The days when the now was it are over; today, the past is the future, and "old school" is highest adjective you can give a brand new bar or restaurant. New York excels in these creative anachronisms, and the best of them are art directed to the point of providing a temporal wormhole. For instance...
Combining Keith McNally's flawless art direction with co-chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson's equally accomplished cooking, this elevated take on old New York outdoes both its models and its rivals.
Small and cozy, but with an urbane nonchalance that has become the trademark of Gabriel Stulman, aka the Danny Meyer of the West Village. Like all of the bearded savant's restaurants, it features idiosyncratic, meat-heavy food from a talented young chef, presented alongside a swanky cocktail program in a dimly lit, romantic atmosphere. If on a date, though, a warning: don't order the fried chicken. You'll thank me.
How far can a well-made meatball take you? If accompanied by other straight-up Italian-American standards, pretty far. In the case of Frankie's Spuntino, it's launched a whole mini-chain, all of which share the virtues of the original: honest, well-made food, inexpensive wines, and a more-than-solid cocktail program.
The place that got the speakeasy trend started still has some of the best cocktails in town, along with a suprisingly original, Croatian-inflected menu courtesy of chef Julia Jaksic. The crowd gets oppressive though.
Any establishment owned by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter is bound to have an A-list crowd, and that, rather than the middling cocktails or unexceptional food, is the point of Monkey Bar and restaurants like it.
The Frankie's Spuntino guys made their name with Italian-American restaurants, but this effort, a German-American style steakhouse, may be even better. Stark and unadorned, with a great cured meat program and big, delicious steaks, it also boasts a small specialty grocery on the side.
There are few enough wurst counters in NYC; fewer still indeed that specialize in currywurst, no one's favorite German sausage. That's how good these little numbers are.
It's sophisticated and urbane, with a teriffic cocktail program and very good food by Geoffrey Zakarian. So why doesn't The Lamb's Club get more love? Some people may find the room a little sterile, but more, I think, just can't believe that a hotel restaurant near Times Square can really be good. But it is.
TV viewers may know chef Alex Guarnaschelli from The Food Network's "Chopped" but she's been a presence on the New York food scene for many years, and is held in great respect by the NYC chef community. Having made her bones at Guy Savoy in Paris and Daniel in New York, she brings polished French skills to cool downtown restaurants Butter and The Darby, the latter of which also features live music and a (too) lively atmosphere. Her lobster newburg is more than enough to make it worthwhile, even for a curmudgeon like myself.
The Hurricane Club may be seen by some as a gaudy watering hole for woo girls and their beefy swains, chef Craig Koketsu has created a quality menu that is at the same time fun -- and the cocktails are a hoot too.
Conceived as a classic, old New York hangout, The Dutch delivered on its promise with a swinging crowd, a good, eclectic menu, and a first-rate cocktail program. Stop in for oysters or a steak, or, if it's available, chef Andrew Carmellini's fabulous fried chicken.
A retro diner with a French flair, you can think of Bowery Diner as a sequel to Florent, minus the trannies.
John DeLucie's Lion sequel is even more elegant, upscale, and clubby than its predecessor, which is saying a lot.