New York, one of the most elegant and exciting cities in the world, is peppered with dining, drinking and entertainment venues that capture some of the historical charm of the city. But with a phenomenal number of places to choose from, it can be hard to decide where to go for some of that authentic, old-fashioned New York magic. Heading to the source of glamour and tradition, the Upper East Side and Midtown, I set out to discover where New Yorkers themselves drink and dine in classic style.
Much of New York doesn’t start the day before 9am - most cafés open then while the shops open at 9:30 or 10am. So make sure you don’t set your alarm too early just to be left out in the cold. When you do set off head to Bottega Del Vino on Fifth Avenue and E59th St. If you’re the sort who hunts the US in search of a decent latte, this little Italian café will be your home away from home while in New York. Not only is the coffee fantastic, but the freshly-baked breakfast paninis are delicious. Listen to the chatter around you and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Bottega’s sister café in Verona, Italy. The Italian language coming from the staff and patrons gives the place an atmosphere that evokes the historical Italian immigration the city is known for, as does the old-world décor of mahogany bars, intimate square tables and dimly lit, gilded lights. Bottega Del Vino is accredited with a five-diamond award and its location next to Central Park and Fifth Avenue makes it an ideal starting point in the morning. Alternatively, Francophiles should head down the road to Macaron Café on E59th and Madison Ave. True to its name, Macaron Café is famous for its extensive range of macarons. Flavours ranging from lavender honey, nutella to violette flower can be enjoyed with a steaming cappuccino in a gleaming white, ultra-sleek New York environment.
Sunday brunch is a New York institution and conveniently occurs at one of the few times in the city when it’s easy to get around in a cab. If you feel like venturing downtown for a while, perhaps to take in Wall St, Battery Park, Brooklyn or the Statue of Liberty, enjoy your Sunday brunch at Freemans. This hidden New York gem is nestled at the end of Freemans alley, off Riverton in between Chrystie and Bowery. Because of its obscure location, the restaurant’s clientele is almost exclusively made up of New Yorkers and it prides itself on being early American, rustic, simple and inspired by old world traditions. There is often a set menu for Sunday brunch, which includes two courses and a Bloody Mary. But if you feel like staying local in the Midtown/Upper East Side areas, take a stroll in Central Park to The Boathouse. This iconic New York restaurant is perhaps best known as the location where Carrie and Big fell into Central Park Lake in Sex and the City. The beauty of The Boathouse’s location can’t be exaggerated and it provides tranquil views of the park.
New York during the week is all about two things: shopping and the Ladies who Lunch. The city has some of the best retail in the world and at any given time on the Upper East Side you’ll see immaculately dressed women going about their daily ritual of shopping and lunching. Naturally, it was only a matter of time until these two hobbies were combined, so to see these creatures in their natural habitat go to the ninth floor of Barneys Department Store on Madison and E61st to Fred’s at Barneys. Emblematic of the famous department store with a modern and elegant interior, there are diamond-encrusted women wearing red-soled Louboutins at almost every table. The clientele here is unsurprisingly 90 per cent female, which is reflected in the menu with an extensive array of salads, soups and other calorie-conscious meals. Another fantastic shopping and dining location is the Armani Ristorante at the Giorgio Armani store on Fifth Avenue and E56th. The restaurant is on level three of the designer store and the food and service are excellent and very reasonably priced. True to the brand, the restaurant is Italian and the menu is kept authentic so expect Carpaccio and freshly made pasta.
It’s highly recommended you make some of your dinner reservations before you leave on your trip as many of the best restaurants book out weeks in advance. Arguably the
restaurant in New York at the moment is Per Se
which, from its prestigious location on level four of the Time Warner Centre, offers spectacular views of Central Park. The nine-course prix-fixe menu changes daily and diners choose between the vegetable tasting menu or the chef’s tasting menu for US$275 a head. The intimacy and décor of the restaurant is a tribute to the old world with roaring fires, suited waiters, stunning artworks and soft classical piano music in the background. Per Se is booked up to eight weeks in advance however one of the hostesses let slip to us that it
is open for lunch on Saturdays and Sundays and lunchtime bookings are much easier to secure and, in her opinion, more pleasant, as the view of the park is amplified.
Another top restaurant is the two Michelin starred Gilt
at the Palace Hotel on Madison and E51st street. With only 16 tables for a maximum of 64 diners, Gilt
is all about exclusivity and 20th century grandeur. High ceilings, oak-paneled walls and full-length curtains surround diners as they enjoy a prix-fixe three-course menu for US$89. If you’re after a more hip and fast-paced New York scene head to Monkey Bar
on E54th street between Park and Madison avenues. A favourite for celebrities, Monkey Bar
has been a New York landmark since the 1950s when it was a popular Jazz club during the Jazz-Age New York is well known for. Bought and renovated in 2009, Monkey Bar
now has a stunning restaurant in the back and a vibrant, funky cocktail bar in the front. The wall illustrations throughout the place pay homage to the great Jazz-Age figures who once sailed through the saloon doors. Other notable New York restaurants that require long-held reservations are John deLucie’s The Lion
in the West Village and the eponymous Jean-Georges
on the corner of Central Park.
Drinks and after-dinner Entertainment
For pre- or post-dinner drinks, you can’t go past Oak Bar
at the Plaza hotel. Located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and E59th, this is the place for Mad Men lovers as the elegance of the 1960s is felt in every nook and cranny. The bar and décor have not been altered since 1963 and the only way to tell that you haven’t stepped back in time is the conspicuous lack of a smoke haze hanging just below the ceiling (the bar is of course non-smoking now). Order yourself a New-Fashioned cocktail, a delicious mix of Scotch whisky, ginger ale, citrus and mint, and sit back and enjoy the scenery and the Upper East Side crowd. The King Cole Bar
at the St Regis hotel on E55th St between Fifth and Madison offers a similar atmosphere and crowd to the Oak Bar, with a slightly more modern twist added into the mix. For a truly unique uptown experience, check out Bills Gay Nineties
on E54th St in between Park and Madison Avenues. An original speakeasy that was converted from a five-storey brownstone in the Roaring Twenties, Bill’s
today remains unchanged from when it was one of New York’s most celebrated and prominent speakeasies during prohibition. The ground level is a charming celebration of a time-gone-by and stages live piano music from Monday to Saturday. Mention you’re Australian and the piano player might burst into an impromptu rendition of “I still call Australia home”. Or perhaps don’t mention it. Another fun piano bar even further uptown on E84th St between 2nd and 3rd avenues is Brandy’s Piano Bar.
A quaint little hole in the wall, Brandy’s also stages live music nightly from 9:30pm until 3am with a two drink minimum applied.
Where to stay
The Plaza Hotel: rates start at US$645 per night for a standard room and go up to US$30,000 per night for the Royal Plaza Suite
768 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY
The St Regis Hotel: rates start at US$695 per night for a standard room and top-end suites start at $3,300 per night
2 East 55th St
New York, NY
The Pierre Hotel: rates start at US$745 per night and suites start from US$2,000 per night
2 East 61st St
New York, NY
When to go
Anytime but July and August, when the city becomes very humid. Winter, Spring and Autumn are all wonderful times to see New York