Stepping off the elevator on the 18th floor, we had the feeling that we might run into the Queen of Hearts lounging and looking out over the city. Our visit was not during peak hours, so we missed bumping elbows with the chic crowd that normally populates Monarch, but we did get a sense of the futurist atmosphere and the ever-lovely views afforded by a visit. The Empire State Building, long a favorite of our crew, towers majestically in unimpeded splendor to the south. Brick walls give way to geometric, angular wooden walls and ceilings. Lights hang down in mobile-like formations, while chandeliers drip aquatically nearby in a tented heated area that can be utilized throughout the year. The furniture is comfortable and swoopingly high-backed. When our friends want to feel like City royalty, we certainly know where to send them.
Greeting guests with a small taste of their Spanish mulled house wine, we immediately knew that we had discovered a small wonder. Aytac and Zaf, both from Turkey, are the owners. They lived in New York for many years, working in other restaurants before the two friends decided to embark on their own adventure. They opened their doors in 2007 and have had a steady flow of customers, drawing from both the locals living in the neighborhood and the strong tourist population that surrounds them. Nothing is made from scratch on the premises, as the kitchen is minute, but what they bring out of there is absolutely scrumptious. We managed to eat every piece of chocolate made by either renowned Jacques Torres or Xocolatti. Small chunks are served on a wooden platter, similar to a cheese board. Delving into their signature dessert, "21 Layer Crepes Cake" was like indulging in a piece of heaven. Thin crepes and whipped cream, topped with burnt sugar. We watched as others shared the dark chocolate fondue, dipping into their melted land of wonder with bananas, strawberries, marshmallows and finger cookies as Frank Sinatra was singing in the background. Although we did not order anything else, there is a menu filled with savory treats - Angry Chicken Lollipops, White Truffle Pizza, Goat Cheese Brulee and, of course, a cocktail menu of Chocolate Martinis and wines from around the world.
After having eaten at Barbes, I was eager to check out Omar Balouma's other restaurant. Stopping to notice the beautiful, ornately carved front door, we learned that it was shipped directly from Morocco, and functions as a literal and figurative portal to North Africa. Inside, a vague smell of hookah smoke hangs in the air amidst beautifully crafted walls done in a soft pastel-hued Venetian plaster. The front of the restaurant is for dining where the menu offers smaller Mediterranean-style plates flavored with Moroccan spices. The back hookah room might be the real star. Benches line the large square room, along with colorful seat cushions while tapestry-esque sheets hang overhead. Saturday nights come alive with belly dancers and music is played by Rachid Halibal, a native of Morocco.
Stout NYC has the magic ability of seeming both like a large fortress and like a cozy cavern. It claims to be New York's largest Irish pub, and yet comfortable seating and cobblestone floors give the bar a warm, friendly atmosphere. With two other locations in the Financial District and near Grand Central, Stout NYC has set itself up as a neighborhood hangout three times over.
After visiting the newly opened Renwick, Olivia, Tom and I walked west to its sister hotel, the Gregory. Originally built in 1903 and known as “The Gregorian, ” its purpose was to house spillover guests from the Waldorf Astoria. It was designed to be reminiscent of Upper West Side homes, with rooms that were double the height of normal hotels. In the mid-twentieth century, the Gregorian closed and the building passed through the hands of different hospitality groups. In 2015, however, the Gregory opened with the goal of recreating the hotel’s former glory. Susan Richardson, the Director of Marketing at the time, was pleased to give us a tour of the newly renovated hotel and to share some of the history, while also pointing out the various amenities and features. The overall design of the hotel is inspired by elements of the fashion world, as it is located in the garment district. Susan also mentioned that the Gregory is the only hotel that is a member of the Save the Garment Center movement and that they have recently formed a partnership with Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Susan explained that the hotel was designed with the goal of feeling "homey. " The lobby was built to have the comfort of a living room, complete with the bar, called “The Liquor Cabinet. ” The whimsical idea behind the name is that guests can “raid the Liquor Cabinet” during happy hour. While chatting, the bartender made one of their signature drinks, the Ginger Bootlegger, made with Bootlegger vodka, Cointreau, and ginger beer. The cozy, home-away-from-home atmosphere is enhanced by the concierge desk, where guests are encouraged to sit down in an armchair as they check-in and to feel the warmth of the fireplace during the colder months of the year. Similar to the Renwick, the Gregory focuses on trying to manufacture many of the features of the hotel in New York City. The lobby’s wood floors were not only made in Manhattan, but cut right here in the building. The shelves, which held fashion books, sewing machines, and other relics of the design world, were also cut in the lobby. Adding to their strong link to its history, we observed the pictures of the original hotel on the wall, along with an old menu and various artworks from the early twentieth century. Before heading into the elevator, we stopped into Brendan’s, the lively Irish pub connected to the hotel. The restaurant used to be the Gregorian’s Palm Court. “They are a great neighbor, ” Susan said. Upstairs, we stepped inside an impressive guest room. It was remarkable how different the Gregory and the Renwick are, but with the same careful attention to detail and emphasis on guest comfort. Where the Renwick has eclectic images and outside-the-box design, the Gregory has clean lines and simple patterns. As Susan so aptly described it, “The Renwick is the artist and the Gregory is the tailor. ” There are hints of the fashion world everywhere, including Do Not Disturb signs made of ties and framed clothing patterns on the walls. Like the Renwick, each of the beds are custom made for the hotel. Although both hotels are designed for the transient traveler, Susan feels that the Gregory appeals to a slightly younger crowd - one that wants a warm, communal place to work and network. With that in mind, guests are encouraged to come down to the lobby for coffee in the morning and mingle with one another. The tech industry has started drifting into the neighborhood and Susan feels that members of the tech world appreciate the chance to meet people and work in the living room environment of the lobby. “We are creating a culture of offering guests an experience, ” she said, smiling.
At Gallery 35, we were charmed, entertained and educated on the staff's commitment to their own work and the art community as a whole. Sharing space, one flight up, with others affiliated with the Community Church next door, Gallery 35 is only open on Saturday evenings. Each week they showcase the work of a collective of artists, using media and styles across the board – water colors, digital media, glass painting, quilts, wood cuts. Once a year, the gallery hosts shows featuring artists from around the world. The most recent rendition featured paintings and quilts from Cuban and Brazilian artists. I was particularly taken by the story behind the art that was exhibited in the winter of 2013. Vidho Lorville, a native of Haiti, who had been painting for over twenty years before the earthquake struck his country, was chosen to be the guest artist. His commitment to the people and the celebration of the rebirth of Haiti were not only displayed in his work, but he also chose to donate a portion of the proceeds from Gallery 35 towards programs in Haiti.
Situated somewhere between Irish and American, straddling, too, the distinction between refinement and seaminess, Playwright offers food, drink, sports and a place to rest. The fare is traditional American with a few British accents thrown in - Shepherd's Pie and Fish & Chips to be exact. On the main floor, there are flatscreens aplenty above a long bar bursting with ales. American sports games are shown and, of course, Playwright is always showcasing European soccer games. On the second level, a more traditional dining area in the front gives way to a comfortable seating area in back. With its mixture of old regal furniture pieces collected over the years, in faded burgundies, beiges and browns, and an electric fireplace, Playwright has provided an inviting atmosphere for many to cozy up.
The Liberty is an exercise in what interior decoration can do to define an environment. Opened in 2012 by the owners of its sister bar, the Australian, the kitchen offers modern American fare. I was immediately drawn to the impressive mosaic floor (that was discovered upon lifting the wooden one) left over from its past life dating to the early twentieth century. A random collection of hundreds of old-school New York black and white photos in dark wooden frames hangs on the walls, and large industrial pipes from previous renditions of the space shoot around the ceilings and back walls. An ovular bar in the middle of the room, meanwhile, makes for many points of access to order one of the two specialty drinks dedicated to each of the five boroughs; The Penicillin and Empire 75 are the cocktail tributes to Manhattan. From four to six, and again from ten to midnight, oysters are just one dollar. The clientele is a mixture of midtown professionals and a heap of Aussies, as well as the usual little bit of everything that City bars see pass through. And for a change of pace from the other bars in the vicinity, The Liberty has old black and white movies playing on its flat screens, and a DJ that spins from a booth on the mezzanine level Wednesday through Saturday nights. Perhaps this all sounds disjointed, but it comes together to create an incredibly comfortable and funky atmosphere.
Originally the Aberdeen Hotel when it was built in 1902, this grand Beaux-arts edifice continues to stand out as it sits in the middle of Korea Town. Perhaps its best claim to fame was that, back in the 1920s, it allowed women to book a room without a gentleman on their arm. The Hotel at Fifth Avenue, formerly known as La Quinta, also boasts its own rooftop bar, Vu.
While gazing at the view from the thirtieth floor, some of the staff "fired up" mini cupcakes of mac n' cheese, and the bartender mixed two of their signature drinks for us to sip. We tried the Fort Knox made with bourbon, mezcal, yellow chartreuse, honey syrup, and a large grilled lemon ice block, and The Skylark composed of gin, vodka, St. Germain liqueur, blue curacao, and fresh lemon. Jasmine, the manager who guided us through the three levels, was upbeat and incredibly enthusiastic about her job. Certainly not a surprise, as not only is the view spectacular but so is the retro decor, the food, and the drinks. It sounds like she is meeting many interesting people who stop by for cocktails from the surrounding world of fashion. The lower level has a room where a small group can gather, or another with a billiards table. Up one short flight is the main lounge where the space extends across the entire building and there are different clusters of seating allowing parties to have intimate conversations. Up another stairwell, I ventured outdoors to take in the panoramic view of the city. Jasmine is excited for spring to arrive, as the Skylark opened in the fall of 2013, therefore, they have not yet been able to utilize the outdoor lounge area. I, of course, was more than happy to brave the cold in order to have the full experience of this exceptional location. Bob Savitt, the man behind this venture, owns the building, which is dedicated almost entirely to fashion houses. He decided a few years back that he wanted to add a rooftop bar, and proceeded to add on three more levels. David Rabin and the husband/wife team of Abigail Kirsch catering, Jim Kirsch and Alison Auerbuck, joined Bob to offer a sophisticated, beautiful bar setting. Skylark is only open Thursday - Saturday, as the rest of the days are reserved for private parties.
Called the “crown jewel of the Archer, ” this year-round cocktail bar, located on the twenty-second floor of the hotel, offers a truly remarkable view of the city. The bar is elegantly decorated, and features both an indoor space and an outdoor patio. With an exceptionally clear view of the Empire State Building, Spyglass has incorporated the landmark into its design, installing lights that reflect the unique color scheme on display each evening. Including a sliver of the Chrysler Building, the rooftop is ideal for enjoying iconic New York vistas. For private events, the bar offers a more intimate back room, which opens up to its own private patio with a similar stunning view of Manhattan. As with everything else at the Archer, the design is thought through to the very last detail. It cleverly displays wallpapers with pictures taken through a viewfinder and patterned fabric, making a subtle connection to the name of the downstairs restaurant, Fabrick. David Burke has created the menu for both Spyglass and Fabrick, and Joe Goglia is the mixologist. As a fun detail in keeping with its name, Spyglass has plans to offer binoculars to guests so that they can “spy” on the city.
Where the Hyatt Herald Square has taken inspiration from the publishing and fashion worlds, its bar, called “Up on 20, ” seems to take its inspiration from the sky and cityscape. With clean metallics, greys, and glass, the rooftop bar mirrors its surroundings and emphasizes the sleek beauty of Manhattan. I learned a lot from speaking with Gunnar Steden, the executive chef, and Jordan Cook, the food and beverage manager. Jordan explained that both the food and the décor tried to seem as natural and organic as possible. He spoke about the flowers and plants that would soon be brought up to the bar and about the food that was all locally sourced and made in house. Gunnar explained that most of his ingredients come from no farther than Long Island and Brooklyn, and even the hotel snacks and the morning coffee come from within a very small radius. Gunnar has a significant amount of experience working as a chef for Hyatt, as he has spent time in the empire's German, Australian, and DC hotels. He proudly spoke about the balance in cuisine that he has created, thanks in part to his worldliness. Despite his emphasis on local ingredients, he also caters to more mainstream and international tastes. He used drinks as an example: Whereas he has beer brewed just across the East River on Long Island, he also carries Blue Moon and Shocktop, and he has brought in Kolsch from his native Germany to satisfy European taste buds. Gunnar and Jordan both expressed pride in the menu, and were quick to say that if something does not work, or if available ingredients change, they will change the menu overnight. This is especially helpful in a hotel as new as the Hyatt Herald Square, which had opened only six months before our visit in the spring of 2015. The rooftop bar itself had only just had its soft-opening the day before we arrived. As we wandered to a smaller terrace at the back of the roof with a view of the Freedom Tower, Gunnar explained to me that Up on 20 is not supposed to be a night club or a hot spot. Then he used one of our favorite phrases: “We want to be a neighborhood gem – we want to be small place where you can go and enjoy a beer. " Jordan added, "Our emphasis is on customer experience, not the bottom line. ”