Classic restaurants revisited

While some iconic New York eateries have been lost to history, others have reinvented themselves to meet the city's ever-changing dining landscape. We checked out five survivors where the second act is worth the price of admission.

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  • Illustration: Courtesy Al Hirschfeld / Margo Feiden Gallery

    A drawing by Al Hirschfeld from Collier's Weekly, 1950

    A drawing by Al Hirschfeld from Collier's Weekly, 1950

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Monkey Bar

    Monkey Bar

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Monkey Bar

    Monkey Bar

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Monkey Bar

    Monkey Bar

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Champs Elysees

    Champs Elysees at Monkey Bar

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Vieux Carre

    Vieux Carre at Monkey Bar

Illustration: Courtesy Al Hirschfeld / Margo Feiden Gallery

A drawing by Al Hirschfeld from Collier's Weekly, 1950

A drawing by Al Hirschfeld from Collier's Weekly, 1950

The Monkey Bar
After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, this onetime piano bar—which first opened in 1932 off the swank Hotel Elyse's lobby—became a boozy clubhouse for glitzy artistic types, including Tallulah Bankhead, Dorothy Parker and Tennessee Williams. According to the hotel, in the early days patrons mimed one another in the barroom's tall mirrors. The "monkey see, monkey do" theatrics inspired the monkey murals painted in the '50s by caricaturist Charlie Wala. Over time, though, the spot fell out of fashion. It even closed for a couple of years before reopening in 1994 with a redesign by David Rockwell, but it never regained its swinging status.

The revamp: In 2009, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, owner of celebrity haunt the Waverly Inn, took over the storied space, installing a mural of the '60s jazz era by Ed Sorel in the back dining room and enforcing an impenetrable reservations policy that helped revive the place as an exclusive hot spot. But critics skewered its snobby service and subpar food. This fall Carter unveiled another reboot, bringing on savvy restaurateur Ken Friedman (the John Dory Oyster Bar) to assemble an all-star staff. Damon Wise (Craft) took over the stoves, mixology maven Julie Reiner (Clover Club) shook up the cocktail program and James Beard Award winner Belinda Chang left her post at the Modern to see to the wine list.

The verdict: Carter's new team seamlessly blends into this historic canteen, and the focus on quality has made the place a deserving destination. Reservations for the dining room, done up with brass railings and red velvet banquettes, are available for mere mortals now, and the barroom has its own lively scene. Get there early to snag a wood booth and a classic cocktail, like the boozy New Orleans tipple Vieux Carr ($18), a mix of whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, Bndictine and bitters. Wise's menu of rotating bar snacks offers refined clubby fare, such as the lush duck liver parfait ($18) topped with sweet-and-sour shallots. 60 E 54th St between Madison and Park Aves (212-288-1010)


Nom Wah Tea Parlor | Le Bernardin | The Monkey Bar
The Leopard at des Artistes | '21' Club

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