We may no longer live in the age of The Great Gatsby, but old-school charm is alive and well in the city’s finest hotels. And with a fresh generation of instant classics that have sprung up in recent years, New York has entered a golden era for hotel bars. Whether you’re looking for a cozy cocktail with a friend or a power scene to impress a client — or date — Manhattan’s hotel bars have become the go-to option, equal to any occasion. When choosing the perfect spot, the question is a matter of preference: Old School Vs. New School. Gilded and glorious or stylish and luxe? Traditional and historic or sexy and new? Luckily, there’s a classic hotel bar for everyone — uptown, downtown and in between.
The Glamorous Cocktail Lounge
Old School: Bemelman’s Bar at The Carlyle Hotel (35 East 76th St.)
New Classic: Lobby Bar at The Bowery Hotel (335 Bowery)
When it comes to New York’s classic cocktail lounges, Bemelman’s at The Carlyle reigns supreme. Live performances (including Woody Allen’s standing gig), luscious cocktails and secluded seating make for a low-key hangout, despite all the well-heeled and stylish guests who fill the room. And with wall murals from Madeline creator and former hotel resident Ludwig Bemelman, the space has a dreamy, timeless feel that retains its magic year after year. Cozy, clubby glamour comes in newer packages, too, particularly at The Bowery Hotel’s Lobby Bar, which is in many way’s Bemelman’s high-wattage, downtown equivalent. New York’s answer to Hollywood’s celebrity-favorite Chateau Marmont, The Bowery’s lobby is often filled with fashion luminaries and low-key A-listers on any given weeknight. Between its velvet settees, patterned rugs and roaring fireplace, it serves up that particular brand of Chateau charm that’s hard to find.
The Power Drink
Old School: Sir Harry’s at the Waldorf Astoria (301 Park Ave.)
New Classic: The Greenwich Hotel (377 Greenwich St.)
Popular for business drinks and for anyone in need of a perfect meeting place, Sir Harry’s caters to heavy-hitter clientele in a luxurious, gilded atmosphere that’s somewhat rarefied in New York City. Take in the lavish Art Deco interior off the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria, and order one of the famous martinis. For a slightly more Hollywood iteration in TriBeCa, The Greenwich Hotel is a go-to spot for power drinks. Financed by actor Robert DeNiro, it’s no surprise this exclusive celebrity-frequented spot is often teeming with industry folks, as its “hotel guests only” policy makes it difficult (but not impossible) for the Average Joe to get inside. You can always play it safe and saddle up to the beautiful, winding bar next door at Locanda Verde instead.
The Bustling Lobby Scene
Old School: The Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel (785 Fifth Ave.)
New Classic: The Ace Hotel Lobby (20 West 29th St.)
Just because a hotel bar is a classic doesn’t mean it has to feel ancient, and nowhere is that more evident than at The Plaza Hotel’s famed Palm Court. The Parisian-style lobby provides morning and afternoon service beneath its breathtaking glass ceiling, and serves as a great people-watching post adjacent to the hotel’s lively main entrance and shops. The New York location of boutique hotel chain Ace Hotel has become one of the city’s newest mainstays, partially due to its well-curated combination of notable eateries (The Breslin, John Dory Oyster Bar) and in-house outposts of avant-garde retailers like Opening Ceremony and No.8A. The electrifying flow of stylish visitors in and out of the full-service lobby continues through the night, when the hotel often hosts various DJs and live performances.
The Midday Tipple:
Old School: Lobby Lounge at JW Marriott Essex House (160 Central Park South)
New Classic: Bar on 5th at The Setai Fifth Avenue (400 Fifth Ave.)
Day drinking is wholly acceptable on holiday, and in New York City, there are plenty of great options to do so in style. In the JW Marriott Essex House’s Lobby Lounge, enjoy daily cupcake and champagne specials, all from the comfort of plush, over-sized chairs that fill the mahogany-lined lobby. The Central Park-adjacent views make this glass-enclosed cafe prime for an afternoon respite, and the Bar on 5th’s similar setup serves the purpose as well, with a slightly more modern twist. Housed inside The Setai Fifth Avenue, this tranquil spot allows you to take in New York’s bustle over a daytime cocktail surrounded by large picture windows and a chic interior.
Something Old, Something New
Old School: Bar Pleiades at The Surrey (20 East 76th St.)
New Classic: Jane Hotel Ballroom at the Jane Hotel (113 Jane St.)
The Surrey is an 87-year old hotel nestled on the Upper East Side that JFK himself once called home, but you’d never be able to tell at first glance. The walls are lined with contemporary works by Chuck Close and Jenny Hozler; the lobby is made to feel like a New York City townhouse; and the sleek, black-and-white decor of Bar Pleiades marries ultra-contemporary with Art Deco. With a focus on seasonal cocktail ingredients and house-made accoutrements, it’s no surprise that superstar restaurateur Daniel Boloud happens to be behind Bar Pleides’s sexy mix of old and new. If the Surrey’s history is masked by new features, The Jane Hotel is a reborn classic that embraces its past. Upstairs, the West Village property retains some of the tight spaces, decor and, yes, communal bathrooms from its era as a sailor’s quarters in the 1930s, but the Jane Hotel’s ballroom, which sat dormant for years, has been transformed into a playground for downtown party people. It was brought up to speed in 2008 by the guys behind The Smile, with a completely refreshed decor that respects the old-world character and history of the bi-level space.
Date Night On The Town
Old School: The Madison Bar at The Palace Hotel (455 Madison Ave.)
New Classic: The Lobby Bar at (The Mercer) Hotel (147 Mercer St.)
Gilded and overflowing with 19th Century majesty, The New York Palace Hotel is the perfect spot for a romantic rendezvous while visiting Manhattan. Grab a cocktail at the pristine Madison Room, and take in the floor-to-ceiling views through the historic Villard Mansion windows. After that, hit The Palace Hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, GILT for a meal on par with the city’s best. Downtown at Andre Balazs’ The Mercer Hotel, you can enjoy a similarly memorable evening in the heart of SoHo, with a little more action. Order a round in the hotel’s lobby lounge, a colorful, clean space filled with modern furniture. Still a power hangout for models and celebrities, it’s a scene you’d typically have to gain admission to —but not here, where seats are usually first-come, first-served. Once you’ve taken it all in, head downstairs for a meal at chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s in-house restaurant, Mercer Kitchen.
The Art-Filled Auberge
Old School: The Blue Bar at The Algonquin (59 West 44th St.)
New Classic: The Rose Bar at Gramercy Park Hotel (2 Lexington Avenue)
There’s been much discussion about The Algonquin remodeling the Oak Room in 2012, but its reconstruction has paved the way for another in-house bar to get the attention it deserves. From the Algonquin Round Table, a collection of New York creative luminaries who lunched together at the hotel through the ‘20s, to the many literary greats who passed through its doors since, the midtown hotel’s power-publishing bona fides are alive and well. And The Blue Bar, hung with black-and-white caricatures by artist and Algonquin regular Al Hirschfeld, gives visitors a peek into Broadway’s past. Over at Gramercy Park Hotel, Nur Khan’s nightlife disciples, socialites and young financiers gather under big-ticket works from 20th century giants like Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst and Julian Schnabel at the Rose Bar.
Old School: King Cole Bar Lounge at the St. Regis (2 East 55th St.)
New Classic: The NoMad Library Bar at The NoMad (1170 Broadway)
The history of the St. Regis can be told through its beverages. At the King Cole Bar, the Bloody Mary is served up as the “Red Snapper” — its original name, as devised by St. Regis bartender Fernand Petiot. The legendary saloon is known for introducing the world to the tomato juice-and-vodka staple and for its iconic Maxfield Parrish mural. And though it’s tough to compete, the NoMad Hotel’s thick and exciting menu of indulgent cocktails is likely to produce a classic of its own one of these days. The Library Bar has become a full-fledged critic’s darling for its classically cozy interior and superb service, but the extensive beverage program, with lists of concoctions categorized by spirit, has secured its place as one of the best drink spots in town. From the four gin-based cocktails, to the house-crafted basil-fennel soda, to the Bamboo, a blend of sherry, vermouth and bitters, there’s always something delicious and new to try.
Old School: The View Bar and Restaurant at Marriott Marquis (1535 Broadway)
New School: The Top of The Standard (848 Washington St.)
Marriott Marquis, a 30-year old Times Square mainstay, houses the city’s only rotating bar. For a first-timer in the Big Apple, The View Bar provides the ultimate skyline vantage-point from which to imbibe. A simple reservation will gain you access to this bird’s eye view, but downtown at The Standard, the breathtaking panorama is a bit trickier to access. The super-exclusive Top of the Standard (also known as the Boom Boom Room) still houses one of the city’s most difficult doors at night, but the knockout view from high above the Meatpacking District is well worth the trouble. With a crowd of scenesters, nightlife mavens and fashion elite, the sky-high fishbowl with floor-to-ceiling windows offers plenty to gawk at, inside and out. The bar opens at 4 pm on weekdays and 2 pm on weekends to the general public , but it’s cleared out at 9 pm and reopened at 10 pm with a door list.
The Family-Friendly Stop
Old School: Two e Bar at The Pierre (2 East 61st St.)
New Classic: The Crosby Bar at Crosby Street Hotel (79 Crosby St.)
In search of a late afternoon martini for you and some snacks for kids? Look no further than The Pierre, an opulent 82-year-old hotel on the edge of Central Park where you can indulge in a full Sunday tea party and a world-class cocktail at Two e Bar. If you’re looking for a pit stop in SoHo and happen to have the whole family in tow, swing by The Crosby Bar at The Crosby Street Hotel, a bright, welcoming space with an extensive all-day menu and decadent afternoon tea service to please even the fussiest of eaters.