During the past few weeks, with the mercury hitting Fargo-like temperatures, the city’s townhouse dwellers have been filling the wintry air with the delightful aroma of burning firewood. Sitting snugly in their parlors, entranced by dancing flames, these lucky bastards are probably oblivious to the rankling envy of their neighbors, dwellers in hearthless postwar apartments. So we’ve scoured the city for the coziest fireplace settings in restaurants, party rooms, lounges, and bars. For authenticity’s sake, we’ve avoided modern innovations – no ceramic logs, no Duraflames, and certainly no gas-operated phonies. It’s always a good idea to call ahead and ask whether the fire will be kindled. And be careful when requesting a hearthside table: Sit too close and the most heavenly blaze can start to feel a bit hellish.
86 Bedford Street (212-675-4449)
Well known as a literary landmark where Steinbeck and Sinclair once had regular tables and where Fitzgerald worked on The Great Gatsby, Chumley’s has a blazingly hot fireplace, whose chipped bricks and charred andirons make it one of the most rustic in town. (The wooden goose on the stone mantel is in memory of the real one that rolled out of its roasting pan in 1905 and started a fire that burned the original building to the ground.) It’s worth navigating the labyrinthine streets of the West Village in search of this former speakeasy’s unmarked entrance, even on a bitter-cold January night – especially, perhaps, on a bitter-cold January night. Regulars often request the lobster special, which is not on the menu but includes a one-to-two-pound lobster, a lobster bisque, mussels, corn on the cob, and a baked potato.
21 West 52nd Street (212-582-7200)
For a clubby, old-boys’ evening, settle into an oversize leather armchair within the red-maple walls of the lounge at “21,” swirl a vintage cognac, and draw slowly on a Montecristo. If you don’t score one of the four seats directly in front of the hearth at this former midtown speakeasy, don’t fret: You’ll feel the heat from just about any seat, and the flames set the entire room aglow. “It’s like one’s own living room,” a waiter says dreamily. (He must live in Westchester.)
All State Café
250 West 72nd Street (212-874-1883)
If you prefer jeans and sneakers to pumps and pearls, head below street level to the All State Café for a beer and some super-crispy fried chicken. The Upper West Side regulars are friendly, so don’t be shy about making room for yourself in the crowded bar area. Pull up one of the eight stools and let the heat from the nineteenth-century fireplace warm your backside. There’s also a round table for two next to the fire, and if you can take the heat, you’re welcome to stand in front of the grate and use the mantel as a bar.
Molly’s Pub and Shebeen
287 Third Avenue, near 22nd Street
This sawdust-on-the-floor pub has Gaelic tunes on the jukebox, red-bearded lads at the bar, and a brick fireplace from which Saint Nick could feasibly emerge. Try to win a seat near the fire. If a table isn’t available, just about any seat at the bar promises a great view, sufficient warmth, or both. Molly’s is famous for its ten-ounce burgers, but don’t hesitate to try the chicken potpie or the shepherd’s pie, which are both as messy and hearty as they should be.
Ye Waverly Inn
16 Bank Street (212-929-4377)
Both fireplace rooms (the fire in the third room is gas-powered) at this inn turned restaurant are loaded with 1840s charm, thanks to original wooden booths and light fixtures and recently restored wallpaper. Arrive early and have a Waverly cocktail (a Cosmo with vanilla vodka) at the bar near the small brick mantel, then request a table in the yellow-walled dining room, where six tables are nestled around a black marble hearth with old-fashioned brass tools and a rickety mesh screen. Chef Patrick Haynes, formerly of Daniel and the Box Tree, recently upgraded the menu from burgers and chili to filet mignon and Chilean sea bass, although hefty portions and the chunky mashed potatoes that accompany most dishes show that he hasn’t entirely forsaken the inn’s pub-fare roots.
Beekman Bar & Books
889 First Avenue, at 50th Street
Though Beekman is known as a late-night pickup spot for bankers, consultants, and other straitlaced professionals, if you time it right, you’ll find plenty of seats on the cushioned banquette opposite the glass-doored fireplace where you can play chess or browse the book-lined shelves – without being ogled. Of course, if you don’t mind the attention, arrive after 11 p.m. and order something from their extensive selection of single-malt scotches. On Fridays and Saturdays, guitar-based jazz trios perform from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
135 East 62nd Street
Housed in a 100-year-old landmark building, Maratti’s main dining room still feels like the townhouse living room it once was. The eighteen-foot ceilings, huge windows, and bright-yellow walls subtract nothing from this Italian seafood restaurant’s intimate atmosphere. Muster up a craving for a baked whole fish or seafood risotto and get as close as you can to the elegant hearth. Maratti’s separate, private dining room, one of New York’s well-kept secrets, can accommodate up to twenty guests around a grand, fireside table and always smells wonderfully of burning cherry wood.
Enoteca Don Antonio
252 East 77th Street (212-879-4821)
If you can’t escape to a villa in rural Tuscany this winter, console yourself with a meal at Enoteca Don Antonio, where farm-style furniture and wooden ceiling beams simulate the real thing. This Italian newcomer boasts a wall-size brick-and-stone fireplace and a varied, regional menu. Opposite the hearth, near the restaurant’s entrance, is an open-fire brick oven, where diners can watch the chef prepare dishes like fillet of Portuguese sea bass, thin-crusted pizza, and roasted sardines served with olive oil and lemon juice.
70 Prince Street (212-219-8570)
Savoy is Little House on the Prairie meets millennial SoHo – rustic yet sleek. While the main dining room downstairs showcases a tiny redbrick fireplace that warms one or two tables, all six tables in the dimly lit dining room upstairs have a front-row view of the elevated marble hearth, which is used to cook dishes like wood-grilled organic veal, grilled-apple salad, and striped bass. While the prix fixe menu changes regularly, you can always look forward to the crème brûlée: Served compliments of the chef, it’s finished with a round branding iron that’s heated over the flames.