Begin your tour at the famous Algonquin on 59 W. 44th Street. Tufted chairs big enough to sink into, high ceilings, dark wood furniture, and an elegant manner recall its firm place in literary history (Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber and Robert Benchley were among the saucy, sloshy wits of the Round Table). The bar menu features classic cocktails like a Sazerac (Hennessey whiskey or Rye with sugar, Peychaud and Angostura bitters in an ice cold tumbler rinsed with Pernod -- $14.) This is a refined atmosphere, with jazzy live licks and an ever-present aroma of gin and citrus.
A few paces East is the luxurious City Club Hotel, ( 55 W. 44th St.), with its chic bar/restaurant, Daniel Boulud's DB Bistro Moderne. A spattering of bar tables are squeezed between dining spots, where you can order an entree with your drink. Gargantuan prints of huge crimson anemones line one wall, and there's a wafting fragrance of soy sauce. Plunk down your plastic for a tall glass of good wine. The place definitely trying to be hyper-chic, and the DB signature gives it a whiff of airs. But the menu alone makes it a prime pick for a starred meal.
Next stop is the Iroquois New York at 49 W. 44th St. with a classy half-circle bar just off the bustling restaurant Triomphe. We were struck by the intimate atmosphere - we could hear ourselves and the music, all the while eavesdropping on a throng of ladies sipping their dirty martinis. The bar is clubby and hidden; what it lacks in size it makes up for in privacy and the potential for clandestine fun.
Run north across the street to The Royalton at 44 W. 44th Street, an Ian Schrager hotel. The sprawling sunken lobby has an endless array of white plush couches and matching chairs, African stools, enormous reflective mirrors, and hyper-stylized chrome details. The minimalist ambience, hip-hop soundtrack, and glossy magazine decor have made this a destination for over a decade. Order a transluscent drink in a chic glass, soak up the expansive real estate, and eyeball the beautiful people.
Stay on the north side and stroll on down to the Mansfield at 11 W. 44th St. The bar crowd was energetic, the music a tad on the loud side -- but we were able to carry our drinks off to a small library room with a snuggly fireplace, chess boards, leather chairs, a sweet array of books and a fine coffee machine. This was the perfect place to sprawl out in a chair, nurse a tall drink and thaw out next to the fire, while outside the weather continued to sink below freezing.
Now, we saved the best for last. Cross back to the Sofitel on 45 W. 44th St. Cut through the sprawling lobby with its array of eclectic collectibles, past the reservation desk and gift shop, and down the stairs to Gaby. The seemingly haphazard display of oil paintings, piano bar, sculptures, photographs, and art-deco (paired with tiger-print seating in the round) makes for fascinating, delightful, and surprising ambience. The space is truly immense, but the atmosphere remains romantic. Something about the huge windows and oversize scale makes it more intimate; witness the many couples turned toward each other, whispering over drinks.
Yet, as if to prove the place can't be pigeonholed, the bar was packed with singles and suits; an HDTV was turned to the local sports station. Upstairs people hunched at tables, deep in intense conversation. Above it all, the ceiling featured murals of Paris and Gotham skylines. Generous drinks come with a complimentary plate of olives and cheese crunchies, and the bar opens onto 45th Street, making for an easy get-away or smart cut through the block. This is the official secret boite of Club Row.
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· Downtown New York City Hotel Map [HotelChatter]