Even as the newest hot spots come (and sometimes go) in what can feel like a New York minute, there also remains a long-established set of institutions whose longevity has withstood the test of time and the city's ever-changing whims of fashion and trend. Herewith, a perfectly curated guide of memorable things to do in the Big Apple, comprising top-flight selections both classic and nouveau for eight different types of sophisticated urban explorers.
Classic | Balthazar – A go-to for downtown but upscale artists, actors, and media types, this bustling French bistro in SoHo telegraphs good taste and good tastes — not least of all in the goods that come from Balthazar Bakery next door.
Nouveau | Rainbow Room – This Art Deco icon atop Rockefeller Center now serves Sunday brunch: a gourmet buffet offers everything from a raw bar to poached eggs, carving stations to soufflés.
Classic | Peter Luger Steakhouse – In the same south Williamsburg, Brooklyn, location since 1877, this no-frills, family-owned-and-operated meat-lovers’ mecca (now with a Michelin star) specializes in USDA Prime beef. Dry-aged onsite and cooked to perfection. The rarer, the better.
Nouveau | | | M. Wells Steakhouse – This latest venture from the Quebec-meets-Queens husband-and-wife M. Wells team brings high-end speakeasy style and nose-to-tail culinary technique to the traditional steakhouse, all in an industrial-chic converted auto-body shop in Long Island City.
Classic | 21 Club – Arguably America’s original gourmet hamburger when it debuted in 1950, the current dry-aged beef version at this gentlemanly Midtown institution (once a 1930s speakeasy) is served on a challah bun with tomatoes, sautéed onions, and fries.
Nouveau | Church Street Tavern – Journeyman chef Ryan Skeen recently started running the show at this Tribeca spot. His dry-aged beef patty, hugged by brioche and served with fries, mixes strip steak, rib-eye, and Waygu, topped with Vermont cheddar and bacon-onion relish.
Classic | La Grenouille– The last of Manhattan’s haute-cuisine French greats, this 60-year-plus, flower-filled Midtown refuge is the stuff of legend — and so are its quenelles, Dover sole, Grand Marnier soufflé, and extensive wine list.
Nouveau | Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare – The borough’s only three-Michelin-star restaurant, this ultra-exclusive, 18-seat spot offers a nightly changing 15-course, small-plate price-fix menu prepared and served by chef César Ramirez at a stainless-steel bar.
Classic | Sushi of Gari – This Japanese giant strives to combine traditional and innovation at its four locations on the Upper East Side, Theater District, Tribeca, and Columbus Circle. It’s a personal favorite of master NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer (Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café).
Nouveau | Sushi Nakazawa – Dinner at this 10-seat West Village showplace of Daisuke Nakazawa (he was featured in the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi) consists of nearly 20 one-bite courses, each prepared by the passionate Nakazawa himself.
The Night Owl
Classic | Bemelmans Bar – This haute boîte at the Upper East Side’s historic Carlyle hotel enchants with its wall murals by famed illustrator Ludwig Bemelman, atmospheric lighting, nightly live music, establishment crowd, and classic drinks and light bites.
Nouveau | Seamstress – Masculine, tailored, and cozy, this new bar and restaurant on the Upper East Side combines the talents of several food-and-drink masters to create menus both classic and contemporary, with many items playing off the sewing theme.
Classic | Diamond Horseshoe – Reimagined by art collector and real-estate tycoon Aby Rosen, this louche lair below the Theater District’s Paramount Hotel first debuted in the 1940s. It’s now home to the immersive-theater spectacular Queen of the Night.
Nouveau | Up & Down – If coming from the folks behind Butter and 1 Oak wasn’t enough to secure this multi-level club’s hot-to-trot reputation, Rhianna’s hosting her celebrity-studded after party for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala did the trick.
Classic | Metropolitan Room – This Flatiron haunt stands as a longtime destination for American songbook stylings, one of a few remaining after the closure of Feinstein’s at the Regency and the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room.
Nouveau | 54 Below – Launched and designed just a few years back by a who’s who of Broadway luminaries, this subterranean spot offers a throwback to the supper clubs of yesteryear, with performances by top names from the Great White Way and beyond.
Classic | Bergdorf Goodman – Unique among its luxury competitors, this shoppers’ dream occupies two grand buildings at the southeast corner of Central Park, one filling seven floors with high-fashion women’s wear, the other, three floors of men’s.
Nouveau | Fivestory – Young founder Claire Distenfeld established this Upper East Side townhouse-cum-retailer as a homey, 21st century alternative to bigger stores, specializing in items from largely independent women’s, men’s, and houseware designers.
Classic | Screaming Mimis – For 40 years, this Noho outlet has stocked a mad mix of the rare and unusual, fab and fashionable, today selling pieces from the 1920s through the ’90s.
Nouveau | EraLuxe Gallery by Julie Heller – This by-appointment luxury SoHo showroom offers designer goods from the 1960s on — created by names ranging from Chanel to Rick Owens, Azzedine Alaïa to Yves Saint Laurent — all curated by stylist Julie Heller.
Classic | Kirna Zabete – Though fewer than 20 years old, this Soho shop, founded by two fashion-world veterans and best friends, has unequivocally established itself as New York’s couture concept.
Nouveau | The Apartment by The Line – This brick-and-mortar iteration of the website The Line brings its online selection of artisanal and independently designed fashion and home goods to a loft-like setting in Soho (open Wednesdays and Saturdays or by appointment.)
The Cultural Connoisseur
Classic | Birdland – This Theater District landmark named for one of its first performers — Charlie “Bird” Parker — has presented jazz stars both rising and established since 1949. It’s still going strong, with upwards of three nightly shows, seven days a week.
Nouveau | Ginny's Supper Club– Tucked under his Harlem comfort food joint, the Red Rooster, chef Marcus Samuelsson’s 3-year-old throwback to the 1920s offers live jazz on most Fridays and Saturdays, and occasional Thursdays and Sundays, plus a Sunday gospel brunch.
Classic | Metropolitan Museum of Art – Among the most encyclopedic of the world’s art museums, the Met holds pride of place on the east side of Central Park, its collection running the complete gamut of time and geography, style, and historical movement.
Nouveau | Whitney Museum of American Art – Now installed in spectacular new, purpose-built Renzo Piano-designed digs at the southern end of the High Line park, this institution surveys modern and contemporary art made in the U.S., with frequent focus on the new and now.
Classic | Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island – These two national monuments in New York Harbor both have news to share: With advanced reservations, visitors can now once again climb to the Statue’s crown, and Ellis’s immigration museum just debuted in May.
Nouveau | 9/11 Memorial & Museum – Comprising a beautifully landscaped plaza, fountains and a museum, the World Trade Center site of the horrible events of September 11, 2001, now stands as a fully realized tribute to the victims, and as an educational force for freedom and tolerance.
Classic | River Café – This floating, windowed Brooklyn Heights restaurant, set under the Brooklyn Bridge, provides some of the city’s most breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, and gourmet New American cuisine, too.
Nouveau | The NoMad Restaurant– A series of plush and plummy velvet-bedecked boudoir-chic rooms designed by Jacques Garcia sets the scene for the Michelin-starred contemporary European cuisine by the Eleven Madison Park team.
JUST FOR TWO
Classic | Central Park Carriage Rides – Though rumored to be a thing of the past, the traditional horse-drawn trot around the city’s grandest green space remains a lovely lovers’ must-do, with carriages found on Central Park South between Fifth and Sixth avenues.
Nouveau | Walking The High Line – Located on a disused, elevated railroad track stretching from Gansevoort to 34th streets on the West Side — allows for hours of blissful hand-holding and ambling, plus river and skyline views, and stops at food trucks and art installations.
Classic | Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa– This century-old palace of pampering, which offers everything from massages to eyebrow shaping and medispa treatments to salon services, recently relocated to a brand-new Fifth Avenue location in Midtown, offering several rooms for couples.
Nouveau | Spa de La Mer – Recently opened beneath Midtown’s new Baccarat Hotel & Residences, this first spa outpost of the beloved French anti-aging and skincare brand Crème de la Mer offers four treatment rooms.
Classic | Barry's Bootcamp – Developed in 1998, this highly variable workout with three NYC locations mixes cardio treadmill running and weight training to burn what Barry's claims can be up to 1,000 calories an hour.
Nouveau: BRICK New York – Among the city’s favorite CrossFit studios, this forthcoming Chelsea outpost specializing in group fitness sessions will also soon add a sister gym in Midtown, near the Grand Central Terminal train station.
Classic | SoulCycle NYC – The outfit that started spinning’s second coming in the city is now the Grand Dame of the pack, with 14 studios devoted to the combination of sweat-filled biking sessions and enlightenment-inducing mantras.
Nouveau | Peloton Cycle Studio – Founded to bring the intensity of spin classes into private homes, with high-tech bikes linked to live and on-demand workouts, Peloton opened a posh studio in the Flatiron District, offering nearly hourly workouts.
Classic | Candle Café – Originally an Upper East Side health-food market and juice shop, this holistic nutrition-minded eatery is now a top organic vegan restaurant, with three locations (including the more elevated Candle 79), a cookbook, and certification from NYC’s Green Restaurant Association.
Nouveau | Café Clover – This fashion-world favorite has taken the West Village by storm. Turning out organic gourmet dishes made with fresh, local ingredients, it doesn’t sacrifice flavor and taste in the name of nutrition.