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Classic New York

Monday, October 10, 2016

In the hustle of the seasons in New York City—the rush of outdoor events in spring and fall, the pavement-staring, weather-bracing commute of winter—it’s easy to overlook the beauty of summer, particularly August, when sidewalks clear and traffic is mostly outbound. It’s hot, sure, and the asphalt radiates, but it’s also peaceful in a way. And in the relative quiet, there’s no better time to finally (finally!) visit some of the classic places that give Manhattan its signature flavor. Places like McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village, where you can still sense the ghost of New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell. Below, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite vintage spots in the City, stalwarts that have seen the decades pass and remain firmly in place. 

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PETER MCMANUS CAFE 
152 7th Ave, Chelsea

Guinness pints and whiskey drams aside, this Irish pub is practically a community center. The bar is open on holidays and, come summertime, locals gather for Stickball Sunday—a yearly tradition that shuts down 19th Street. Family-owned since 1911, the joint is currently helmed by Peter’s grandson James (known to regulars as “Jamo”). Behind the oak bar, bottles are lined up between Tiffany-glass-covered cupboards, and enduring green-vinyl booths ring the back walls. It’s an unchanging friend to New Yorkers of all backgrounds: Neighbors stop in for a grilled roast beef sandwich, workers swill beers and a regular crew from the nearby Upright Citizens Brigade theater unwinds after late-night shows.

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KEENS STEAKHOUSE
72 W 36th St, Midtown

This former members-only chop house holds onto its 1885 character, notably the Dutch-made churchwarden pipes hanging front to back and the longtime tradition of in-house butchering. The gigantic mutton chop (which is actually lamb) “provides as much pleasure as a carnivore could want” said the New York Times in 2006. Also recommended is the prime porterhouse. Those looking for something quick can head to the pub room where the burger (broiled, cheese-covered) is best eaten with both hands and extra napkins. After a large space? Try the 60-person Lincoln Room, adorned with copious Presidential mementos, including the playbill Honest Abe held on the night of his death.

“This restaurant, at 72 West Thirty-sixth Street, which was started more than half a century ago, now serves as many as 1,100 daily. Two broilers run eleven hours out of the twenty-four, and in one of the ovens, at lunch and dinnertime, eighty mammoth Idaho potatoes are baked every hour.” - The New York Times, September 10, 1946

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BEMELMANS BAR
35 E 76th St, Upper East Side

Circa 1947, this lobby bar at the Carlyle Hotel is still the best excuse to get dressed up for drinks. Jazz notes spill out from the Steinway grand piano and bartenders in red jackets shake and stir classics in rhythm. Weeknights, catch the Chris Gillespie Trio as they seamlessly switch between takes on jazz and classical numbers. On the walls, large murals depict playful Central Park scenes (ice skating elephants, picnicking rabbits) painted by Madeline creator Ludwig Bemelmans, and a 24-karat gold leaf ceiling heightens the room’s glow. 

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MCNULTY’S COFFEE AND TEA CO.
109 Christopher St, Greenwich Village

Fueling Village mornings since 1895, this classic shop is crammed with coffee beans, tea varietals and brewing equipment. Walk in and breathe the heady mix. Then explore a world of options, all available to-go in McNulty’s signature white paper bags. Regulars experiment with the different blends on offer, or even create their own: Each combination gets scribbled onto an index card and the winners filed away for future reference. Ask for a recommendation from owner-operators David Wong and his father, Wing, who have been behind the counter since 1980. Most of the decor underneath the tin ceiling is original, including the storage chests and scales. 

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FOUNTAIN PEN HOSPITAL
10 Warren St, Tribeca

Since 1946, three generations of the Wiederlight family (father and son Phil and Al, grandsons Terry and Steve) have presided over the Hospital’s downtown location. The staff’s combined 150 years of experience and passion for every facet of the craft leave their mark. The showroom displays 30-plus brands (Dunhill, Montblanc, Montegrappa) in glass jewelry cases with prices that can run into the thousands. In addition to carrying new items, the “Back Room” is also stocked with vintage pieces. Find everything from mint condition, piston-filled Pelikans with 18-karat gold nibs to special edition, African blackwood ball pens from Lamy. For those in need of a fix, broken pens get new ife in the basement, which is dedicated to rehabbing all writing utensils.

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GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL
89 E 42nd St, Midtown

The iconic hub of railway transportation marked its centennial in 2013 and remains a feat of New York ingenuity. Millions pass through its Main Concourse each year, with daily commuters keeping time on the Henry Edward Bedford–designed, four-faced brass clock, and once-in-a-lifetime visitors marveling at the celestial painted ceiling. While racing for the train can break a sweat, the real sport lies on the fourth floor of the West Balcony at the Vanderbilt Tennis Club. The reservations-only court has been in and out of use since the 1960s, when Geza A. Gazdag opened an athletic club to fill the former production studios of CBS Television. Today, it’s open to anyone who books a playing time. The hourly fee isn’t cheap, but a match in Grand Central is a story worth telling for years.

“It was a rainy night, and the dark, wet paving, deep in the station did not glitter, but it was still Alice’s belief that diamonds had been ground into it, and that was the way she would tell the story.”
- John Cheever

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SUNSHINE CINEMA
143 E Houston St, Lower East Side

This circa-1898 building has served as “the center of daily life for each generation of Lower East Side newcomers,” according to The Village Voice, and its textured history is filled with stories. It’s only fitting that the space carries on its tradition of entertaining the community as a theater. After a $12 million renovation, the movie house reopened in 2001 with five screens, cutting edge technology and a dazzling third-floor annex, which affords a peek of the city from behind a glass-walled marquee. Play hooky and catch a matinee for the perfect summertime escape. In addition to indie-film fans, foreign film lovers and all-around cinephiles, you’ll likely catch sight of a visiting director or two. 

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ARGOSY BOOK STORE
116 E 59th St, Midtown

A family business since Louis Cohen opened up shop in 1925, Argosy remains one of the city’s most interesting places to spend an afternoon. Equally renowned for its collections of pre-20th century prints, autographs (from Joan Crawford to Robert Frost) and ultra-rare first edition art books, the shop also offers cheaper finds on the ground floor’s bargain tables. Now operated by Cohen’s three grandchildren, Argosy is refreshingly unchanged by time. There are worlds to be discovered within each row of the shop’s handcrafted bookshelves.  

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AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
Central Park West at 79th St, Upper West Side

Astonishing attendees since its inception in 1869, the American Museum of Natural History is home to over 32 million specimens—one of the largest cross-sections of curiosities in the world. Both permanent and temporary exhibits utilize modern-day tools to create fully immersive worlds, as evidenced inside the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, where a 21,000-pound blue whale replica (built in 1933) floats in a room surrounded by HD streams of the underwater world. Still not convinced? Wander into the Bernard Hall of North American Mammals, whose 43 dioramas—from Musk Ox to the Northern Flying Squirrel—received a full renovation from expert taxidermists and artists in 2012.

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TOWN HALL
123 W 43rd St, Midtown

“Not a bad seat in the house,” remarked the public when this 1,500-person venue made its 1921 debut. The phrase, which originated here, holds true to this day, thanks to its unobstructed stage views and lack of box seats. Originally championed by suffragists as an equal-rights gathering house and educational center, the “people’s auditorium” has evolved into a much-loved performance space. Dorothy Maynor, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and Ani DeFranco have all gigged here, adding to the Hall’s legend.