Sometimes art and culture makes you hungry, especially if you spend a chunk of the day exploring one or more of NYC’s world-class museums. So it’s good to know that NYC museum restaurants are becoming serious draws of their own, even earning Michelin stars.
Here’s our list of museum restaurants and cafes that exhibit great taste on your plate.
Cafe Sabarsky at Neue Galerie (photo above) is a faithful recreation of an old world Viennese coffeehouse, with dark wood elegance and furnishings evoking the early 20th century when Austrian Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, whose work is featured in the museum, were at their creative heights. Chef-owner Kurt Gutenbrunner feeds patrons authentic Wiener schnitzel and apple strudel as good as my Alsatian grandmother made, Sachertorte, cafe mit schlag (coffee with real whipped cream) and other savory and sweet specialties. Neue Galerie, founded by cosmetic heir, art collector and philanthropist Ronald S. Lauder, is across the street from the Met on Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile.
- Café Fledermaus, on the lower level of the Neue Galerie, is inspired by Austria’s Cabaret Fledermaus, commissioned by Fritz Waerndorfer and executed by the artisans of the Wiener Werkstätte in 1907, with period furniture. It serves the same lunch and dinner menu as Café Sabarsky, and offers the same gourmet coffee and fine patisserie.
Russ & Daughters, the iconic century-old family-owned smoked fish and appetizer store on the Lower East Side, operates a sit-down cafe and take-out counter on lower level of the Jewish Museum, on Museum Mile, the first certified kosher location of the century-old bagels-and-lox landmark. The menu includes such Jewish soul food as knishes, mushroom barley soup, pickled herring, blintzes and chocolate babka French toast with sour cream and berries. The deli-like design references the flagship shop on E. Houston Street, and museum admission is not required to ess, kindlach.
NYC’s other major Jewish museum, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in Lower Manhattan, has a similar bagels-and-lox and sweets cafe, called, simply, Lox Cafe, which also serves in-house cured salmon several ways, including Pastrami-style, wasabi, ginger, sake, soy infused and double-smoked. Also, for some unknown reason, you can also get a tunafish sandwich. The small cafe has bistro-size tables, but larger ones, large enough for groups, are set in the museum lobby, just outside the restaurant.
The Modern, overlooking MoMA’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, holds two Michelin stars and four James Beard Awards for its inventive, contemporary and refined French/New American cuisine. As befits a restaurant attached to MoMa, the setting is airy and minimalistic, to focus on the food inside and artwork view outside the floor-to-ceiling windows (you’ll have to request a table with a view). The Modern was founded by hospitality genius Danny Meyer, so the emphasis also is on seamless service, and one of his group’s fine dining destinations with a no tipping policy. The menu changes seasonally and there’s an award-winning wine list. What does not change is the splurge-level, special occasion pricing. The Modern welcomes reservations up to 28 days in advance.
The Danny Meyer restaurant group also operates Untitled, which has the same name as some of the artwork upstairs at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the same floor-to-ceiling glass wall as his restaurant at MoMa. The stylish dining room is animated by touches of red, and an open kitchen turns out a modern menu including beef tartare with turnips and pasta with swiss chard and aji peppers. Go for discounted drinks and bar food at happy hour, weekdays 5:30pm–7:30pm.
Another museum restaurant with a great view is Robert, on the top floor of the Museum of Arts and Design in Columbus Circle, with spectacular views of Central Park and the traffic circling the statue of Christoper Columbus, named for the flamboyant late party planner and New York personality Robert Isabell. The menu is as modern as its decor, which includes brightly colored table settings and video and light installations. Skip dinner in favor of lunch or brunch, or cocktails at sunset.
The Rubin Museum in Chelsea brings together 1,500 years of Himalayan art, with scroll paintings, sculptures, masks and textiles from the Tibetan plateau and surrounding regions. The serenity and creativity of the artwork is matched by the presentation of dishes at of the spacious, lobby level Café Serai. The menu feaures pan-Asian dishes including pan-fried or steamed momos (South Asian dumplings), creamy chicken tikka masala or black pepper lamb curry. During the day, the lounge is a peaceful place for tea and pastries. On Friday nights the museum offers free admission from 6 to 10pm, and the cafe morphs into K2, a clubby spot with a DJ and dancing. Yes, dancing in a museum.
Other NYC museum restaurants and cafes worth noting:
Storico, at the New York Historical Society, has picture windows facing the tree-shrouded American Museum of Natural History across the street, and an Italian-influenced seasonal menu that features pastas, salads and house-made gelato or granita.
The Morgan Dining Room & Café, at the Morgan Library & Museum, is another airy choice, in the glass-enclosed atrium, offering sandwiches and salads for lunch, and afternoon tea.
Flora Bar, at the Met Breuer, is underground, so no windows with views. The American menu features steak and seafood dressed up with artistic presentations and flavors. There’s also a coffee bar for sandwiches and pastries.
M. Wells Dinette at MoMA PS1 is as eclectic and as edgy as the museum, with concoctions like grilled cheese with blueberries and a spaghetti sandwich. This used to be a NYC public school, and the restaurant is a cafeteria theme.
This posting includes information adapted from a list by NYCGO, the member-supported NYC tourism marketing agency.