Have you been keeping up with what’s going on with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit to New York? If you live here, it’s hard not to feel a little excited — for me this is especially true, since I don’t live too far from the Carlyle Hotel, where they are staying (I’ve seen or heard the convoy go by several times over the last few days!). Also, I might be mildly obsessed with Catherine. She’s kind of the cutest.
If you’ve never been inside, the Carlyle is beautiful. A perfect (and pricey) place to put your feet up for a few days in New York, so I’m not surprised at their choice in accommodation. I’ve never spent the night at the hotel, but it happens to house one of my favorite and sentimental places in the city: Bemelmans Bar. I first learned about this bar a few years ago when it was featured in an episode of The Layover. I was still living in SF at the time, but promised myself I’d visit the next time I was in New York. The chance finally arrived when Joe and I flew out to find an apartment here in the spring of 2013; the day we found our place and put down a deposit, we celebrated with cocktails here.
What makes Bemelmans so special? To me, it embodies old school New York. It’s a dark, swanky place, where there’s live, jazzy piano music playing every night and you can order the most perfect Manhattan (with the extra contents from the shaker served in a tiny pitcher, set over ice). Dapper waiters seem to appear out of nowhere, switching out little trays of bar snacks on your table (look out for the crispy cheese crackers — they’re addictive). But most special is how the bar gets its name — it is named after Ludwig Bemelmans, who was the creator and illustrator of the famed Madeline children’s books. The walls of the bar are covered in murals of his original artwork, featuring whimsical scenes of animals enjoying Central Park. The art is the only Bemelmans’ commission in the world that is open to the public.
Bemelmans is not the type of place you show up for a nightly drink, unless you run in a particular set in New York City. I mean, this is not your regular neighborhood watering hole. Drinks are outrageously expensive. We like to go when we’re celebrating something — a big win at work, moving in to our new place, and okay, once we went and had two rounds of drinks after a particularly bad week (I seem to recall we then came home and ordered pizza, a.k.a., best night ever). On one of our visits, we swear we saw one of the Olsen twins; it’s entirely possible, since supposedly, famous people are often grabbing a drink there (I’m the worst at spotting celebrities in the wild though).
If you’re ever in New York and find yourself up on the Upper East Side at cocktail hour, I highly recommend you pop in, listen to some tunes, and enjoy an ice cold cocktail. A word to the wise though: be sure to show up before 9 or 9:30, because depending on the day of the week, cover charge after these hours will run you $15-$35. For a proper happy hour though? Bemelmans is an institution that’s truly something special. I recommend grabbing a table if one is available (it’s first come, first served), so you can really inspect Ludwig Bemelmans’ work behind you.