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The Flatiron Room Murray Hill

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. ”

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Parker & Quinn

As I walk the side streets of Manhattan, I am constantly seeing the destruction of the past. Thus, it was refreshing to find a new establishment, like the Refinery Hotel, embracing, and even perpetuating the city’s history: through its refurbishment, its restaurant, Parker & Quinn and even its branding. The Refinery’s building, (with its own entrance on 38th Street or through the restaurant on 39th) originally named the Colony Arcade, was once the millinery hub of the Garment District and continued as a hat factory until the 1980s. With hat-making tools, sewing machines and other manufacturing objects integrated throughout the Hotel’s interiors, the Refinery bridges materials of the past with a luxury hotel experience. Their rooms feel extra spacious with high-ceilings, custom-made furniture and stunning hardwood flooring, a rarity in hotels for sure. Besides drawing on the building’s millinery history, the Refinery recalls the past in their lobby lounge. Soon after the building first opened in 1912, Winnie T. MacDonald opened a ladies’ tea salon on the ground floor where she offered female shoppers a place to rest, to socialize and to get an extra kick in their cuppa gin or whiskey. Today, Winnie’s Lobby Bar continues as a resting place for weary travelers in need of a drink, conversation or entertainment – as there is an added bonus of live jazz Monday through Friday evenings between the hours of 7: 30 and 10: 30. I was completely enchanted by the lobby, the art and the guest rooms, but the surprises did not stop there. The lovely woman, who showed us around, then took us to the rooftop bar, which offers another breathtaking view of the Empire State Building and its surroundings. I was most impressed when introduced to the in-house mixologist who mentioned that he had worked for NASA. Before concluding our tour, we walked through the other end of the lobby to enter Parker & Quinn, which dresses up American comfort food in a delectable looking menu and atmosphere. With chandeliers of depression-era glass, wide booths and decorative tiles, this restaurant emanates that same vintage feel as the hotel.

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The Mason Jar

In the race among Manhattan restaurants to attract customers, simplicity is sometimes lost. But not so in the Mason Jar, a restaurant and bar that keeps it old school with good vibes and great tastes. The southern, barbecue-heavy menu and extensive list of craft beers and bourbons speak for themselves, complete with suggested pairings. Each month, a new craft beer is featured in an effort to support small breweries. If these beers attract a following, they are added to the full-time roster. While visiting with some Sideways members, I had a lively conversation with chef about the different styles of barbecue - our North Carolinian team member swears by vinegar sauce and appreciated Mason Jar’s variety. The food is fresh and not overdone, but at the same time the Chef  “puts love into it. ” The high quality meat is treated seriously - specialty ribs are coated with a dry rub, smoked using apple and hickory wood, braised, and mopped with a tomato-based Kansas City-style sauce. Then grilled. The brisket and boneless pork butts are given no less attention. Replete with wood, American Flags, and comfortable seating, Mason Jar also achieves a homey feel to match its Southern style. Many of the University of South Carolina alumni  in Manhattan choose this spot as the venue to catch the Cocks football games, and Villanova basketball fans flock here for their games, as well. With the hearty food, good beers, and down-home feel, it is easy to understand why. To put it plainly and simply, Mason Jar was a good find.

More places on 35th Street

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Bella Abzug Park

The West Side’s airy Bella Abzug Park, designed by landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc, features a new seating area of plentiful benches as well as wire-rimmed tables and chairs complete with umbrellas for shade. The team behind the West Side green space is known for its large-scale public plazas, including recent renovations on Brooklyn Bridge Park as well as the downtown Jacob K Javits Plaza. Bella Abzug (originally known as Hudson Park and boulevard) began renovations in 2010 at W33rd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues to expand the park to accommodate for the extension of the 7 train to 11th Avenue, as well as the rapid influx of residential, retail and commercial development in Hudson Yards over the past decade. The park was renamed in 2019 to honor Bella Abzug, the stalwart Bronx-born lawmaker and activist known as “Battling Bella” who championed civil rights, LGBTQ and women’s equality in New York State and nationwide. “As any observer of New York politics would tell you, Bella Abzug was a potent force for the West Side and, in fact, the entire country, ” said former Manhattan Borough President and current City Council Member Gale Brewer at the dedication. “She was a friend and mentor, and naming this new park for her will, in however small a way, educate and inform future generations about this one-of-a-kind, larger-than-life New Yorker. ”The Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance — a West Side Business Improvement District not-for-profit organization — maintains the care of the park and curates its programming, which features seasonal events ranging from yoga to concerts to movie nights. The park also hosts frequent temporary art installations, including the BIG APPLE statue by Canadian artist Félix Marzel, King Nyani — a 4-and-a-half ton gorilla sculpture by Australian Artists Gillie and Marc Schattner, and the recent Photoville summer gallery showing. This story was adapted from the W42ST article, "There’s More Room for Relaxation as Bella Abzug Park Expands at Hudson Yards. "

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The Gregory Hotel

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.

More Steakhouses nearby

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Wolfgang's Steakhouse

When I mentioned to my 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 I agree that this is a splendid restaurant to dine. 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 three 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 steak, 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 I think are excellent.

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Keens Steakhouse

I have a long history with Keens, but nothing to compare with the number of years it has been serving its gigantic mutton chop, other varieties of meats, salads, sides and Scotch. The history wafts through the windy rooms and corridors of this superb steakhouse. Started in 1885 as an offshoot of the Lambs Club, a theatrical group, Keens Chophouse served as a gathering place for the elite in what was then home to the Herald Square Theater District. Beginning in the early 1900s, the restaurant offered a Pipe Club that folks could join. Members would finish up their meals and be brought their tobacco and long churchwarden pipes. Over the years, an immense collection has been gathered. The estimate hanging from the ceilings and stored in a back room today is more than 90, 000. When visiting with the Manhattan Sideways team, I smiled as they gazed in utter amazement at some of the names that were written below the pipe display in the foyer from Buffalo Bill to Babe Ruth. Over the years, the steakhouse has changed ownership, but it has managed to maintain its historic awareness throughout. In addition to the pipes, antiquated playbills line the walls advertising bygone shows. Each artifact has an incredible story behind it... if only these walls could talk. One quick anecdote: in 1905, Lillie Langtry came to the all-male establishment but was denied service. She took the restaurant to court... and won. A short time later, she was invited to dine at Keens. We learned this story when we discovered the menu from her honorary dinner hanging on a wall upstairs. The meal included "clear green turtle soup! "The premises are beautiful: metal lions and bulldogs menace from banisters throughout, while nude classical paintings, tile work, black and white photos and the aforementioned playbills decorate the walls. In the Bull Moose room, a gigantic moose head watches over diners from the wall and logs burn in a fireplace in one of the bar rooms. Once, in a bygone era, the upstairs areas may have served as a temporary living quarters for some of the workers as recounted by James, the manager. But there's more to it than the history: today's mutton chops and steaks are certifiably some of the best in the City. And that is what's most important, especially for those who have been around for much of Keen's return to prominence over the last few decades. "Restaurants go through different seasons in their lifetime, " James explained. "We're just happy to be in an exciting, dynamic meeting place again. "I have eaten at Keens a number of times over the past decades and even participated (or shall I say accompanied) a group of friends on a Scotch tour of Manhattan, where we ended at the renowned bar inside Keens. It offers one of the largest Scotch whisky selections in the city. The most memorable time spent, however, was this most recent visit and James's personal tour of his beloved restaurant.