Martinis & Music…

After several decades I recently revisited a Manhattan classic.

You cannot go back.

Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel is iconic.

The back story in regard to the name is Ludwig Bemelmans was a successful artist for The New Yorker, Vogue and Town and Country. He had achieved enormous success with the Madeline children’s books series.

Using his distinct style of art, he transformed the Carlyle bar with whimsical scenes of Central Park that included picnicking rabbits and ice skating elephants.

Rather than being paid for his art, Bemelmans exchanged his work for a year and a half of accommodations at The Carlyle for himself and his family.

The last time I visited I was with a person of note and we were immediately seated.

This time I went as myself. The first question asked by the host was “Are you a hotel guest?”

Unceremoniously, my response landed me in a drafty entryway by the front door, standing with a group of other plebeians also known as not Carlyle guesties.

We were not advised of the wait time.

Fortunately, for us the two line leaders left in a huff so there was only one couple ahead of us.

We entered the classic, intimate room and were informed of the $10 cover charge for the piano player who was taking a break which he did yet again within the hour we spent there.

The server was pleasant.

We ordered the house trademark drink…a martini that is served in a pretty glass half filled with vodka and a small pitcher on ice on the side with additional spirits.

The martini was served lukewarm which is equivalent to being served a cold entree.

I poured it back into the pitcher and waited for the ice to work its magic.

Small bites are on the menu including pricey caviar, pigs in the blanket ($23), beef sliders ($28), guacamole ($26), 3 mini tuna tacos ($28), 1/2 dozen oysters ($32), falafel ($22), charcuterie board ($42), cheese plate ($38), marinated olives ($16), and house made smoked salmon tartine ($30).

The room was packed as was the bar. When we left at 7:30 the room had quieted down.

I had fantasies of a fabulous iced cold martini, Bobby Short type piano player tickling the ivories, chic outfits and a sexy NYC crowd.

I guess that’s why you often close your eyes when you fantasize because my eyes wide open did not fulfill the fantasy.

Despite my expectations not being met, we experienced a lovely time.

I do believe that everyone should enter the secret world of the Bemelmans Bar once.

Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle Hotel 35 East 76th Street New York City. Open Sunday and Monday Noon to Midnight, Tuesday–Thursday Noon to 12:30 a.m., Friday and Saturday Noon to 1:00 a.m. No reservations accepted. Entertainment fee after 5:30pm, Dress Code after 5:30 including collared shirts, no shorts or flip flops.


  1. You have awakened some good memories! Thank you.

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