Where: E. 55th St. ('58-'94); W. 55th St. ('95-'04)
La Côte Basque was the epitome of the four-star French back in the day. The traditional French was served alongside murals of the eponymous Basque coast and the high society see-and-be-seen scene included regulars like Frank Sinatra, Babe Paley and Jackie Onassis. Truman Capote notoriously published a gossipy excerpt called "La Cote Basque 1965" from Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel, which outted the secrets of thinly veiled versions of his society friends and ousted him from the inner circle.
LutèceWhen: 1961- 2004
Where: 249 E. 50th Street (bet 2nd and 3rd)
The restaurant Julia Child famously called "the best restaurant in the country," Lutece was also a four-star French, but with a more modern approach. Chef Andre Soltner (until he sold it in 1994) pioneered the use of the seasonal, high-quality ingredients and lightened up the traditionally heavy fare, bringing it much closer to the type of cuisine Daniel Boulud or Thomas Keller might serve today.
Where: 1703 Second Ave.
Elaine Kaufman bred and fed the New York social scene for nearly half a century in this eatery that was at times more literary saloon than restaurant. It wasn't about the food, but the clubby environment where writers and celebs drank the night away with their loyal and loud proprietess. Elaine allowed struggling writers to run unpaid tabs and created a family of regulars with the likes of Gay Talese, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton and Woody Allen. In VF Daily, Michael Caine fondly recalls one time when an annoying man approached him, “Elaine noticed him, punched him on the nose, and slung him out," and that whenever people asked for the bathroom, she responded "turn right at Michael Caine." It closed down six months after she died last year, the manager citing that "there is no Elaine's without Elaine."
Where: 213 Park Avenue South off of Union Square
Max’s was the place Andy Warhol called “the exact spot where Pop Art and Pop life came together…everything got homogenized there.” It was the underground cultural nexus of the 60s and 70s, where all the creative players of the time came together in for a little conversation, some rock n roll, and a lot of debauchery. Like Elaine supported writers, owner Micky Ruskin allowed artists to pay tabs with artwork for his downstairs gallery and showcased unsigned acts upstairs on stage. It was the home of the short-lived glam rock scene with David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed and an early stage for then-unknowns Madonna, Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen. The original closed in '74 but reopened in '75 to become the other incubator of punk rock with The Dolls and Patti Smith, alongside CBGB. Speaking of...
Where: 315 Bowery (corner of Bowery and Bleecker)
Hilly Kristal's iconic punk rock mecca created the vibrant spirit of the Bowery and cultivated musicians like the Ramones, Patti Smith and Blondie. In what started as just a grunge club with an open-booking policy, thousands of musical acts passed through, covering the walls - and notoriously nasty bathrooms - with flyers, posters, graffiti and bodily fluids and creating a new renegade sound that changed music forever. During her closing night performance, Patti Smith described it as “this place that Hilly so generously offered to us to create new ideas, to fail, to make mistakes, to reach new heights.” Kristal had plans to reopen in Vegas but died in 2007.
Quilted GiraffeWhen: 1979- 1993
Where: Second Avenue and 50th Street ('79-'87); Madison Avenue at 55th ('87-'93)
Recently remembered in the Town & Country feature “Caviar and Cocaine,” this 80s playground for the rich and famous changed up high-end American cuisine. In a fine-dining scene dominated by traditional French chefs, the not-professionally-trained chef/owner Barry Wine was one of the first to play with ingredients and techniques, creating his signature beggar's purses (beluga caviar and crème fraiche-stuffed crepes, tied up in a bundle with a string of chive and topped with gold leaf) and incorporating Japanese flavors with the original tuna-and-wasabi pizza—all served at a high-price to regulars like Warren Beatty, Jackie O, and the Paltrows (with a teenage Gwyneth, developing her foodie cred, in tow).
Mars BarWhen: 1985-2011
Where: Second Avenue and 1st St.
Before its heavily documented closing last year, Mars Bar was ultimate dive-bar-that-could, carrying the gritty art-punk East Village ethos of the 70s into 21st century. As the world outside changed, the graffiti and urine covered world of the bar remained the same as a place where drunks and degenerates would party, smoke up, vomit in bathrooms that rivaled CBGB's. By the time the DOH shut it down last year, according to the village voice, they found over 850 fruit flies in the bar and bottles. Gross, yet still iconic.