When you grab a couple of classic cocktails at the original P.J. Clarke’s (on Third Avenue, in the heart of Manhattan), you feel like you have time traveled all the way back to 1884, the year that a man by the name of Mr. Jennings first opened the doors of this beloved saloon. The bar received its official moniker when Patrick Joseph Clarke took over in 1912, and the name has stuck ever since. While other Midtown bars have come and gone, P.J. Clarke’s has held its ground for more than 130 years. In fact, this historic slice of New York was once a long-time favorite of old Hollywood entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, and Nat King Cole. And legend has it that baseball-player-turned-model Phil Kennedy loved this place so much that he had his mail sent here. Before Kennedy died in 1985, he even requested that his ashes be kept behind the bar. If you ask a bartender about it, he may even show you.
When you stand at the intersection of Third Avenue and 55th Street, it’s incredible to see how the shiny metal skyscrapers have been built up and around this two-story Victorian brick building. After taking a moment to appreciate the surrounding view, you head inside and take a seat at the antique mahogany bar, where portraits of former presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy gaze down at you like drinking buddies lost in time. If you look a little further, you notice that the back of the bar glitters from the reflection of rows upon rows of glass-bottled spirits.
Once you settle in and take a look at the drink menu, you find that P.J. Clark’s has an extensive list of classic cocktails, making it one of the best Midtown bars to socialize, imbibe, and grab a bite. And though the bar’s facade and decor may harken back to another era, its menu is as sharp and current as ever, thanks in part to new owners Philip Scotti and Arnold Penner, who shut the place down for a year in 2002 before reopening it to a line of patrons that snaked down the street.
If you’re in the mood for classic cocktails, you can have a traditional Manhattan, Sidecar, or Old Fashioned. But if you want to try something light and refreshing, you should go for the St. Germain Fizz, an elegant and crisp play on a mojito. This classic combo of mint and lime gets an unexpected boost of floral notes from the elderflower liquor and just a hint of Prosecco. As you sit at the bar sipping your drink, you may rub elbows with tourists, media moguls, and foreign dignitaries alike. After all, P.J. Clarke’s is close in proximity to the U.N., high-rise office buildings, and Rockefeller Center.
If you’re hungry for a full, sit-down meal, be sure to snag one of the tables in the back, which are outfitted with red checkered tablecloths. A safe choice is always The Cadillac, the bar’s signature burger that’s topped with cheese and smoky bacon. But if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you might want to order the Turkey Club Banh Mi with cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro, and chili mayonnaise. If you make your way upstairs, you can head to the private dining hideaway, Sidecar, which offers personalized service and a more elegant atmosphere, with membership options for those who crave a truly unique experience every time.
Overall, it’s P.J. Clarke’s classic cocktails, delicious food, and vintage decor that make it one of the best Midtown bars for dinner, drinks, and a little bit of retro fun.