by Philip Greenspun.
Home : Travel : New York : One Vignette
a subsection, by my secret New York correspondent
One quintessential yet underindulged New York pastime is to
linger in one of the City’s distinctive hotel lounges. Minus the smoke
and deafening noise of bars and the performance pressures of City
restaurants, a lounge is just the place to settle in, people watch and
chat while sipping a martini or hot chocolate.
The most enticing lounges, in this correspondent’s opinion, have
attained their unique ambiance through a studied décor and
stereotypical clientele. Some lounges are best for a "see and be seen"
happy hour, others for a late night unwinding. The lounge list below is
far from comprehensive, but attempts to capture the vast array awaiting
the experimental lounger.
OK.... that's all msnomer7 had to say so we'll go back to Greenpun's
- The Carlyle – 35 E 76 (b/w Park and Madison Aves.)
- My personal favorite for post-highbrow (opera, symphony) nights. The
crowd is wealthy continental, quiet and discreet. Plush burgundy velvet
upholstered chairs and kilm-covered setees line the recesses around the
central hub that feeds into a lovely piano bar. The piano bar itself
features the famous Bemelman murals (the artist who illustrated your
childhood Madeleine books.) The lounge and bar are perfect spots
for after-dinner liqueur and unhurried discussion of the night’s events.
- The Royalton – 44 W 44 (b/w 5th and 6th Aves.)
- Perhaps best, if unintentionally, known for its funky urinals (water
cascading down a mirrored backdrop …someone sneaked me in), the
Royalton lounge is always jam-packed with snappy twenty-plus beautiful
people and their hangers-on. The décor is minimalist-funky, with
white, slip-covered art deco furniture and solitary goldfish in pristine
glass bowls. If you can find a spare couch, it’s easy to eavesdrop on
the conversation one over, or just ogle the others who would be
disappointed if you didn’t.
- SoHo Grand – 310 W Broadway (b/w Grand and Canal Sts.)
- The understated downtown equivalent of the Royalton, this lounge
always seems to sport a full cast of tortured artist types, dressed in
the requisite "New York black." My architect friend criticizes the hotel
design as austere and directionless, but it does attempt to capture a
post-modern industrial look with its large photographs of the Brooklyn
Bridge and rivets adorning the glass staircase. The chairs and couches
are uncomfortable, but that’s beside the point.
- The Peninsula – 700 5th Ave. (at 55th St.):
Note that the hotel is closed for renovation until late 1998
- High atop a midtown tower, this lounge/bar attracts suits – both
female and male – on warm nights for power happy hours on the
terrace. Undaunted by the picnic ground furnishings, young execs recount
the day’s trials (legal and financial) over imported beer and
peanuts. Try a little networking.
- The Paramount – 235 W 46 (b/w Broadway and 8th Aves.)
- Great after-theater hangout with tables that overlook the
spacious, sparsely furnished lobby below. Greenish art deco décor
featuring a curving, ever narrowing staircase best mounted sideways
singing "Top Hat" a la Fred Astaire. A favorite of the fashion crowd,
but also comfortable for those who just think they’re cool because they
can still stay awake past eleven.
89 Mercer Street, between Spring and Broome (Soho), 274-0989
"You have to go to the toilet," Claire gushed as she sat back
down to her grilled cheese sandwich. She was the victim of English
boarding school and hasn't yet learned to say "bathroom" despite one
year in NY. Bathroom or toilet, she refused to explain what was so
fascinating, so I climbed the stairs from the main bar area to the
balcony and ducked around an interesting sculpture/wall-divider to
find myself looking at seven stainless steel toilets and sinks.
There was a clear glass door about 12 feet high in front of each
bathroom cubicle. I entered and swung a little latch. The door
instantly turned opaque. An LCD shutter?
The first new building in Soho in thirty years, Bar 89 is an airy
space that is fairly quiet and uncrowded until about 9:00 pm when
louder music and more people arrive. Bibi and Claire kept recognizing
famous fashion designers at other tables; I ate my Cobb Salad and
wished for a pepper grinder. Sandwiches and salads are all very NY
and very good. Desserts are sinful. I managed to feed myself and the
two women for $50 including two glasses of wine and dessert for
123 Mercer Street (Soho), 343-0612
Just a block north from Bar 89 is a less crowded, quieter, coffee
house that looks like an art gallery, with huge attractive oil
paintings. It follows the NY model of tables if you want to feel like
you've gone out and a living room if you want to feel that you have a
Bibi, Claire, and I walked in because we wanted to look at the
paintings, but the place was so pleasant that we were sorry we'd
stuffed ourselves at Bar 89.
If you're in the Russian Mafia, you can always hang out around Coney
Island. Getting there is half the fun whether by cab or subway...
Text and pictures copyright
1995 Philip Greenspun