All images courtesy of Ralph Lauren.
It was a bitterly cold late-winter evening when WAG visited The Polo Bar in Manhattan. Inside, however, the temperature ranged from warm to red hot.
Was it because Ralph Lauren’s first New York restaurant — located strategically next to his flagship Polo store across from the tony St. Regis Hotel in the very space that was once home to the legendary La Côte Basque — is Manhattan’s new It Place?
Or could it be the Cole Porter/jazz soundtrack that threads snippets of overheard conversations — what Broadway play to see, why “Seinfeld” will never grow old?
Or maybe it’s the décor by the RL creative team — all bottle-green walls, rich wood paneling and coffered ceilings, saddle leather chairs and banquettes, tartan pillows and brass appointments, with polo accoutrements and paintings hung academic style, one atop the other. It’s a decidedly masculine world, an elegant man cave in which we ladies — who’ve always known how to play with the big boys, anyway — can feel right at home. This is particularly true in the soft lighting that flatters every face reflected in the border of small rectangular mirrors that shrewdly adorn some walls at seat level.
Whatever the reasons, The Polo Bar is one of those heralded New York happenings that lives up to its billing. “I Get A Kick Out of You” indeed.
You’ll certainly get a kick out of the menu, classy American comfort food from chef Sepp Stoner that builds on Lauren’s eateries in Paris (Ralph’s) and Chicago (RL) while remaining distinctive. I was joined for the evening by my Manhattanite sister, Gina, a gourmet and superb cook who said, “Make sure you mention that the waiter refreshed our drinks (dirty martini for her, cosmo for me) in chilled glasses, a nice touch.” Consider it done, Sis.
She began the evening with The Polo Bar Crab Cake, thinly crusted and served with mustard bell pepper sauce, which she enjoyed, while I immersed myself in the Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with wild mushrooms and sage. I am a collector of butternut squash soup experiences. Indeed it’s one of the few things I make well. The Polo Bar’s isn’t as creamy as mine or some others I’ve tried, but it had a nice buttery texture and sheen plus the one thing butternut squash soup must have to be a success — the right amount of apple for that sweet-savory balance.
My sister, a healthier, more careful diner than I am, moved on to the Alaskan Black Cod, with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, mushroom broth, garlic parsley purée and wilted spinach.
While the restaurant has an enticing vegetarian menu, I decided I had to try the signature Polo Bar Burger, with cheddar cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, onions and pickles. (I skipped the bacon.) The burger, which came with a side of hand-cut fries, was one of the best I’ve had, thanks to the meat’s marvelous texture. The beef is sourced at select times of the year from Lauren’s Double RL ranch in Colorado, said Steven Bono, our charming, handsome server, who like all the attractive waitstaff sported custom RL gray flannel trousers, leather wingtips and silk repp ties.
Fortunately for me, the burger was not as big as it appears in photographs, which allowed me to indulge in my favorite — dessert. Tempting though it was, I bypassed Ralph’s Coffee Ice Cream, homemade with his custom coffee blend, in favor of a buttery Charleston Bourbon Pecan Pie with whipped cream — which had me dreaming of that city’s gracious grille-work and gardens — while my sister savored a creamy banana sorbet.
No visit to any stellar restaurant is complete for me without a trip to the powder room. I still secretly harbor the fantasy of writing a book titled “Great Powder Rooms of the United States” to be followed by “Great Powder Rooms of Europe.” Suffice it to say it, too, is bottle-green and I wished I could’ve whisked it back to my house, along with the painting of Triple Crown winners Man o’ War and Citation by Allen F. Brewer Jr. that hangs on the 132-seat dining room’s west wall.
But alas, those will have to remain dreams and it was out into the frigid night for me and Gina.
There’s no doubt, however, that whatever the season, The Polo Bar will retain its amber glow.
The Polo Bar is at 1 E. 55 St. at Fifth Avenue. The doors open at 5 p.m. for guests with reservations. Call 212-207-8562 or visit PoloBarRalphLauren.com.