At Fine & Rare, a taste of Old New York

Monday, October 19, 2020

By: Deborah Baldwin

At Fine & Rare, a taste of Old New York

Wouldn’t it be nice to change out of sweatpants and stroll into a stylish bar and grill for an evening of food, drink and entertainment? One of those grownup places where you can enjoy a Manhattan and a steak and hear live music—while also carrying on a conversation because you’ve come here, as Tommy Tardie, owner of Fine & Rare, likes to put it, “looking not to hook up but to catch up.”  

As elusive as a night on the town may sound these days, Fine & Rare, at 9 E. 37th, is offering the entire package, indoors if you are game, outdoors, sans music, if you prefer. They are open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday, and also have a Sunday brunch.

“We really sell that experience, that old New York vibe and feeling,” Tommy says, referring to Fine & Rare and its older sister restaurant, the Flatiron Room, best known as a watering hole for whiskey lovers.

A big empty box just three years ago, Fine & Rare acquired its been-here-forever look with the help of artful salvaging, including doors borrowed from a century-old Masonic temple and repurposed brass teller-window frames plucked from Grand Central Terminal. The dining room is warmed by a fireplace framed Greek-revival style with columns and a pediment.

A former Mad Man who got tired of the grind, Tommy jumped into the hospitality business feet first and with eyes closed, not even knowing, he confesses, how to make a cocktail. But he had a strong sense of what many New Yorkers are willing to pay for, including a unique ambiance, a hearty menu (entrees $28 to $48), a vast inventory of rare spirits and a bartender who likes to fool around with the ingredients. As in the Smoking Old Fashioned: muddled rye, bitters and sugar served in a lidded glass, over ice and under a wooly cap of aromatic wood smoke ($20). 

In a nod to brand loyalty, regulars can buy and tag a bottle of their favorite spirits, stash it in one of the restaurant’s liquor lockers and draw it down over time. Think of this “bottle keep” program as a way to save money, not to mention a voice of confidence in the future (yours and the restaurant’s).

Most nights and during Sunday brunch, musicians perform on a raised stage situated away from the tables along a side wall (find the lineup at “It’s very transportive,” Tommy says. “People are looking to get away and not everyone has the means to do it—this makes them feel as if they’ve escaped.”

Because of course the impact of the pandemic is felt not only by wary, escape-longing customers but at every level of the restaurant business. Leaner kitchen crews, tighter menus, tables parked next to propane heaters on busy crosstown streets—who could have predicted any of this a year ago?  

Indoor dining may still be new, but one thing is certain: New York’s appetite for comfort food and fancy drinks isn’t going away soon. Reservations recommended, especially on weekends.