NEW YORK – Many of Manhattan’s best restaurants and bars used to have an air of drama, a sense of mystery, and a dash of elegance.
Walk into one and you felt like you were walking into another world.
Some like Lutece on the Upper East Side had all the glamour and romance of an elegant, romantic hideaway in some secluded corner of Paris. But this temple to haute French cuisine sadly closed in 2004.
Others like the Rainbow Room high atop Rockefeller Center looked like something straight out of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical from the 1930s. This iconic restaurant also closed in 2009, but thankfully reopened in 2014.
Then there was the Four Seasons Restaurant.
Not to be confused with the high-end hotel chain, the Four Seasons Restaurant on East 52nd Street looked and felt like something dreamed up by Ian Fleming and a cool-as-ice mid-century Scandinavian architect.
Divided into two halves, one part was known as the grill room and had a dramatic, spike-like chandelier hanging over the bar. The other half was known as the pool room and had an air of decadence thanks to a pool located right in the middle of the dining room.
In 2016, the Four Seasons Restaurant closed after 57 years of being the ultimate power-lunch restaurant in the heart of midtown Manhattan.
Then something magical happened a year later—the restaurant reopened.
Owned and operated now by Major Food Group, the restaurant now has a different name—The Grill and The Pool. But while the name has changed, the restaurant retains the same air of grandeur and elegance that made the Four Seasons Restaurant the place to eat and drink for captains of industry for more than half a century.
Located in a steel and glass skyscraper known as the Seagram Building, this gleaming, modernist building constructed in 1958 was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The German-American architect was famous for his angular, pared-down designs, including the stylish, box-like Farnsworth House near Chicago, which influenced countless other architects, including particularly Philip Johnson.
Together, Johnson and Rohe designed the interior of the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York. And like the exterior of the Seagram Building, the restaurant’s interior has a sleek, austere look with a flair for the dramatic. It’s a stunning, one-of-a-kind space. And in 1989, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the restaurant as an interior landmark.
To reach The Grill and The Pool restaurant, you walk through a grand entrance on the ground floor of the building. There, you encounter a stark, elegant lobby that looks like the foyer for the U.N. building farther east on Manhattan. Inside the restaurant’s lobby, you’ll be greeted by several staff members behind a lustrous, minimalist desk that gives the room the feel of a five-star hotel lobby.
To reach the restaurant, you then walk up a wide carpeted staircase that turns right to reveal The Grill, which still looks like something straight out of an episode of Mad Men. Walk down a hallway to the left at the top of the stairs and you’ll find yourself amid the sea of glamour known as The Pool.
Attention to detail
Every detail in both sides of the restaurant was meticulously designed, right down to the restaurant’s curtains. Gleaming metal chains serve as curtains and seem to dance in the late afternoon daylight.
But perhaps the most dramatic architectural feature (besides an actual pool in the middle of The Pool room) is the 4,000 brass rods hanging above the bar area in The Grill side of the restaurant. The rods were “designed to define specific areas by visually organizing the space under them,” according to an article written by Mimi Sheraton and posted on the restaurant’s website.
The bar itself in The Grill remains a soothing, intimate place, thanks to its French walnut wood paneling, which gives the space a cozy, soothing atmosphere. This space within a space feels like a private, mid-century modern drinking club.
“The Bar at The Grill is an icon and the heartbeat of the room,” said Will Nazar, director of restaurant development for Major Food Group, the restaurant’s owner. The bar “is a relic of a different decade of New York history in one of the most iconic dining rooms in the world and is transporting to sit at. You see guests who have been coming for 50 years and others who are experiencing it for the first time.”
The bar on The Poolside of the restaurant also feels like its own separate space as well. That’s because The Pool Lounge is perched a few feet up from The Pool room. (Insider’s tip: The Pool Lounge remains one of the best-kept secret bars in plain sight in Midtown Manhattan.) So while there are technically two sides to the restaurant—The Poolside and The Grill side—the restaurant actually feels like four distinct spaces thanks to its two iconic bars.
If you’re making a reservation at The Pool or The Grill, the restaurant’s website makes it feel like you have a choice between two individual places. There are even two completely separate websites. That’s not an accident.
There’s a definite distinction between the two sides of the restaurant. The Poolside focuses on creating seafood-centric dishes, including an assortment of raw oysters, Bluefin Tuna, Pacific Mackerel, Maine Lobster, and Scottish Salmon.
The Grill side of the restaurant built its reputation on its steaks. Here, you can order an assortment of prime aged steaks by the pound, as well as spit-roasted prime rib served in a trolley tableside.
If you can’t decide which side to select, fear not. Some of the same dishes are served in The Pool and The Grill, including oysters on the half shell, many steaks, as well as foie gras.
The architecture and the food at The Grill and The Pool remain iconic aspects of this landmark restaurant. But for many people, the exquisitely made cocktails make this restaurant a destination worth seeking out simply for a drink or two at one of its two bars. That’s especially true at The Grill, which provides people with a front-row seat in this iconic restaurant.
So what do people drink when they drink at The Grill? “The most popular cocktails are the Grill Martini, the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, and the Sour,” Nazar said.
He added that these particular cocktails remain popular “because, like the food, they are the best version of something very familiar you have probably had hundreds of times.”
In general, the cocktail menu “stays the same with occasional small changes,” Nazar said. He added that recipes for the cocktails “are based on the classics, each with a small tweak to make them better.”
Another aspect that sets restaurant’s cocktails apart from other Manhattan establishments—the fresh ingredients. “We always serve the absolute best ingredients that we can, looking locally first but looking throughout the world for the best products,” Nazar said.
At The Grill’s popular bar, there’s a wide range of cocktails to choose from, including seven different kinds of Martinis. One of The Grill’s most popular Martinis is the Turf Club. Made with a blend of Old Tom Gin, Ambre Vermouth, Maraschino, and Absinthe, the Turf Club Martini has a bold, refreshing flavor with a ginger-like taste that washes across your senses.
Among The Grill’s signature cocktails, the Mamie Taylor has been a perennial favorite for some time. Made with crushed ice and a mixture of Single Malt Whisky, ginger beer, and lime, the Mamie Taylor has a pleasing, golden color and a light, spring-like finish. Crisp and refreshing, this cocktail tastes like summer in a glass with a hint of lemon and ginger to round out its flavors.
But no trip to The Grill would be complete without tasting their classic Manhattan. Made with the traditional ingredients (rye Whiskey, Vermouth, Angostura bitters, and served with a cherry) this crisp, clean Manhattan has a refined yet robust flavor that lingers long after you take your first sip. Don Draper, Roger Sterling, and the rest of the cast of Mad Men would feel right at home drinking a Manhattan at The Grill bar, especially in the late afternoon, when the light streams in through the canyons that form between the skyscrapers surrounding this modern, mid-century temple to classic cocktails and living life to its fullest.
99 East 52nd Street
New York, NY
Monday to Friday, 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Monday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.