The Affair Restaurant is the setting—or one of the settings—for that stage of adultery that comes after the relationship is no longer just about screwing and before it is later again just about screwing.
And so the quintessential Affair Restaurant always feels comfortably familiar during a fraught, ankle-tangling supper at the bar, but then disappears immediately from the mind after the check is paid. What street was that place on? The one with the woodwork, the deep booths, the dim lighting, the mediocre steak frites? Who can remember? These are the restaurants, saloons and hotel bars whose invisibility even to regular passersby turns them, in the cinq-à-sept hours, into the sanctuaries of Manhattan’s illicit lovers.
Take Bistro 60, on 60th Street between Madison and Park avenues: It has a vaguely Euro feel and yet is strangely generic: white linen tablecloths; trout with lemon butter.
And if you’ve ever been there, you know what it means to be deafened by the white noise of secret conversations multiplied 60 times in a single, large back room. So do men lunch here with their mistresses? Cornered and asked the question directly, the restaurant’s manager broke into a wide, knowing grin.
“Yeah,” he said. “Sometimes it happens. You see them sitting close together in the corner.”
Like any discrete tradesman on the Upper East Side, he then clammed up—but not before one got the sense the regular flow of the faithless was something of an in-house joke.
“FORGET CHECKING NEW YORK MAGAZINE and going to the new place,” said R. Couri Hay on the phone from Southampton. Mr. Hay is the society columnist for Gotham magazine; he often fills his column with lengthy, anonymous tales of musical beds. As a public-relations man, he also does crisis management, and has “handled my share of infidelities.”
“If you’re an Upper East Side person, the last place you should go is the ‘21’ Club. Forget the Four Seasons Grill or the Pool Room,” he said. Mr. Hay said that one might venture downtown to a little Italian or Chinese place, but that also this might put off the sort of well-heeled person with which one might prefer to have an affair.
Where do our adulterers go? “If you’re having an affair,” said New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni last week from his desk at West 43rd Street, “your thoughts are probably straying a bit from the quality of the food. So it opens a whole world of restaurants that are great-looking but don’t have great food. So you go to One if by Land, Two if by Sea. It’s gorgeous. You go to the Boathouse.”
At the Boathouse in Central Park on Monday, a waitress whizzed by with a plate of fried shrimp. Yes, she said. “You’re not going to just bump into someone you know.”
“I see that a lot of times,” said the Boathouse’s manager, Safet Kurtovic, when asked about extramarital meals. He pegs the cheating lovebirds by their giddy nervousness, by the lack of conversation about bank accounts, and by the way neither party looks at the check before paying by credit card.
BUT FORNICATOR, BEWARE! There are restaurants that look like Affair Restaurants but are not. Bilboquet, on 63rd between Madison and Park, is nearly invisible and marked just by a green awning. It looks just right—but step inside and you’ll find a henhouse presided over by a Parisian madame who calls everyone “darling”; each table is occupied by bottle blondes and their gal pals. “We have the ex-wives,” said the grand manageress, and: “We like to keep the paparazzi out.”
Indeed, sometimes the Affair Restaurant is hard to tell apart from the Ladies’ Lunch Restaurant or the Business Lunch Restaurant.
Restaurant 44 at the Royalton? “I don’t really know about that,” said server Camoy Cunningham. The Algonquin? “Lots of business, little pleasure,” said the maitre d’.
Once upon a time, said writer Nora Ephron, a good place was P.J. Clarke’s, the old holdout saloon that proudly sways under the skyscrapers at Third Avenue and 55th Street. The bar is dark, has red checkerboard tablecloths and a dining room set off from the street.
Jackie Singer, a pretty young manager there, pointed out two adorable and claustrophobic nooks in the dining room. Each is walled in on three sides; each has a single table that places diners at intimate quarters. “We get all kinds; we don’t judge,” Ms. Singer said.
Perhaps now a good place for a smoldering lunch is Joe Allen’s new Bar Centrale, “which is good by the way,” Ms. Ephron e-mailed from out of the country, “so shouldn’t be lumped under culinarily underperforming but seems to me very romantic and simultaneously public in the sense of if-they-were-having-an-affair-they’d-never-dare-to-be-here.”
The manager of Joe Allen’s, Gerrard Spencer, and a lunch waiter both agreed their restaurant was just a bit too busy to be a dovecote of cheating cocks—plus the square layout so enjoyed by Broadway beauties allows no secret corners.
But perhaps some brave noontime lovers pop in there. There are those sorts of exhibitionists.
“People who want to be found out,” Page Six’s Paula Froelich pointed out, are legion. “Like having lunch at the Ivy! Like having lunch at Da Silvano. Bar Pitti! It’s like going on the loudspeaker and announcing!”
NEW YORK SOCIAL DIARY CHRONICLER and bon vivant David Patrick Columbia once had dinner with a couple engaged in a very long affair at a restaurant on 63rd Street between Second and Third avenues. It was the sort of place usually referred to, correctly or not, as a Mafia Restaurant. “They always went there because everyone in the world knew them and no one would see them there,” he said.
(There is on that block of 63rd Street a restaurant called Bravo Gianni. It has one small window to the street. In the middle of a recent afternoon, during the restaurant’s three-and-a-half-hour break between lunch and dinner seatings, the only people inside were two very large men, both clad in Hawaiian shirts. They were drinking at the bar.)
Mr. Bruni suggested Casa La Femme North, at First Avenue between 58th and 59th streets; it’s an upscale Egyptian restaurant where the semi-circular booths are enveloped by tents that can be opened or closed. “It looks like they were absolutely designed for doing more than necking,” he said. “Occasionally, the belly dancer sweeps by. You’re being put in a very midriffy, loinal mood.”
One couple of Mr. Columbia’s acquaintance would meet at the Westbury Hotel, on West 57th Street, now a co-op. “That used to be a big hotel for assignations in the 1940’s and 50’s,” he said. “It was a fancy address but kind of an anonymous hotel.”
There is always the Carlyle Hotel, Mr. Hay suggested. Setting aside the matter of its grand rooms, the farther back one ventures in the hotel’s restaurant, the more romantic the mood becomes. “They don’t build them like they used to,” the Carlyle’s maitre d’ said the other day, in appreciation. And as for the rest: “Discretion is our motto.” It certainly always was when it came to John F. Kennedy and the hotel’s infamous back entrance.
Mr. Hay had some other suggestions. His top choices for adulterous meeting places were: Paris; London; Rome; Sarasota, Fla., but never Miami; a friend’s guest house or, at least, guest bedroom; a leased plane, but not one with a regular crew that might also serve a spouse; an apartment rented or purchased in a company name by an underling such as a vice president, but not a secretary, meaning a person who can never be fired and preferably one who is also an adulterer; perhaps Montauk, although it has become crowded with other marital escapees; possibly the Pierre; and “What about that dreaded place? New Jersey.”
—Edmund Glover, Samuel Jacobs, Jonathan Liu and Juliab Simon contributed reporting to this article.
The Philandering Gastronome
A Convenient Lunch
According to an editor at Quest, the restaurant of the Lowell Hotel is a favorite for men and their mistresses. Why’s that now? “Because it’s good food, no one goes there, and later you can get a room.” The favored time for such encounters, he said, is around 3 p.m., after any other lunchtime punters have dispersed. (Get a suite, cheapskate! The Garden Suite is lovely—but we prefer the sensual gravity of the Hollywood Suite.)
“Follow the trail of alcohol. Romance is found in the bottom of a wine glass,” said Page Six’s Paula Froelich. As the liquor—and the drinker—slides to the bottom of Manhattan, the willingness to dispense with marital contracts rises exponentially. The Room, on Sullivan between Prince and Houston, certainly lives up to its name. And inside Bungalow 8, no one can see your wedding ring.
Adulterers Have Palates Too
Canaletto—60th between Second and Third avenues—has food better than the average adulterous hideaway. Better yet, eat at any spot that begins with “Le” that isn’t followed by “Bernadin.” There’s Le Perigord on far East 52nd Street; wee little Le Entrecote (ha!) at First and 57th; and, of course, to really get away, there’s Le Refuge Inn, tucked away in a Victorian in City Island. I think we’re alone now!
Two if by … Yoinks!
“Occasionally, couples sneak into the bathroom,” said One if by Land, Two if by Sea veteran waiter Brandon Spano. “We send a male manager and a female manager in there. It’s always awkward.
“I’ve been in the restroom with a customer who was in the stall on the phone with his wife—saying, ‘I’ll be home soon, honey,’ etc. Then he goes back to the table and I see him kissing his girlfriend.”
But adulterers don’t frequent the West Village carriage house year-round. Mostly, said manager Tom Kirk, they come around Valentine’s Day. Awww.
Out of Town
There’s nowhere at all to take your paramour in the Hamptons. Except maybe that pile-up on the highway! “The Hamptons!” said David Patrick Columbia. “All you have to do is get in your car and get in line. You can be doing anything you want and nobody will know.”
—Choire Sicha, Jonathan Liu, Edmund Glover