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What to Order at Bemelmans Bar in New York City

This old-school venue has been experiencing a surge of Gen Z patrons seeking to enrich themselves with mid-century NYC nostalgia

The Carlyle hotel, home to Bemelmans Bar / Photo: Courtesy of Justin Bare

More than a bar, Bemelmans feels like a fairy-tale destination for all ageless dreamers. Socialites, politicians, movie stars and moguls have flocked to this, one of the most famous watering holes in the world, for a multitude of good reasons. Originally opened in 1947, the iconic bar features live music seven days a week, bringing in performers such as Earl Rose, Robert Mosci, Loston Harris, David Budway, Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch, playing classics from the Great American Songbook. Bemelmans has seen spontaneous performances by stars including Liza Minnelli, Michael Feinstein, Steve Ross, Linda Lavin, Tony Danza, Liliane Montevecchi and Luann de Lesseps.

Bobby’s Manhattan / Photo: Courtesy of Daniela Spector

But Bemelmans also takes care of our young—not with alcoholic potions, but with its famous afternoon Madeline’s Tea, an occasion to dress up, partake in animated sing-alongs with Tina deVaron, and dine at Madeline’s children’s buffet.

Named after Ludwig Bemelmans, the author of the Madeline children’s books who painted the whimsical wall illustrations in the ’40s, the bar has recently been going through a revival of sorts. This old-school venue has been experiencing a surge of Gen Z patrons seeking to enrich themselves with mid-century NYC nostalgia. Restored by renowned designer Thierry Despont, the bar maintains its art deco glamour with rich chocolate-brown leather banquettes, nickel-trimmed black glass tabletops and a cozy black granite bar under a 24-karat gold-leaf-covered ceiling.

Interior with signature murals / Photo: Courtesy of Don Riddle

Martinis reign, naturally. For something classic, try Madeline’s Vesper, with Bombay Sapphire gin, Grey Goose vodka and Cocchi Americano vermouth. Eartha is an unexpected exotic martini prepared with New York State handcrafted 88-proof Harridan vodka, a brand that celebrates defiant women of the past. It is mixed with the right amounts of Lillet Blanc infused with rosemary and Giffard Banane du Brésil. Signature cocktails are tributes to famous habitués. Named for Bobby Short, the legendary “saloon singer” who performed in the neighboring Café Carlyle for 36 years, Bobby’s Manhattan—with Santa Teresa 1796 rum, Carpano Antica, cherry Heering, Scrappy’s orange bitters and dry gypsophila—is no ordinary drink. The JFK Daiquiri, an ode to the former President’s favorite cocktail, is a notable variation, adding fresh lime juice, Mount Gay XO rum and The Bitter Truth Golden Falernum liqueur. But for the most elevated of all classics, Bemelmans’ Luxury Sidecar is a must. Hennessy VSOP cognac, Calvados, Cointreau, Grand Marnier and lemon juice make this the best version out there. Order side dishes of house-made smoked salmon tartine, Osciètre Gold caviar with buckwheat blinis, and prime aged beef sliders with onion marmalade and raclette cheese and call it a night.