Located inside the historic Radiator Building on New York’s Bryant Park, the Bryant Park Hotel is a stylish retreat with a couple upscale dining and drinking options: high-end Japanese spot Koi on the ground floor, and Célon Lounge one floor down from the lobby. We recently had the chance to drop by for a couple cocktails, and there’s certainly plenty to like about this new hangout.
Before its recent renovation and rebranding, the space was home to the hotel’s Cellar Bar, which was essentially a nightclub. But the owners wanted to make it a little more sophisticated, and Célon Lounge is the result. The space has been stripped down to its bare bones (including the unfortunate removal of original Guastavino tiling from the groin-vaulted ceiling), with Marrakesh-style lamps casting elaborate shadows on the cream-colored walls and Mediterranean rugs covering the floor. It’s just enough to give it an exotic sexiness, and the seating layout and music choice makes it clear that this is a place to lounge with some cocktails, not a nightclub.
The specialty cocktails, however, were a bit of a disappointment. With names like Sahara Breeze, Kaz-Bar, and MarraKech, I was expecting them to have at least a hint of the exotic in the actual recipes, but the Mediterranean inspiration didn’t extend beyond the occasional use of mint and pomegranate juice. The Kaz-Bar, for example, contains rye whiskey, lemon juice, maple syrup, and red wine; the Mo-Rocka (named after the comedian, I presume?) contains bourbon and pear brandy along with apple spice syrup; and the Sahara Breeze was made with gin, elderflower, mint, and lemon. On the whole, the drinks were perfectly fine and went down easy, but they were all quite sweet, and none contained more than just a few basic ingredients (and the $17 price tag was a little tough to swallow). When I asked our server what the least-sweet cocktail on the menu was, she suggested the Charcoal Martini, citrus vodka mixed with something called “fresh PureGreen Charcoal Detox juice” and embellished with edible gold leaf. I ordered a negroni, which was well-made.
Thankfully, the Moroccan theme does inspire the small selection of bar snacks. Mediterranean olives and Marcona almonds are complimented by vegetable crudité, two types of bread (thin and buttery m’smen and focaccia-like nen-e-barbari), hummus, baba ghannouj, and red pepper muhammara. The hummus was smooth and creamy, and the breads were fresh and flavorful. No complaints there.
The space itself is comfortable and lively (and the staircase down from the lobby makes for quite a dramatic entrance), and the vaulted ceiling, North African décor, dim lighting, and Moroccan lamps definitely lend a romantic and exotic vibe; the crowd skewed more 30s than 20s, with a lot of dates, groups of women, and after-work drinks. It’s a unique and beautiful space; but for a pricey cocktail lounge, I just wish that the cocktail menu was a little more inspired.