Urban Legends

The only thing more enticing than the cocktails at these bars is the rich historyThe Red Snapper at King Cole Bar

In a city like Manhattan where the revolving door of hot-topic cocktail bars seemingly spins at warp speed, there’s a lot to be said for those that have stood the test of time—particularly these four establishments, which seemingly get better with age.

Few pieces of art rule command a scene as thoroughly as Ed Sorel’s Jazz Age mural in the Monkey Bar. F. Scott Fitzgerald is brooding, the Astaires dancing, Duke Ellington tapping out tunes on ivory keys … All the greats—and former patrons of this watering hole on the ground floor of the Hotel Elysée—are pictured, watching over the current generation of creative nobility who still gather at this establishment. Case-in-point: Graydon Carter, editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, is now a co-owner of the bar. Getting down to monkey business, the cocktail menu is divided into seasonal drinks, classics, and specialties, including the vodka-based Savoy Graydon with vermouth, green chartreuse, lemon, and agave, and the Blowing Smoke, with mescal, pomegranate molasses, and ginger. (54th St. nr. Madison Ave.)

One block up and one block west, the St. Regis’s King Cole Bar and Salon shares a similar background: it derives its name from a large Maxfield Parrish mural hanging behind the bar, depicting the namesake nursery-rhyme sovereign. But rather than haute-bohemian vibes, this haunt is a blue-blood establishment through and through­—with a history of some celebrity patrons like John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe thrown in for good measure. Still, King Cole’s has remained a place where even hurried New Yorkers will swap out their sneakers for heels and totes for Birkins before coming to hold court in a leather club chair for an evening. There’s all manner of classic cocktails, fine wines, aperitifs and digestifs, but the thing to order here is a simple Bloody Mary, which is said to have been invented here. (55th St. nr. Fifth Ave.)

The 1920s millionaire financier John W. Campbell wasn’t exactly known for being understated. Take, for instance, his office, an 1,800-square-foot space with a grand fireplace, timber ceiling, and a Persian rug that in today’s terms would cost upwards of $3 million. While the carpet is no more, the room still channels his extravagant taste into one of the city’s poshest lounges, the Campbell Apartment. Hidden behind Cipriani Dolci in Grand Central Station, the Apartment draws a crowd of well-suited bankers and train-traveling sybarites (a dress code dictates no sneakers or tees) gathered on high-backed banquettes, sipping cocktails named for Campbell’s era: the fruity rum-and-champagne Prohibition Punch; the Flapper’s Delight with champagne, amaretto, and papaya; or the Roaring Twenties, a dangerous citrus-and-ginger rum concoction. (Grand Central Terminal, nr. 43rd St.)

There’s certainly no dress code at Pete’s Tavern, an endearingly well-worn bar in Gramercy that bills itself as the oldest continually operating restaurant and bar in the city. Established in 1864, Pete’s was once where short-story author O. Henry would come to spur his creativity with a drink (or five); later, it survived the Prohibition era by disguising itself as a flower shop and secretly still doling out pints of its original House Ale, which is now one of numerous beers on the menu. On pretty days, outside tables are ideal for sipping screwdrivers or gimlets, while inside, black-and-white photos adorn the brick walls and white-tablecloths maintain a sense of classic manners—also heralded by the seasoned staff, who seem to have been working here all their lives. (18th St. at Irving Pl.)

(Photo: The Red Snapper at the King Cole Bar)