Best remembered as the creator of the classic Madeline books for children, Ludwig Bemelmans once joked he'd like his tombstone to read: "Tell Them It Was Wonderful." Well, wonderful it was, and still is, at Bemelmans Bar. Named in honor of the legendary artist, Bemelmans is a timeless New York watering hole that has drawn socialites, politicians, movie stars and moguls for more than five decades.
Restored in 2002 by designer Thierry Despont, the bar maintains its Art Deco legacy with chocolate-brown leather banquettes, nickel-trimmed black glass tabletops, a dramatic black granite bar and a 24-karat gold leaf-covered ceiling. Featuring the only surviving Bemelmans' commission open to the public, the 75-seat bar combines wit and coziness in unique New York style.
Long-time Bemelmans bartender Tommy Rowles recalls when a weary Harry S. Truman stopped in and ordered Old Grand-Dad bourbon on the rocks. When Rowles, a dedicated beer drinker, remarked that he could never drink an Old Grand-Dad, President Truman suggested he take a look out the window at the mob of reporters waiting and remarked, "If you had to walk 15 blocks with these guys following you, you'd drink this too."
Bemelmans Bar is located in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan. How best to describe one of the most famous neighborhoods in the United States? Aside from the extreme concentration of the rich and the famous, their opulent dwellings, and the army of doormen, butlers and chauffeurs who serve them, the Upper East Side is also a showcase for some of America’s finest cultural establishments. Walk along Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile which features a veritable plethora of artistic and cultural institutions. For some of the best contemporary art collections, visit the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum and the recently renovated cylindrical wonder that is the Guggenheim. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Guggenheim has always prided itself on being home to innovative and at times controversial works of art since its inception in 1959. There’s also the Jewish Museum, one of the world's largest and most important institutions devoted to exploring the remarkable scope and diversity of Jewish culture. Of course, no visit to Museum Mile would be complete without to the city’s crown jewel, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Many special exhibits complement the permanent displays at the Met, yet the collection is so vast that the huge storage areas under Central Park are bursting with pictures, sculptures and other objects d’art. From rare, ancient Egyptian relics to medieval coats of armor to a costume gallery that spans seven centuries it’s almost impossible to see everything in one visit, so multiple trips may be necessary. In addition, visit the nearby Whitney Museum of American Art and see thousands of works of art including collections by seminal artists such as Edward Hopper, Alexander Calder and Reginald Marsh. The Asia Society Museum, and Frick Collection are also nearby. The official residence of New York City’s mayor, Gracie Mansion, is at the northern end of Carl Schurz Park on 89th Street. The main floor of the mansion is open to the public and is a showcase for art and antiques created by New York designers, cabinetmakers, painters and sculptors. Tours must be reserved in advance however. From glamorous Fifth and Park Avenues to the fashionable townhouses in the East Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, there are too many noteworthy addresses to list, but a veritable Who’s Who of American society can be found here and if you’re lucky, you might even get a glimpse of it. For your best bet, try dinner at Elaine’s. While the food is essentially secondary to the patronage, it remains a great spot for celeb-spotting. Named after its famed, cantankerous owner who can still be spotted their nearly every night attending to customers, the casual bistro is a frequented by a high celebrity clientele and counts Woody Allen, Michael Caine and Jackie Onassis among its devotees. Good luck getting a reservation. If it's fresh seafood you're craving try Atlantic Grill. Sample the daily selection of oysters and clams on the half shell from the raw bar. Or try their unique take on sushi and sashimi. Restaurant Daniel is another great dining option renowned for its award-winning French cuisine and elegant atmosphere. The Upper East Side is also home to some of the most luxurious hotels in New York. There's the classic Carlyle, which has been called home by leaders in world affairs, business, society, entertainment and the arts since its debut in 1930. The Carlyle remains a landmark of elegance and refined taste. Other prestigious hotels in the area include The Mark, which has been cited as one of the top 100 U.S. and Canada hotels in a Travel + Leisure's readers' poll and the sophisticated Lowell. A bit further south at the southeastern corner of Central Park, of course there's the most legendary hotel of them all, The Plaza, which set the standard for luxury when it opened over a century ago. The tradition continues following a recently completed $400 million, two-year renovation. The passion and uncompromising service, which made the hotel a legend, has returned with a new and contemporary spirit.
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