Bellying up to a restaurant bar for a lobster roll and a glass of wine might be one of my perfect solo dates, but it’s not the only way I like to treat myself in New York. When I need to get out of my head, there are fewer places that soothe my soul more pleasantly than the Museum Mile on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Historically, though, there’s only been one problem to hanging out in Museum-land: the choices of restaurants in the vicinity have either been way too formal and overpriced, way too tourist trappy, or way too mediocre for me to bother spending money on. As soon as I was done satisfying my artistic itch, I’d hightail it south or west for better eats and drinks.
Luckily, that’s changed over the past few years with a string of casual but worthy spots that also happen to be craft beer-focused. The Whitney Museum might have a swanky new set of restaurant and bar options in its new Meatpacking District location, but its old stomping grounds are getting better than ever. I’ll never go hungry in this part of town again!
On weekends, you might want to fuel up before hitting the crowds at the museums. And while I’m not always a proponent of brunch, I’ll make a case for the laid-back charm of Bondurants (303 E. 85th St. between 1st and 2nd Aves). This slightly southern-inflected spot does a savory brunch lover right with fried chicken on a honey-buttered biscuit, burgers, tater tots, and house-cured ham to go with a lovely selection of American brews and whiskeys. It’ll be enough fuel to get you through even the most crowded show at the Met for sure.
I can’t leave a museum without hitting up the gift shop for an exhibition catalogue or quirky, well-designed kitchen item (oh, MoMA Design Store, you are a tempting devil), and I can’t leave a beer store without taking a bottle or two home. So imagine the damage I could do at the Cooper-Hewitt store after a few rounds at City Swiggers (320 E. 86th St. between 1st and 2nd Aves). Both a beer tasting room and a retail store, you can sit at the small bar and chat with the well-informed staff or get a growler filled, or drink any of the (many) bottles from the (many) shelves for a small corkage fee—smart idea!
The Pony Bar UES
When the weather cooperates, I’ll often skip the subway ride back downtown and take a stroll back to midtown, winding my way through the residential neighborhood and maybe making a quick stop at the Breakfast at Tiffany’s townhouse.
A handful of blocks south of the Met is Pony Bar UES (1444 1st Ave. at 75th St.), a second outpost of the venerable Hell’s Kitchen beer bar. It’s just as immediately comfortable as the original West Side location, with an equally impressive roster of rotating tap selections and gastropub basics. Fair warning: though there are often the same kegs featured at both Pony Bars, depending on the drinking habits of East Siders vs. West Siders, one might kick its Smuttynose Gose before the other does, so don’t get your heart set on a particular beer. Just go with the flow!
If you’re already as far east as 1st Avenue, you might as well keep walking and work up an appetite for The Jeffrey (311 E. 60th St. between 1st and 2nd Aves). Two narrow bars stretch back from two separate entrances, leading to a rustic back room with a handful of high communal tables—all of which get pretty packed as the evening stretches on.
If you can snag a sliver of bar, that’s my favorite place to be, but anywhere you can carve out a place to snack on a cheese and charcuterie plate, beet-pickled deviled eggs, a big ol’ Reuben, or a selection of Sigmund’s pretzels works. Bonus: you can watch the Roosevelt Island trams arriving and departing from their terminus at the base of the Queensboro Bridge, which is pretty groovy.