Wollensky’s Grill, Midtown New York
Midtown Manhattan can be somewhat vexing when making an assessment of the neighborhood, as the borders of the region spanning Midtown West and Midtown East can be a bit confusing. If we exclude that portion of Manhattan that is Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea, Midtown borders from about 8th Avenue in the West all the way across to the East River, and from 59th Street in the north to, roughly, about 31st Street, though many purists would argue that areas like the Theater District and Times Square, the Garment District and Murray Hill merit their own unique neighborhood categorizations. Even so, for the sake of this neighborhood roundup we’ll be including them all under the banner of ‘Midtown’.
Though a large portion of Midtown is residential, there is also a considerable transitional population of visitors courtesy of the many tourists staying in the neighborhood’s countless hotels (several of them iconic like the Plaza and Waldorf-Astoria). To the east and south, much of the neighborhood is relatively quiet after dark given the area is host to the heart of New York’s central business district, which means most high-rise office towers –and the businesses that serve them– are empty by the time the evening commute has ended. Yet the entire area is also one of New York’s most frequented because it lays claim to so many of Manhattan’s famous highlights. The Theater District and Times Square buzz with activity day or night, while tourists flock to visit Central Park on the northern edge of Midtown, the Empire State Building (5th Ave. and 34th St.) to the south, and countless iconic highlights in between, including The Museum of Modern Art (11 W. 53rd St.), the United Nations (First Ave. at 46th St.), Saint Patrick’s Cathedral (14 E. 51st St at Fifth Ave.), Madison Square Garden (4 Penn Plz nr. 31st St.) and flagship retail outlets like Saks (611 Fifth Ave. at 50th St.), Tiffany & Co (727 Fifth Ave. at 57th St.) and Macy’s (151 W. 34th St. at Broadway).
When it comes to dining, few should be surprised to discover a great many chain and overpriced restaurants specifically targeting tourists (and often serving up sub-par food), as well as several big-money eateries that almost exclusively turn a profit from suit-wearing, cigar-chomping businessmen that dine in on weekday power lunches. To point, Midtown is crowded with high-end steakhouses, and some of them are very, very good. I’d be hard pressed to draw too many distinctions between them, however. You know the drill: oysters, massive steaks and chops, creamed spinach, all washed down with expensive, albeit good-quality bottles of red wine. If you have a hankering for meat, recommended destinations include Wollensky’s Grill (201 E. 49th St., at Third Ave.) BLT Steak (106 E. 57th St. nr. Park Ave.) and Sparks Steak House (210 E. 46th St. nr. Third Ave.).
Perhaps my favorite chef in the whole city is the talented (somewhat understated) Eric Ripert, and my only regret is that I wish I could afford to visit his excellent seafood restaurant La Bernardin (155 W. 51st St. nr. Seventh Ave.) more often. The chef shows real respect for his ingredients, and this translates into a wholly memorable dining experience- if seafood is your thing. If it is, then also get along (again, with your wallet in tow) to the Greek seafood restaurant Estiatorio Milos (125 W. 55th St. nr. Sixth Ave.). When you see the array of fresh fish on display upon arrival you’ll be happy you listened to us.
Other notable ‘power chefs’ have set up shop here in Midtown to roars of approval from satisfied diners, including Gordon Ramsay (Gordon Ramsay at The London, 151 W. 54th St. nr. Seventh Ave.), Michael White (Marea, 240 Central Park S. nr. Broadway), and Daniel Boulud (DB Bistro Moderne, 55 W. 44th St. nr. Fifth Ave.) offering up French, Italian and, again, French cuisine respectively. And given the money that floods in and out of Midtown on a daily basis there are of course innumerable other highly regarded and highly expensive restaurants to choose from, names like Nobu 57 (40 W. 57th St. nr. Fifth Ave.), Le Cirque (151 E. 58th St. nr. Lexington Ave.) and The Four Seasons Restaurant (99 E. 5nd St. nr. Park Ave.) with perhaps Manhattan’s finest dining room. There’s little doubt that any of the above-mentioned destinations will provide you with a memorable dining experience for the ages, and perhaps part of the ‘Midtown experience’ is to enjoy a visit to any of these establishments at least once, but after a while you may well pine for something not merely affordable but far less elaborate. I know I did, which is why the family atmosphere and Italian fare of Fresco by Scotto (34E. 52nd St. nr. Madison Ave.) is one of my more frequently shared recommendations for the neighborhood.
For those on a tight food budget there isn’t a great deal to speak of in Midtown. Follow your nose and keep an eye out for the long queues to discover some of the most popular food carts servicing the area (especially above 50th St. on Sixth Ave.), but you would do well to simply wander a few blocks west into Hell’s Kitchen to find more affordable, high quality fare. That said, two notable Asian cuisine favorites in Midtown include the Japanese izakaya pub Sake Bar Hagi (152 W. 49th St. nr. Seventh Ave.) and Korean eatery Kunjip (9 W. 32nd St. nr. Broadway). Both get an initial nod courtesy of the authentic clientele with nary a tourist in sight (surprising, considering their high-traffic locations), and a second commendation thanks to their fresh, delicious and, most importantly, affordable offerings. When it comes to coffee, it was a banker who first led me to the smooth, never too-acidic coffees of the Zibetto Espresso Bar (1385 Sixth Ave. nr. 56th St.). The banker’s job may have disappeared thanks to the Global Financial Crisis, but Zibetto, thankfully, remains.
When it comes to grabbing a drink, Midtown overflows with innumerable faux Irish pubs that, for whatever reason, still seem to capture a crowd of tourists and after-work suits. P.J Clarke’s (915 Third Ave. at 55th St.), the Houndstooth Pub (520 Eighth Ave. at 37th St.) and the Stag’s Head (252 E. 51st St. nr. Second Ave.) are some of the better venues in the neighborhood where you can satisfy a pub fix, as is the Blarney Rock Pub (137 W. 33rd St. nr. Seventh Ave.) which also serves nicely as a venue to watch the game thanks to the many television screens available.
For those seeking out classic cocktails and a more refined selection of spirits there are a number of good hotel bars worth a visit, including The Bar at The Four Seasons (57 E. 57th St. at Park Ave.), the Rum House in the Edison Hotel (228 W. 47th St. nr. Broadway) and, complete with a view, Upstairs at The Kimberly Hotel (145 E. 50th St., nr. Third Ave.). An old world vibe (with new world prices) similarly exudes at The World Bar (845 United Nations Plz. At 47th St.) and at The Carnegie Club (156 W. 56th St. nr. Seventh Ave.), where you can enjoy a cigar alongside your drink. It’s not cheap, but in a city with such tight smoking laws this may be the one cigar you get to smoke in a year, so why not have a splurge?