See 'n' Sip Midtown: Classic Sights and Cocktail Bars

Alyson Penn

(Updated 05/22/2015)

Gone are the days when getting a drink in Midtown meant wading through happy-hour crowds for a watery beer and a fistful of popcorn. In recent years, as New York CIty has been swept by a fever for classic cocktails, Midtown has gone back to the classics, too. There's a renewed focus on traditionally styled boites, with simple ingredients, speakeasy-like surroundings and buttoned-up service. It doesn't hurt that landmarks like Grand Central Terminal and the Plaza Hotel already have a rich stock of tony bars housed in legendary settings. So we've lined up a handful of unmissable atttractions and activities in Midtown—each with cocktail pairings. Read on for the intoxicating details.

The Campbell Apartment at Grand Central Terminal. Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Do This: Gaze at Grand Central Terminal’s famous celestial ceiling, and dine in the famed Oyster Bar.

Drink Here: Grand Central Terminal isn't just a bustling transit hub and historic architectural attraction. It's also a great place to get a drink. Half-hidden upstairs is the Campbell Apartment, with soaring ceilings, leaded-glass windows and an old-fashioned elegance. (That extends to the dress code, so leave your sneakers behind.) The retro-luxe atmosphere produces exquisite cocktails like Prohibition Punch and Kentucky Ginger. In the warmer months, head around the corner to Bookmarks, the Campbell Apartment's sister location on the roof of the Library Hotel. Literary-themed cocktails like the Tequila Mockingbird may put you in mind of the nearby central library, but don't worry—no one will shush you here.

Lantern's Keep. Photo: Alexander Thompson

Do This: Explore the Reading Room and literary exhibitions at the New York Public Library, and enjoy a lazy afternoon in Bryant Park.

Drink Here: Tucked inside the lobby of the Iroquois Hotel, the Lantern's Keep is an intimate bar with a serious cocktail menu. Its dark wood, marble tabletops, reproductions of Degas' ballerinas and drinks like the Cortado Colada (Palo Cortado sherry, pineapple, lime and Coco Lopez cream) evoke a bygone era of continental tippling. For a stateside spin on the same time period, visit the Bar Downstairs, a clubby, subterranean hideaway in the Andaz Hotel. Equipped with an open kitchen, the bar specializes in inventive cocktails and tapas. If you take your hotel bars straight, no vintage twist, head south on Fifth Avenue a few blocks to Measure at Langham Place. With floor-to-ceiling windows, a glossy piano and nightly live jazz, the scene is crisp without being super trendy.

Palm Court. Photo: Daniel Krieger

Do This: Pose for photos by Central Park's Bethesda Fountain, make a pilgrimage to Strawberry Fields and make your way south to see the flora and fauna of the Pond.

Drink Here: After a day exploring Central Park, chances are you've worked up a thirst. Luckily, there's no shortage of options for drinks around the green space's southern edge. The area here is quite upscale (hello, Fifth Avenue!), and so are the noteworthy local bars at the Plaza, St. Regis and the Peninsula. The Plaza’s Rose Club is justly famed, but the bar at the newly renovated Palm Court is worth a look if you're in the mood for something uniquely spendy. A Clase Manhattan is $225; for a treat that's slightly more affordable, settle for a finely tuned Negroni with contemporary ingredients, which will set you back $25.

The storied King Cole Bar and Salon at the St. Regis opened in 1932 and has since been frequented by the likes of Salvador Dalí, Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon. The dining room oozes opulence with marble columns, leather booths and elaborate chandeliers, and then there's that famous Maxfield Parrish mural of the eponymous nursery-rhyme royal behind the oak bar. Just across the street, the Peninsula's rooftop lounge, Salon de Ning, is only a few years old, but it self-consciously evokes the same era—albeit with an Asian twist. The bar conjures an imaginary, 1930s version of Shanghai complete with daybeds, carved dark wood and red accents. While on the terrace, which has an incredible view of Midtown, sip an elegant cocktail like the Ning Sling (gin, fresh mint, lychee & passion fruit) or Breton Mule with strawberry-infused vodka.

Upstairs at the Kimberly Hotel. Photo: Greg Powers

Do This: Watch the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, and grab a bite to eat at Rockefeller Center.

Drink Here: Located atop the boutique Kimberly Hotel, Upstairs at the Kimberly offers a 360-degree panorama of the City, with heated floors and a retractable ceiling to keep away the chill in the colder months. Equally appealing: the up-close-and-personal view of the Chrysler Building, the postmodern Dutch luxury furniture and the Rum Service cocktail, dubbed (by the menu writers, at least) "the manliest drink alive."

For something a little more old school, there's the recently revived Rum House, a live-jazz and piano bar with strong, classic drinks. Once a pre-theater hotel bar, it's been made over in wood and copper decor, with leather banquettes and candle lighting—the perfect ambience for a rum-based Tortuga or mexcal-spiked Paloma. For a clubbier night, 48 Lounge is an upscale cocktail lounge with DJs and dancing in the later hours. Their signature Violet Kiss cocktail—topped with an edible flower—is a suitable cap to a high-energy evening.

Flute Midtown. Photo: Courtesy of Flute Midtown

Do This: Catch a Broadway show, and experience the dizzying billboards of Times Square.

Drink Here: After you've taken in the thrilling performances on Broadway and experienced flash blindness from the lights of Times Square, you might seek refuge in the cozy, speakeasy-like atmosphere of Flute Midtown. Champagne is the thing in this dimly lit underground space, which features live jazz on Wednesdays. Two blocks and another world away is the Russian Vodka Room, its horseshoe-shaped bar with Soviet touches a magnet for a chatty crowd. Try one of the potent house-infused vodkas, perhaps the horseradish version if you care for a bit of spice. Stay for some Eastern European food too—regulars feast on beef stroganoff, herring and blini.

Lobby Lounge at the Mandarin Hotel. Photo: Alex Lopez

Do This: Browse the high-end stores at the Shops at Columbus Circle.

Drink Here: If wheeling through the Shops at Columbus Circle leaves you parched, stop by the new Parkview Lounge on the fourth floor for refreshment. Even more spectacular are the park vistas 30 floors up at the Mandarin Hotel's Lobby Lounge, heralded for its Asian-inspired bites. Or venture over to the modern and eclectic Hudson Hotel, home to the Library Bar. The book-lined parlor is outfitted with cozy armchairs, a pool table, chess tables and a fireplace.