12 Old New York Spots That Are Still Amazing Today

Photo: Courtesy of Grand Central Oyster Bar.
New York can feel like an endless sea of options for drinking and dining, with new places opening every single day. Yet, there are so many classic city institutions that get overlooked in favor of the trendy restaurant or bar that is bound to be old news by next week.

Considering the city's rich history of high-society jet-setters and literary and film legends, it's time we turn the trend-spotting tables, highlighting the most classic New York City spots that haven't gone — and will never go — out of style. From the famed 21 Club that moonlighted as a speakeasy during the Prohibition to the Beat poets’ most inspiring — and most frequented — watering hole, we dug up 12 old-school haunts that are as worth visiting today as they were nearly 100 years ago.
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Photo: Courtesy of 21 Club.
21 Club
Opened in 1930, the 21 Club started as a speakeasy where everyone who was anyone flouted the laws of Prohibition; founders Jack Kreindler and Charlie Berns ingeniously hid their liquor stash behind a two-ton door that blends seamlessly into the wall below the kitchen. Today, this space serves as the wine cellar.

If you find yourself sitting in the Bar Room at the 21 Club, all you have to do is look up at the toys suspended from the ceiling to see the lengthy history of this lunch spot. What started as a way for the owner of British Airways to show off his model plane became a beloved tradition, with everyone from John F. Kennedy to Arnold Palmer hanging their beloved personal items from the ceiling. Classics like the 21 Club burger and Baked Alaska are great, but even better are Chef Sylvain Delpique’s additions to the menu, such as the octopus carpaccio.

21 Club, 21 West 52nd Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues); 212-582-7200.
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Photo: Courtesy of Bemelmans Bar.
Bemelmans Bar
The beloved high-society bar at The Carlyle Hotel takes its name from Ludwig Bemelmans, author of the Madeline children’s-book series. Bemelmans, whose illustrations appeared in The New Yorker, Vogue, and Town & Country, created the whimsical murals that adorn the walls; his drawings, which depict Central Park in 1947, were completed in exchange for room and board in the hotel. Beneath the playful sketches are leather banquettes and black tables that have hosted celebrities, socialites, and politicians — including Sarah Jessica Parker, Jackie Kennedy, and Harry S. Truman — for decades. Today, aside from famed draws like the Luxury Sidecar cocktail and selection of caviar, top artists such as Alan Cumming regularly host intimate performances there.

Bemelmans Bar, The Carlyle Hotel, 35 East 76th Street (at Madison Avenue); 212-744-1600.
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Photo: Courtesy of King Cole Bar.
King Cole Bar
Tucked inside the St. Regis Hotel, the King Cole Bar also has a famous mural. This one, by Maxfield Parrish, depicts John Jacob Astor IV, who founded the hotel, as the miserly old King Cole, scoping out the bar’s patrons from his throne. And while this spot has certainly had no shortage of run-ins with the rich and famous — Marilyn Monroe shacked up at the St. Regis with Joe DiMaggio, and Salvador Dalí kept a suite upstairs and would hold court over the bar with his pet ocelot — its ultimate claim to fame is the creation of the Bloody Mary (originally called the "Red Snapper"), which was invented here in 1934. Today, naturally, it’s still the bar’s signature drink.

King Cole Bar, The St. Regis New York, 2 East 55th Street (at Fifth Avenue); 212-339-6857.
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Photo: Courtesy of Algonquin Hotel.
Algonquin Hotel
New York City’s oldest continually operating hotel occupies a prime spot on 44th Street known as Club Row. Opened in 1902, the Algonquin is a must-visit for anyone interested in the city’s rich literary history and Broadway culture; The New Yorker, for example, was born at The Round Table restaurant, where a group of the 1920s' most prominent intellectuals, including Dorothy Parker, gathered for lunch every day. When The Blue Bar was added after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, it became a hotspot for the theater and performance crowd.

The hotel honors its history with vintage New Yorker posters and framed playbills on the walls, plus a shelf in the lobby displaying books by its prominent guests (like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway). Bonus: The Algonquin is also home to an adorable resident cat named Matilda, who lives in the lobby and answers fan mail.

Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues); 212-840-6800.
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Photo: Courtesy of Russ & Daughters.
Russ & Daughters
There are two icons of Jewish culinary heritage on the Lower East Side, and while Katz’s Deli has become a bit overrun by tourists, Russ & Daughters is the one still worth visiting; "We could cover the walls with pictures of celebrities if we wanted to, but we're not that kind of place," Niki Russ Federman, a fourth-generation proprietor of the shop, told Serious Eats. "Famous or not, everyone who shops here should have a genuine Russ & Daughters experience." And that legitimate, family-run experience includes its famous smoked fish, bagels, babka, rugelach, and other Jewish specialties. In 2014, Russ & Daughters celebrated its centennial, and these offerings are just as delicious — and authentic — as ever.

Walking inside, you feel like you’re in a true New York institution. Grab a number (yes, on actual paper) and line up with the rest of the appetizer shop's diehard fans to get smoked salmon freshly sliced by a white-jacketed attendant. Thankfully, for those of us who want to eat in, Russ & Daughters recently opened a full-service café just a few blocks away from the original shop. Consider it your go-to for a bagel board with all the fixings.

Russ & Daughters, 179 East Houston Street (between Allen and Orchard streets); 212-475-4880.
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Photo: Courtesy of Bart Barlow.
Rainbow Room
This classic New York gem on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center recently unveiled a renovation that kept its vintage charm while giving things a fresh new polish. Most famous for the rotating dance floor where New Yorkers shimmied to the tunes of Frank Sinatra, among other big-name acts, the Rainbow Room draws a crowd that appreciates some old-school dinner and dancing.

Head there for Sunday brunch or Monday dinner (the only times per week the restaurant is open) for signatures like an heirloom-tomato salad with fresh ricotta, asparagus and fiddlehead ferns with morel-mushroom ragout, and pistachio soufflé. Starting July 6, Chef Jonathan Wright will launch Rainbow Room's new à la carte menu in conjunction with the summer series “Mondays with Max,” featuring the Max Weinberg Orchestra.

Rainbow Room, 30 Rockefeller Plaza (between Fifth and Sixth avenues); 212-632-5000.
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Photo: Courtesy of Grand Central Oyster Bar.
Grand Central Oyster Bar
Tucked under the Guastavino-tiled arches of Grand Central Terminal, the Oyster Bar remains one of those classic spots that still draws crowds of people, from neighborhood locals to travelers passing through the station. The restaurant opened concurrently with Grand Central itself in 1913, and, looking at it now, you would never know that it suffered years of decline before it was restored to its original glory — red-and-white-checkered tablecloths and all.

Pop in and slurp down 25 to 30 different varieties of oysters brought in fresh daily. Then head to the Campbell Apartment, a gorgeous cocktail bar hidden in the lower level of the station.

Grand Central Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal, 89 East 42nd Street (between Vanderbilt and Park avenues); 212-490-6650.
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Photo: Courtesy of Peter Luger Steakhouse.
Peter Luger Steakhouse
Brooklyn may have lots of restaurants that re-create old-New York flair, but Peter Luger has been holding ground in Williamsburg since 1887 — long before the hipster influx. This classic steakhouse near the Williamsburg Bridge serves up impressive porterhouse steaks meant for 2 to 4 people, plus delicious sides, though the massive burger (over a half pound of meat) is also world-renowned. Inside, the decor is still that of a 19th-century restaurant, with plenty of dark wood and chandeliers. Come hungry, and bring lots of cash — this place, even all these years later, still doesn’t accept credit cards.

Peter Luger Steakhouse, 178 Broadway (at Driggs Avenue), Brooklyn; 718-387-7400.
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Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Calais Smith.
Four Seasons
When the Four Seasons opened its doors in 1959, The New York Times declared, “There has never been a restaurant better keyed to the tempo of Manhattan.” And it has certainly retained that prestige. The Philip Johnson-designed space is a mid-century-modern masterpiece set in the Seagram Building, which was crafted by Mies van der Rohe, and looks just like a Mad Men set; it is, after all, the place that inspired the term “power lunch.” The wood-paneled Grill Room (dubbed "the city's greatest dining room") is the aforementioned power-lunch setting, where you can spy executives with expense accounts gobbling $68 lamb chops. But The Pool Room — so named for the shallow pool in its center — is the preferred dinner space. Rumor has it inebriated guests have actually stripped down and gone wading into the water, but don’t get any funny ideas.

Four Seasons, 99 East 52nd Street (between Park and Lexington avenues); 212-754-9494.
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Photo: Courtesy of The Pierre.
The Pierre
Though the Four Seasons may look like a Mad Men set, The Pierre actually appeared on the show as Sterling Cooper’s temporary office while Don Draper staged a coup to get the agency back from Puttnam, Powell & Lowe in the season-three finale. The opulent hotel, which has unrivaled views of Central Park, was opened in 1930 by Charles Pierre Casalasco, whose father owned the famed Hotel Anglais in Monte Carlo. Though he went bankrupt during the Great Depression, The Pierre made a comeback in 1940 when it was bought by John Paul Getty, who added private apartments for New York’s elite, such as Elizabeth Taylor and Yves Saint Laurent. Now a Taj Hotel, The Pierre — and its Two E Bar/Lounge — is still the place to go for an elegant afternoon tea.

The Pierre, 2 East 61st Street (at Fifth Avenue); 212-838-8000.
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Photo: Scott Beale/Laughing Squid.
Caffe Reggio
This Greenwich Village mainstay claims to be the place that introduced the cappuccino to the United States, and if that’s the case, we can all be very thankful. Caffe Reggio opened in 1927, though it feels even older with its heavy, dark-wood tables, an antique Italian bench that once belonged to Florence’s Renaissance-era royals, and a school of Caravaggio paintings. Through its nearly century-long history, the café has been a favorite haunt of the Beat poets, including Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, and has appeared on-screen in films like The Godfather: Part II and Inside Llewyn Davis. Nowadays, you can expect to see writers and intellectuals from nearby NYU reading with a cappuccino or catching up with friends over a beer.

Caffe Reggio, 119 Macdougal Street (between Minetta Lane and West 3rd Street); 212-475-9557.
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Photo: Courtesy of Two Fat Bellies.
Whitehorse Tavern
Just a few blocks away from Caffe Reggio stands another watering hole that was incredibly popular with poets and writers, from Dylan Thomas to Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jack Kerouac. Supposedly, Kerouac got sloshed there so frequently, someone graffitied “Go home Kerouac!” in the bathroom.

There’s nothing fancy or pretentious about the Whitehorse Tavern, unless you count the many white horse statuettes that decorate the dark bar. It’s exactly the kind of down-to-earth spot where you can hang out and have a few pints at one of the sidewalk tables, without any cares in the world.

Whitehorse Tavern, 567 Hudson Street (at West 11th Street); 212-989-3956.
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