For being the major transportation hub of New York, the area around Grand Central is surprisingly lacking in quality bars. Sure, there are plenty of places to drink. And no disrespect to The Campbell or Bergamo’s, but finding something a little more elevated than an Irish pub near the train station is difficult. And unusually so: why wouldn’t someone set up a good cocktail joint in a heavily-trafficked area of town?
Enter Albert’s Bar, a new bi-level drinking hot spot from the team behind The Penrose, The Spaniard, Bua and The Bonnie. The bar’s press release rightly describes those upscale watering holes as “a family of neighborhood craft cocktail bars scattered in far-flung parts of the city.”
While they say far-flung and underserved, we say “bar deserts” — which we define as populated (and even popular) areas of Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn that strangely lack destination-worthy drinkeries. Think the Upper East Side. Astoria. The blocks around Penn Station (though that’s changing). Prospect Park South (my bustling neighborhood, where the closest bar of any sort is a 15-minute walk). And, until now, Midtown East.
“We had been looking for a location for Albert’s for almost four years,” explains owner Ruairi Curtin. “We felt that the Grand Central area in particular was a desert for good bar options and saw an opportunity to bring something progressive, elevated and new to the neighborhood.”
As Curtin notes, 750,000 people pass through Grand Central each day, and there’s a large residential community in the area — not to mention, it’s one of the most highly-populated office worker areas in the world. “We’re hoping to be a spark that encourages more like-minded businesses to move to the area,” he tells InsideHook. “The people are here, and they need more options.”
How Christine Wiseman Is Transforming the Hotel BarThe award-winning beverage director of Bar Lab just opened four unique drinking and dining concepts at the Moxy Williamsburg
Albert’s is a dual-level, airy space with a large ground-level central bar and plenty of seating and banquets around and above. The look is a bit Art Deco/Art Nouveau, with plenty of tiles and an overall feel that’s more akin to a theater than a Midtown bar.
“Our architecture, graphic designs, artwork, food and beverage menus are all reminiscent of the 1950s,” Curtin says. “Everything is built on nostalgia and a salute to a more glamorous time in Midtown. Back in the ‘50s, it was more like the West Village. At night, the ball players, newspapermen, actors and social elite would descend upon the neighborhood and drink the night away at Toots Shor, The Stork Club, The 21 Club and Jack Dempsy’s. Albert’s is a nod to that era.”
The menu at Albert’s is geared toward crowd-pleasing favorites: a Gibson, a take on the pornstar martini, a mezcal Margarita, plus a couple of classics on draft and a good low- and no-ABV section. But there’s also some fun experimentation at play: Jimmy the Gent, the bar’s standout, features milk-washed Scotch and amaretto. The Vieux Carré is barrel-aged for six weeks in charred new oak. And the Negroni utilizes pineapple-lemongrass-infused Campari. But even the experiments nod to the past: the on-draft Jilly’s Spritz — a blend of Aperol, Pamplemousse, bergamot and sparkling wine — is named after the Midtown hangout Jilly’s Saloon, a favorite of Frank Sinatra. There’s also plenty of beer and a retro bar menu featuring everything from clams casino to popcorn monkfish to, of course, a burger.
At Albert’s, Curtin and his team are pretty much following the playbook they used with The Penrose, which opened on the Upper East Side in 2012. “That area is the dormitory of the city with such a wealthy clientele, we knew there was an opportunity,” he says, noting that they opened that venue during the Second Avenue subway construction. “The ground would literally rumble and shake beneath us from the dynamite. And every second retail unit nearby was empty.”
“That area has come a long way,” Curtin adds. “Now they’ve got a lot of good cocktail bars in the area — NR, Bondurants, Eli’s Night Shift. I feel like we played a part in proving that great cocktail bars can exist and thrive in that neighborhood.”
So, what’s the next bar desert to conquer? “Hell’s Kitchen,” Curtin says. “I love a cold beer at Rudy’s, but sometimes I feel like something more than a can of beer and a free hot dog. Other than that, the larger Midtown area is ripe for more opportunity. If you build it, they will come.”
Albert’s Bar is located at 140 E. 41st St. between Lexington and 3rd Ave.
Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.