It used to be a happy little secret—that you could stroll into some of Westchester’s toniest restaurants, sans reservation, and have a fabulous meal at the bar. But now we’ve come to expect it. Upscale restaurants, to avoid being seen solely as special-occasion destinations, are luring drop-in diners with lower-priced bar menus that apply past Happy Hour and beyond the bar. And not only are bar menus expanding, but bars themselves are too, with sexier bar setups flowing into separate lounges. The bar is gaining ground on the restaurant, with its designer cocktails, geek beers and wines, and small plates with big ideas.
A pork belly beet BLT at Mount Kisco’s Winston.
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The trend began in 2009, after the economy tanked, and restaurateurs turned to alcohol and cheap, quick dishes for their higher profit margins. They made room for more lounge space and added “bar and lounge” to their names. But some of our institutions have been working the lounge all along. Crabtree’s Kittle House’s pedigreed Tap Room (its 200-year-old bar was imported from England by Fanny Brice) offers a serious alternative to the dining room: No pared-down, six-item list here; there’s something for everyone, from classic steak tartare to vegan chili. Peter Kelly’s X2O in Yonkers has its Dylan Lounge, where sushi gets top billing, supplemented by American dishes and a weekly French night. These lounges are destinations in their own right—to the extent of garnering separate critical reviews—but still manage to make their parent restaurant less intimidating.
New Mount Kisco restaurant Winston has four areas and three levels that can hardly contain everyone. The ground floor is devoted to the bar and surrounding gastropub, and the rooftop is an open-air bar, the dining room sandwiched between the two. Bar-centricity and delicious cuisine is a killer combo. An eight-item bar menu served downstairs is divided into East (beef yaki dumplings, karaage chicken—Chef Michael Williams spent his formative years in Asia) and West (fish tacos, Angus burger). Cocktails are categorized too: in the Liquid Canvas series, the Port Authority (Noval Black port, apple brandy, yellow Chartreuse); in the Westchester County Series, Governor Cuomo’s Day Off (Cîroc vodka, agave nectar, grapefruit juice, Apothecary bitters), rumored to be his favorite drink.
Lobster roll from the Tap Room at Crabtree’s
And let’s not forget Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills. Dinner is a flat $138 or $198 (depending on which menu you choose). But you can enjoy a farm-to-bar dinner instead: Sit at the first-come, first-served bar and order from a $58 three-course bar menu with a few choices for each course. Watch as your cocktails are made with ingredients gathered from the fields of Blue Hill’s farm.
Bar dining is a natural extension for bistros and brasseries (brasserie means brewery, after all), evolving into what one might call “bistropubs.” Red Hat on the River in Irvington preserves its French identity with a brasserie menu available in the formal dining room as well as at the patio and rooftop bar. At Bistro Rollin in Pelham, the cozy R-Bar, set off from the dining room, is ideal for a tête-à-tête over bar menu choices including a yummy croque-monsieur and Breakfast Anytime burger with fried egg and sautéed onions. Crêpes headline the eclectic small plates menu at Park 143 Bistro in Bronxville. Have a Mother’s Little Helper (vodka, ginger, grapefruit, mint) or chipotle Margarita with sausage and cheese focaccia, drunken mussels, or truffle mac ’n’ cheese.
Other variations make a bid for your next Friday night. Case in point, the Barrels and Bites menu at still-hot L’inizio in Ardsley: cocktails made with spirits aged for two weeks in charred American oak barrels, paired with bites such as Parmigiano arancini with preserved lemon aioli, or radicchio, goat cheese, and grilled peach. Juniper in Hastings has gone as far as to let diners order any dish in a reduced-sized portion. And we love that option—even without the bar (Juniper is BYOB).
Thirsty for more? Check out our Ultimate Westchester Bar Guide