratic parlor straight out of the 1950s, modeled after classic Manhattan hideaways such as The Explorers Club. “The challenge was getting it to look like the Flatiron Room - old world, almost like we discovered it, ” Tommy told the Manhattan Sideways team. The space has had other lives as a Japanese restaurant and a photocopy center - Tommy said that when he first saw the space, it was raw, with concrete floors that had holes them and wires hanging from the ceiling. In 2016, it became a little slice of vintage Manhattan, complete with a repurposed teller booth from Grand Central Station serving as the hosts’ stand. The wallpaper is finely textured with glass and sand, and the stainless steel ceilings are reclaimed parts from a former distillery. Descending into the restaurant, we walked on 125-year-old floorboards from Connecticut that have the names of the restaurant’s investors carved into it. Two of these investors are Tommy’s young sons, River and Sawyer, who each made a $1 investment in the establishment in order to garner a place on the floor. Hanging above the booths are pieces of taxidermy that Tommy believes “bring in some more old world charm. ”The room is large, but because the tables are isolated from one another, each setting is intimate and unique. “Wherever you are in the restaurant, you feel like you’re in your own area. ” Each side of the dining room features a fireplace: one has hand carved marble from Italy, and the other is repurposed from the door of a country schoolhouse. The jazz stage provides a theatrical ambience to the space without overpowering it. “We want the performance to enhance, but not be, the experience. There’s always a show going on even if nothing is onstage. ” The walls are decked out with the restaurant’s inventory of over 1000 bottles, which Tommy noted are, “part of the architecture. ” Some sit atop high shelves and can only be reached by ladders, which members of the staff will climb throughout the night. Others sit in the caged bottle keep, with personalized labels that can be bought. “New York is all about showmanship - people love to put their name on something. ” The back elevated room holds up to thirty-five people and is used for tastings and private events. It has a few hidden elements of its own, including a chandelier and leather and steel door from a masonic hall. While speaking with Tommy, the Manhattan Sideways team sampled a few of the restaurant's scrumptious items, including the burrata served with arugula and an assortment of fruits, the short rib burger, the seafood Cobb salad, and the Greek grain bowl with quinoa, mint, and beet humus. While the Flatrion Room focuses largely on whiskey, Fine & Rare features cocktails with tequila, rum, and brandy. This does not mean that they do not still have some amazing whiskey options, such as the breathtaking smoked Old Fashioned that was presented to us to photograph and then sip. Tommy began his professional career as a creative director in advertising on Madison Avenue, but realized after a dozen years that he was craving something more exciting. “The higher I got on the corporate ladder, the less creative it got. It lost that cool factor. ” He resolved to go the route of the entrepreneur, initially with a few clubs, and later with the Flatiron Room and eventually Fine & Rare in 2017. “With this one, I decided to make the demographic and design a place I’d like to go, as opposed to previous projects that centered on reaching a specific consumer base. " Tommy also remarked on how Fine & Rare is the result of the trial and error from past ventures: “This is as if I got to do it again and I could do it better. I think entrepreneurs are genetically coded to forget how difficult it can be starting out, but a new project is fun. It makes your heart pump and your adrenaline go. ”
For Sammy, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, walking into the Overlook, and "being hit by the smell of burgers and beer, was a feast for the nose and an appropriate cologne for any watering hole worth its salt. " For me, I was initially intrigued by the back walls filled with what were clearly drawings by an accomplished cartoonist. In chatting with the owner, we learned of its storied past. Inspired by James Thurber who, in the 1940s and 50s, use to draw on the walls of a nearby bar in an effort to reduce his drinking tabs, the Daily News cartoonist, Bill Gallo continued this tradition and made his mark, decades ago, on the walls of what was then called Costello's. Years later, he was asked back to add more of his illustrations on the other side. Today, both walls are filled with entertainment, particularly to those of us who remember many of the characters being depicted. A bar's bar, ultimately named the Overlook offers ales galore and TVs aplenty, enough to serve as host of New York's Chicago Bears fan club. A rooftop deck offers a place to unwind during the warmer months. The Overlook is helped by the steady flow of customers from the hotel on one side and apartment building on the other.
A traditional Irish bar, The Perfect Pint has an impressive variety of beers on tap - forty to be exact. Gold lettering and dark woods are reminiscent of British pubs and give the bar a warm and homey feeling. Inside, beer-themed decor reigns supreme, with the tap knobs as faucet handles and re-vamped kegs as the base for bar stools. Sandwiched between the two black-and-white pictures of the old Guinness wagon is a flat-screen TV, the perfect juxtaposition of the Irish bar culture with that of today. The hidden gem, however, is the rooftop bar. Going up the three flights of stairs, we found outdoor seating overlooking 45th Street. Bookended by exposed brick walls and a thatched roof, it can easily transport one back to a quaint Irish village. Below the cast-iron gas lamps, guests sit at tables made from old casks of beer that showcase international coins, beer memorabilia, and other odds and ends. Even the bathrooms are consistent with the theme.
Growing up in France, one cannot help but gain a thorough education about good food. Although she admitted to not having any formal culinary training, Sandrine, the warm and delightful woman behind Ratatouille, avidly observed her mother in the kitchen. Her passion for authenticity brought her to 39th Street where she prepares everything on the premises. In addition to the chickens that are well-seasoned with Herbes de Provence, and spin on a rotisserie that was delivered straight from her homeland, there are chicken meatballs, a pulled chicken honey Dijon coleslaw sandwich, homemade soups, healthy salads, an array of vegetarian options, including rice balls and their star dish: lentil loaf. Each of these seem to go beyond the restaurant's name. The desserts are baked fresh everyday, and the marble cake, vanilla tart, and chocolate carrot cake are the absolute standouts. The yellow and red decor captures a feeling of the south of France, and there are a few tables and chairs that are used by people in the community. Sandrine often sits down and strikes up a conversation with her neighbors. When I asked why she chose to be on 39th, Sandrine explained that she had been looking for six months and when the realtor showed her this space, she knew it fit the bill. She loves the area (she lives only two blocks away) and her survey of the surrounding community revealed no comparable food places. Having first met Sandrine while she was painting and preparing for her spring, 2014 opening, we left feeling confident that Ratatouille would receive an enthusiastic welcome. “This is our dream location, " Sandrine told us, ” and we keep hearing people say that “we need flavor in this neighborhood. ” Well now they have it.
Flitting the boundary between fine and casual dining, Vitae brings a new creativity to Midtown that appears to have caught on quickly. Edwin Bellanco, hands on chef and owner, began his culinary career some twenty years ago at Gramercy Tavern, and then moved out to California to work at the French Laundry. He came back to Manhattan to be the executive sous chef, guided by Daniel Boulud, and then as he tells it, with a few additional experiences under his belt, he finally opened his own restaurant in 2012. Edwin speaks of his opportunity to work for Thomas Keller as incredibly influential on his own culinary conceptions, particularly on using only the freshest ingredients. "They're the building blocks of the dish, you can't ignore them" said Bellanco. "We have some highly-technical preparation here; we can't risk diminishing that with poor ingredients. " He went on to explain, that although the food takes top priority, "I want people to be able to approach this place on their own terms. "This accessibility is evident in their location. Vitae seems to attract the younger crowd during the week and the neighborhood folks on weekends. "We wanted to build a community here first, and then build outwards into a destination" Bellanco told us. The strength of Vitae derives from this approachability, without sacrificing the quality or inventiveness of the top restaurants in New York. Looking around, we felt this sense of welcome hospitality from the staff. The bartender, a friendly twenty-something from Kentucky, shared some of his signature drinks with us: a strong old-fashioned made with demerara syrup, and "crystal green persuasion" - a cucumber, vodka and honey-infused drink perfect for the summer weather. The Manhattan Sideways team sampled some dishes and agreed that the food is exceptional: crispy pork belly with watermelon and green papaya, cod with razor clams, and a strawberry and pear salad. Each offered strong, rich flavors, while remaining light enough for a hot summer day.
Manuel Uzhca's story reads like a fairytale. He came to New York from Ecuador when he was seventeen with absolutely nothing to his name and spent time as a dishwasher in a number of restaurants. He met Jean-Claude Baker when both were working at Pronto, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. In 2011, Jean-Claude offered Manuel the position of manager at Chez Josephine — little did Manuel know that only four years later, the restaurant would belong to him. Manuel still recalls the day that Jean-Claude asked him to bring in his passport. Confused by his request, Manuel chose not to comply. Jean-Claude teased Manuel by saying, “If you don't bring your passport, that means you don't want my restaurant. ” The next day, still perplexed, Manuel presented his passport. Jean-Claude marched the two of them to the bank and added Manuel's name to his account, giving him permission to sign checks for the restaurant. Shortly after, Jean-Claude announced that he was retiring, but Manuel did not take him seriously. Jean-Claude then told him that he was leaving and insisted, “I won't be back. ” Jean-Claude proceeded to his attorney's office, changed his will, and went off to the Hamptons. He called Manuel to make sure that everything was in order at the restaurant, and then, very sadly, Jean-Claude took his own life. “I did not believe I owned the place, not even when they showed me the will, ” Manuel declared. Jean-Claude was the last of the children adopted into singer-dancer Josephine Baker’s “Rainbow Tribe, ” created with a mission of racial harmony. He lived and performed with her for a time before making his way to New York and eventually opening this restaurant. It quickly became a haven for Broadway clientele, known for its charming and colorful ambiance as much as its haute cuisine. Since taking over in 2015, Manuel has continued running this famed French restaurant exactly how Jean-Claude left it — paying homage to Josephine Baker, who captured the Parisian imagination in the 1920s and did not let go for decades.
Opened on May 23, 1911 on the site of a former reservoir, this main branch of the New York Public Library is a true wonder of the city. Upon its completion, it was the largest marble structure in the United States, and the classical design elements ensure that it remains as breathtaking now as it was then. In 1965, it became a National Historic Landmark. The Main Reading Room is an enormous hall, with murals and intricate relief work lording overhead and large, open windows allowing for bright sunlight to pour across the books being huddled over. Small exhibitions to art and cultural histories pepper the halls. The entire structure is truly a pleasure to explore, one of the grandest and most wonderful buildings in the entire city, and we spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the halls in a book-drunk daze trying to absorb it all.
Known as the "Center for Social Change, " the Ford Foundation has been committed to helping the world be a better place since 1936. They work diligently to "protect human rights, reform governments, provide education opportunities and create space for artistic creativity and expression. " Without a doubt, one of Manhattan's finest atriums greets visitors. Entering the glass structure from either 42nd or 43rd Street, a world of green awaits. There are trees, plants, a fountain and short paths to wander through. The atrium is a hidden oasis in the middle of the city.
To spend time inside the Wheeltapper is to take a trip back in time to Ireland, as the pub pays homage to their locomotive system. Numerous pieces of railway equipment adorn the walls and every other possible inch of available space. Even the metal bar stools and wood tables are reminiscent of a long gone Irish era. There are several rooms to meander through and grab a mug of beer. In the back, is a pleasant garden, with heat lamps during the colder months, which is connected to the Fitzpatrick Hotel next door.
Old world finery bedecks the walls and ceilings of this classic steakhouse. As we entered, we were surrounded quickly with pictures of celebrities and notables who had likewise walked this walk. This gave way to fine wines, in turn giving way to a room of intricately carved wooden banisters, warm beige lights, fireplaces and leather chairs. The signature steak is the porterhouse, served on sizzling plates in order for guests to choose the perfect moment to take them off the heat. Upstairs, a walkway curves out over the dining floor downstairs, allowing for bird's-eye views of the goings-on below and leading to a red-velvet-curtained wine room in the back. A definite favorite restaurant for my husband to satisfy his steak craving periodically, he found it particularly interesting when I told him that the owners and Chef Arturo began as servers at Peter Lugers. They formed their team in 2007 and have successfully been serving their own meat, which is dry-aged in house twenty-eight to thirty-two days, at high-powered business lunches and relaxed evening dinners. The trio has also gone on to open Seafire Grill on 48th Street.
In an area that is surrounded by a multitude of places to grab a bite, I found Cipriani Le Specialita to be one of the most desirable. Across from Grand Central Station, the space is tiny, but the menu vast and the food superb. We were lucky enough to be able to grab a small table after lining up and ordering our salad and sandwich. When I stopped by on a different day to grab a quick snack, the person behind the counter reminded me that at 4: 00 each afternoon, whatever is remaining in their cases is offered at half price.