Young New Yorkers Discover Manhattan’s Classic Cocktail Bars


It was a scene that would have shocked Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a longtime patron of the Carlyle: a security team had been stationed in the hallway of the hotel to deal with the crowds queuing for its elegant bar, Bemelmans. It was early Friday afternoon; well before aperitif time.

Security is a new development for the handsome, distinguished bar, named after author of the ‘Madeline’ children’s book series, Ludwig Bemelmans, who also painted its walls when it opened in the 1940s. purist martinis, dark leather banquettes and live piano music (standards, jazz), Bemelmans has never had a nightclub-level energy like this, said Dimitrios Michalopoulos, director. “The line is a new phenomenon for us, something that started after Covid,” he said. “I tell people to come back later when we’re less busy, but they don’t want to leave. They prefer to wait.

Sometimes the queue forms as early as 2 p.m. It’s a mix of regulars – older Upper East Siders in tailored clothes or couples quietly celebrating an anniversary or anniversary – and crowds of curious young people, dressed in jeans, beanies and leather jackets.

“The other day a group of young girls asked me what cocktail I was drinking,” said Jennifer Cooke, communications manager for The Carlyle. “It was a martini.”

Young customers take selfies (flashes prohibited) under the golden ceiling or in front of the Steinway. They ask waiters where Meghan Markle and Prince Harry were when they visited this fall.

“It’s a new crowd, and we have to adapt to meet everyone’s needs,” Michalopoulos said.

Bemelmans isn’t the only old-fashioned place in New York City to see an influx of young customers. The Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel is almost fully booked on weekends for its afternoon tea, and many groups that make those reservations are in their 20s, said Leo Capispisan, a manager. A few blocks away, young customers en masse order Red Snappers (his signature Bloody Mary) at the King Cole Bar, and earlier this month, the 87-year-old Arc-en-Ciel Room hosted hundreds of alternative music fans for Album of the Year Night, featuring English post-punk band Dry Cleaning. It was started by Rockefeller Center and Gross trade, an independent label, which had recently moved its New York store from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Midtown.

Not everyone is impressed by this new youth nostalgia for mid-century Manhattan. Daniel Kramer, a music fan who usually frequents places like Elsewhere or Brooklyn Steel, was at the Rainbow Room event last week. While fun, it didn’t have the grungy and cool feel of other parties, he said, comparing the show to a wedding or bar mitzvah. “I’m always happy to discover a new concert hall, but it seemed weird to me,” he said. “It’s, like, next to a Levain and FAO Schwarz bakery.”

But for many young people, the city’s traditional institutions that survived the pandemic now symbolize a rich history and a resilient spirit. Before the coronavirus, Julia Berry, of San Antonio, Texas, frequented hip downtown cocktail bars and Upper East Side sports bars when she came to town on business.

Now she makes it a point to visit more tried and true places she has discovered in documentaries and New York-centric films. “When you look around, so many places are closing and all these modern places are popping up,” she said. “It made me want to experience something special while I still can.”

Mr Michalopoulos, the manager of Bemelmans, now spends much of his day making sure his regulars can get a table and that newer and younger customers are dressed appropriately. “They can’t wear ripped jeans and tank tops,” he said. “We have very established guests who expect some level of dress code enforcement. He got used to refusing large groups. “We are a small bar,” he said.

However, Mr. Michalopoulos makes an effort to welcome the new arrivals. After all, the reason bars like Bemelmans and King Cole have survived for so long is that they attract generation after generation. “We want young people to come to this old bar,” he said. “I’m meeting them for the first time and I’ve seen a lot of them come back.

Cassandra De La Eumenia will probably travel to Bemelmans soon. After attending the Rainbow Room dry cleaning show, she said she expanded her bucket list to include visiting as many retro bars as possible. Being on the 65th floor of 30 Rock – with its Art Deco flourishes and skyline views, was a welcome change of pace from the trendy bars of Bushwick, Brooklyn, Ms. De La Eumenia said. “It made me think, ‘Oh, that’s why I live in New York. “”


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