When I mentioned to a friend that I was up to 33rd Street, she reacted immediately, "You know that this is the street that Wolfgang's is on, don't you? " I loved the description that she and her husband shared with me. "It is an old world man-cave that has incredible charm and certainly appeals to the serious eater. " Situated in the former historic Vanderbilt Hotel with magnificently tiled low vaulted ceilings, my husband and I agree that this is a splendid restaurant to dine. Wolfgang's, located in the sleek New York Times building on West 41st Street, is equally pleasant, but offers an entirely different ambiance. During the daytime, the sunlight streams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing the steaks to glisten even more as they are being brought to the tables. The businessmen in their suits still dominate during the lunch hour; however, theatergoers and tourists fill the restaurant in the evening. Wolfgang Zwiener spent some forty years digesting the world of steak by working in the iconic restaurant, Peter Luger's. Think of it this way, Wolfgang received a veritable master's degree in meats in Brooklyn, and now has earned his doctorate in his own restaurant, where he has written a top-notch thesis. When others might have chosen to slow down a bit or even to retire, he began opening his own restaurants. Over the years, I have been to the four in Manhattan, with the 33rd Street flagship location being the one where we have chosen to celebrate many special occasions. As noted, it is a favorite of friends of ours, and when I asked them to speak to me further about Wolfgang's, the immediate response was, "Personally, of all the steak houses in New York, this is the one to go to. " They went on to describe the menu as not only having excellent steaks, but they also always look forward to ordering seafood, and then brace themselves as the kitchen presents them with a seafood platter appetizer that is "utterly outrageous. " There are jumbo shrimp (my number one oxymoron) and lobster with huge pieces to devour, and thrown in for good measure, some oysters and clams. "Even if you leave the steak out of the equation, it makes for an incredible meal. " But, who can leave the steak out? According to my husband, a man who is passionate about his meat, Wolfgang gets it right every time whether he decides on a filet or a porterhouse. And I, of course, am all about the side dishes and salads, which Wolfgang continues to deliver.
Joe Allen, founded in 1965, is the archetypal post-theater restaurant. With one of the longer histories on Restaurant Row, Joe Allen has been serving classic American cuisine in a brasserie setting since I was a little girl. I was always happy to come here with my parents and be able to order a hamburger rather than having to go out for a fancy meal. Mr. Allen - who also owns Orso, an Italian restaurant next door – had an initial concept to provide a comfortable, dynamic atmosphere with good food. And while the restaurant continues to serve some of the best comfort food around, spending time at night in the bar area, shows Joe Allen's real appeal. The high energy level from the post-theater crowd is contagious. The manager explained to us on one visit that they are the first phone call that people make after they have secured their seats for the next Broadway show. And, while he remained hesitant to divulge names, he shared how many actors and actresses have continued over the years to head immediately to Joe Allen after they perform - "here, " he elaborated "you're surrounded by theater, and we do all we can to promote that culture. " I can attest to the numerous actors who grace their tables, as I have had the pleasure of meeting a few over the years, as well as a highlight one evening when Barbara Walters sat right next to me. It is hard to say something new about Joe Allen, so long has it been a staple for theater goers. While the menu remains updated and contemporary, Joe Allen does not take any risks. Rather, it thrives on its reputation among patrons based on its long tradition of casual dining. Seeing the last of the pre-theater crowd during our visit, we were struck by how Joe Allen seemed appropriate equally for a quick burger and glass of wine in half an hour before a show, or a long, late into the night dinner where no one wants to head home.
A restaurant with a history to rival that of its surrounding District, Sardi's first opened its doors in 1927. In an effort to attract customers to their new location, Italian owners Vincent Sardi and wife Eugenia Pallera recalled a favorite Parisian jazz club that hung movie star caricatures as wall decor. The couple imitated the gimmick, hiring Russian artist Alex Gard to depict Broadway stars in exchange for a meal each day, a deal that was honored until Alex died in 1948. The tradition established, Sardi's became known for the drawings of Broadway's elite that peppered its walls. In the 1930's a group of great Broadway figures and newspapermen who called themselves the "Cheese Club" met at Sardi's regularly and helped catapult the restaurant into the middle of the Broadway community. Sardi's became a haven for theatrical folks and stayed open late to welcome actors, and host after-show and opening night parties. Notably, Antoinette Perry's partner, Brock Pemberton, invented the Tony Award while dining at Sardi's, an award that continues to be given in her honor each year. Though owner Vincent Sardi was born in northern Italy, the food itself is not Italian, but rather continental – a decision rumored to have been intended to disassociate the restaurant from the Italian mafia. Over the years, both the elder and younger Vincent Sardi attempted to open other locations in Manhattan and on Long Island, but they ultimately failed. Sardi's is exclusively a Theater District institution, having evolved with the area for nearly a century, and consequently becoming a major player in its development - a fixture in Broadway's world of constant change.
Opened in the summer of 2012, Beer Authority has more layers than an overdressed child in winter. At street level, neon signs advertise the presence of beer inside, which frankly was enough to catch our team's attention at the end of a long day. Walking in, we found ourselves in a small bar with a sweet bartender chatting languidly with a few customers, slowly digesting their food along with the daily news trickling down from the TV. This was the quintessential local watering hole. But wait! Stairs in the corner led to a second level, and this was where the real fun began. Over one hundred craft beers are offered, or perhaps instead are celebrated, as colorful flags bearing the crests of various breweries slouch down from the ceilings atop walls likewise bearing the brands. TVs aplenty stand at the ready to convert the potential energy of beer connoisseurship into the kinetic energy of sports fanaticism. And the story (or storey, perhaps), doesn't end there. A third rooftop level opens to the sky so that beer drinkers can commune with the heavens as they sip their cherished brew. In the winter, the space is covered and has heat lamps while in the warmer months, customers can feel the city breathing. Chatting with one of the managers and the new chef, Rob Steffen, I learned that the "very" Irish owners, Joe Donagher and Eamon Donnelley have a simple concept of offering plenty of space, a vast selection of beer, and good food to accompany it. The guys explained to me that each of the three floors offers a diversity of draught beers with sixteen on the ground floor, sixty-six on the main and twenty-eight on the rooftop. The enthusiastic staff is well-educated in the world of beer, and able to speak about any of them, including the different craft beers brought in each week. Customers are invited to try up to three tastings before selecting the pint they would like, and they can always opt for a flight of beer. And, just in case one needs another incentive to check out Beer Authority, happy hour begins at 11am and continues until 7pm! The brand new menu that Chef Rob recently rolled out emphasizes the excellent selection of craft beers by infusing it into some of his recipes. There is an ale-battered fish and chip dish, house made IPA honey mustard, Porter barbecue sauce for their pulled pork sandwich and a Porter cheddar dip for their hand-rolled pretzels. In addition, there is the Authority Burger.
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.
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.
“Everyone needs coffee, ” explained Tulian, co-owner of Frisson Espresso, a small coffee shop he opened in December of 2014 with his best friend, Robert. Having previously worked with coffee equipment as a technician, Tulian wanted to bring quality and good vibes back to the trade. “We care about how people feel, ” Tulian expressed, “We care about the experience. ” As the two partners served coffee to the line of caffeine-crazed customers, and Robert showed off his talent by crafting artistic lattes, everyone involved was having a good time. The shop also offers delectable baked goods from Bien Cuit and Las Delicias, as well as a selection of teas.