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A Trio of Iconic New York Restaurants
Joe Allen, Sardi's, and Tavern on the Green are classics that should be revisited
New York runs through my blood. If you ask me who I am I will say I am a New Yorker first and foremost.
As an adult, a gin and tonic or bloody mary at the Boathouse in Central Park was the mark of spring — the heady time when New Yorkers shed their winter coats and stroll Central Park in a t-shirt for the first time in months. Tavern on the Green held a special place in my heart as this magical villa in the middle of a forest right at the finish line of the New York Marathon (which I’ve run several times).
While I lived in New York, many of my friends gently mocked my love of these places. A fan of the Empire State Building’s observation deck, the Circle Line, and (gasp) Times Square, my view was always why let the tourists have all the fun?
A few weeks ago, I managed to sneak in some old chestnuts.
It was pouring out when I escaped the rain at Joe Allen. As I took a seat at the bar, I already knew what I wanted: A dirty gin martini with extra olives. My bartender obliged with a perfectly made cocktail complete with a sidecar and a small dish with three additional olive skewers. How could I not be hopelessly in love with a place like this?
Open since 1965 and located on NYC’s Restaurant Row, Joe Allen has long been a favorite with theatergoers and showbiz insiders. The restaurant is casual and comfortable — it’s a dark bar on a warm summer afternoon post-matinee and it's a warm refuge in the evenings. The food isn’t fancy but it’s solid: a great pub burger, a satisfying steak frites, and a divine salad of iceberg lettuce festooned with chunks of cheese and salami. The bar and adjacent dining room started buzzing as the plays let out. Playbills from Hamilton, Moulin Rouge, and Strange Loop appear on the bar as people sipped, ate, and reviewed what they just saw. The combination of friendliness and electricity makes me come back time and again.
The next day, my friend invited me for a drink at Sardi’s. This legend has been at its current 44th Street location in the heart of the Theater District since 1927. Sardi’s is best known for its caricatures of actors. Closely tied with Broadway, Sardi’s was the birthplace of the Tony awards and the scene of thousands of opening night parties. Our bartender had been working there for over 60 years — talk about an award-winning run.
As we walked down the stairs, the dining room was closed (the restaurant is currently only serving pre-show dinners, with the bar open for post-show drinks and bites). The manager, sitting at one of the tables, invited us to walk around and look at all the famous faces on the walls. The history was overwhelming: Hundreds of portraits by the late Al Hirschfeld including Lauren Bacall, Danny Thomas, Vincent Price, and my favorite right before me: Lucille Ball. The walls were practically singing the librettos of every single musical performed on the Great White Way. For a former theater kid who has never grown up, Sardi’s is an experience like no other.
Sunday evening, I received a text from my friend, Bobby: Want to meet up at Tavern on the Green in a half hour?
Ten minutes later, I was sipping on a New York State rose under a perfect sky. I turned around at the outside bar and took in the thousands of fairy lights strung over the patio, the faint clip-clopping of the carriage horses, and the people dining. After we finished our flatbread and downed the bottle of wine, we went inside to enjoy the first fireplace of the season and the rotating golden pegasuses dancing over the bar.
As we left, Bobby offered to hail a taxi for me, but I decided to walk the 20 blocks to my hotel. As I passed another New York icon, Lincoln Center, and worked my way through Times Square, I was reminded of why 60 million people visited it annually pre-pandemic.
If you travel to New York City, visit one or all of these spots for a taste of the iconic city that you see in movies. And if you’re a New Yorker, why not make it a point to have a drink or a meal at one of these spots? These are places with bars worn smooth by people, with walls that reverberate with the energy of years of laughter, and tell the tale of the greatest city in the world — one meal at a time.