Warm and jazzy, Bemelmans does much of the romantic heavy lifting for you.
Here now: the very best date bars above 60th Street. Whether you’re looking for somewhere causal for first-date conversation or a spot with wow factor to seal the deal, these are the five best places to foster romance.
The Absolute Best
The Carlyle, 35 E. 76th St., at Madison Ave.; 212-744-1600
Theoretically, a great date can happen in any bar, as long as there are semiprivate corners for the smitten to rendezvous. But if it’s romance you’re after, the iconic Bemelmans, ensconced in the Upper East Side’s Carlyle hotel, does a majority of the heavy lifting, providing a warmly glowing throwback to a time when waiters wore dinner jackets, ceilings sported 24-karat-gold leaves, jazzy music wafted from the Steinway grand, and tables were bedecked with individual lamps. Named for former Carlyle resident and Madeline author Ludwig Bemelmans, the bar doesn’t take itself too seriously: Bemelmans’s playful illustrations of Central Park adorn the walls, and there are gratis salty nibbles. Though in the early 2000s the cocktail menu was revamped under the purview of the legendary Dale DeGroff, stick to the Champagne menu or the classics if you want to feel somewhat like you’re getting your money’s worth (drinks are woefully pricey), or twists like the Luxury Sidecar, an all-French affair utilizing Calvados. A piano player begins nightly at 5:30, followed by a live trio playing everything from Gershwin to Ellington. A cover charge kicks in at 9 p.m. on Sunday and Monday, and at 9:30 p.m. the rest of the week.
2. Manhattan Cricket Club
226 W. 79th St., nr. Broadway; 646-823-9252
Located above the Aussie bistro Burke & Wills, this speakeasy-style boîte is a decadent cricket-inspired cocktailery with drinks from Summit Bar’s Greg Seider and a setting akin to a 19th-century apartment. Skip the lounge for the candlelit two-tops, and order the caviar and oysters for a little more help in the aphrodisiac department.
339 E. 75th St., nr. First Ave.; 212-288-8033
While this woodsy and dim spot — co-owned by cocktail superstar Pam Wiznitzer — does things like create its own chai-infused vermouth, the atmosphere is far from intimidating. Medieval-style chandeliers flicker over two bars and a lounge with deep red banquettes and a restaurant, all offering varying levels of intimacy. The food ranges from light bites like oysters and fried cauliflower to a mutton burger.
4. The Penrose
1590 Second Ave., nr. 83rd St.; 212-203-2751
This gastropub by the Wilfie & Nell team bills itself as a “local,” but with three separate spaces utilizing reclaimed wood, floral wallpaper, and vintage accents, there’s ample opportunity here to carve out a space of one’s own if you come earlier in the night. An extensive craft-beer list and a custom-blend Pat LaFrieda burger keeps things casual, while spirit-forward cocktails and a whiskey menu kick affairs up a notch. If you’re thinking of taking the relationship to the next level, try sharing the kicky cardamom-infused bourbon milk punch for two, then see how you feel.
5. 67 Orange Street
2082 Frederick Douglass Blvd., nr. 113th St.; 212-662-2030
Purple velvet curtains bid welcome at this snug bi-level lounge that was once Almack’s Dance Hall, one of the first black-owned bars in the city, opened in the 1840s. Today it sports filament lightbulbs, low-slung tables, and an extensive cocktail menu featuring names like Manhattan After Dark, the Hedonist, and Forbidden Love (there’s also a nonalcoholic choice called First Base). At happy hour, there’s food specials like chicken and red velvet waffles, but later in the night the music and vibe turns up.