Art’s on the Menu


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Sips, eats available in museum settings


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BY VIRGINIA RANDALL

Let’s drink in some culture.

Some neighborhood cultural institutions offer drinks – and eats too – without visitors needing to pay an entry fee. It’s part of a long tradition connecting art with imbibing. After all, painters from Toulouse-Lautrec to Willem De Kooning held a cocktail as often as a paintbrush.

Here are a few good spots for mixing art and cusine.

The Asia Society and Museum: the Garden Court Cafe. 725 Park Avenue. Reservations: 212-570-5202.

From Tuesday through Sunday (11.a.m. – 5 pm.), the Asia Society and its Garden Court Café reveal the culture and art of regions from Central Asia to the Pacific Islands. Expect menus to match, with sake as well as wine and beer. Besides standards like chicken curry salad and glazed salmon, Chef Litesh Hosabettu of Great Performances aligns menus with current exhibits and a Pan-Asian flair ($7 for starters and $10 – $25 for small plates and entrees) and many vegetarian options. The adventurous could try the Daily Special Bento Box, based on supplies from an upstate organic farm, or sample the dim sum served from 11 a.m. to 2 pm. There’s no kids’ menu, but the chef can whip up an omelet or French toast.

The cold-brewed teas here are the standouts. They vary daily and are combined with pureed fruits (or your own combinations). The cocktail scene revives on Sept. 16 when the Leo Bar – a networking party – resumes on Friday evenings, with signature cocktails weekly.

This café is an oasis of calm: a spare, airy environment, no music, Buddhist pines and a “scholar’s rock” in one corner. Table seating for 80 doesn’t seem crowded. The wait staff is equally Zen.

Society of Illustrators: Museum Café

128 East 63 Street, reservations at 212-838-2560.

Tucked in a brownstone on E. 63rd Street, the Museum Café lets you literally drink in some culture. The warm, charming space doubles as the Hall of Fame Gallery with art from curated exhibits (currently a retrospective of Gonzo illustrator Ralph Steadman). More traditional art hangs over the compact and nicely carved bar – a 1939 original Norman Rockwell. There’s also an outdoor patio.

Contemplate it while bartender Ramon whips up one of the cocktails ($12) he helped design—the East 63rd St. Sidecar, the F train, the Red Door, The Park Avenue and more. Or enjoy wine by the glass ($10) or beer ($6).

The casual American menu offers salads, burgers, mac & cheese, omelets, pasta and sweets ($12 - $16). One Saturday each month (11:00 a.m. – 3 p.m.), there’s a $30 per person buffet brunch of savory or sweet treats plus coffee, tea and a drink.

The café, open Tuesdays through Fridays (12-5) and Saturdays (1p.m. - 4p.m.), also hosts a Sketch Night until 9:30 on Tuesdays and most Thursdays. For $20 admission ($10 for students or seniors), visitors can sketch models – nude with an occasional accessory – while enjoying a small-plates buffet and a cash bar.

The bar seats six for cocktails, with more seating at nearby high-tops. It’s an elegant, cozy spot for a drink and a bite, worth walking up three flights of stairs, past artwork-lined walls.

The New York Historical Society: Caffé Storico

170 Central Park West at 77th St. Reservations preferred. (212) 485-9211.

Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m, Caffé Storico has a cheerful design. The bright yellow banquettes, crisp white walls and gingerbread trim make an impression. Some shelves on view display five sets of 18th- and 19th-century plates from the Society’s collection.

Local history pervades General Manager Gabriel Solano’s signature cocktails ($14 - $16), too. The “1804” marks when the historical society was founded, and the “New Amsterdam” honors its roots. The signature cocktail, “An Englishman in New York” (bourbon, lemon juice, and exotics) represents Chef Tim Kensett, who’s from London. Enjoy these drinks or the Italian wines or local or imported beers at one of the 12 seats at the bar. Or at the tables or the bright yellow banquette.

“Storico” means “historic” in Italian, and Mediterranean flavor abounds in antipasti, pasta, panini and salads at lunch ($13 -$21). Dinner ($16-$34) features heartier pastas, seafood, chicken or steak. Besides half portions on weekdays, kids will love the weekend brunch – lobster mac and cheese, eggs, salads, sandwiches, sweet breads or Nutella crepes ($12 - $19)

You don’t need to buy a ticket for the museum to go to the restaurants…but wouldn’t you want to see the culture, art and history that inspired those plates and all those cocktails?

Virginia Randall’s blog about New York City life, “Don’t Get Me Started,” is at www.newyorknatives.com


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