Feature

Inside NY's Private-Dining Boom: 10 Rooms to Book Now

By Beth Landman  |  December 9, 2013
Credit: Clay Williams

The New York Yankees-themed NYY Steakhouse that opened in Rockefeller Center just before Thanksgiving has an extremely impressive collection of baseball memorabilia - including contracts for greats like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio, and even the famous papers that brought Babe Ruth to the Yankees from the Red Sox. But most diners will never see any of these treasured objects, because none are hanging in the main dining room. Instead, they're in one of the three private banquet rooms. 

NYY Steakhouse's decorating choice is a prime example of where many New York City restaurants are focusing their energy - on the private-dining market. Lafayette has devoted an entire floor to parties, Le Bernardin is opening a new space (called Bernardin Prive) on the second floor exclusively for banquets, and nearly every new restaurant that has the footage is adding catering facilities.

“As the economy comes back, there is more and more demand for private dining rooms, but the classic corporate experience is being replaced by rooms with more character,’’ says John Meadow, co-founder of LDV Hospitality, which recently opened American Cut with two large private rooms.

Banquet rooms are no longer used just for special occasions. “Now, instead of sitting around a corporate room, companies choose to hold meetings or video conference in a prettier environment that might be inspirational,’’ observes Donna Rodriguez, VP of Public Relations at BT Guest, which owns Atlantic Grill, Ruby Foo’s, Blue Water Grill and Blue Fin, among other establishments with private spaces, all equipped with AV technology for such occasions. 

The level of the food has also been elevated beyond what people used to think of as standard catering food - poached salmon with some limp asparagus, or dry boneless chicken breast with mealy mashed potatoes. “I have seen Cipriani doing risotto at the last minute for 800,’’ says Le Bernardin chef Eric Ripert. “We will prepare everything at Bernardin Prive as if people are ordering à la carte at the restaurant.’’

The reason for all these new spaces is simple: private dining is a financial boon to restaurants. “Food costs are so high now that white-tablecloth restaurants make about 5% to 10% profit, but in private dining the profit is more like 50% to 75%,’’ points out restaurateur Don Evans, a partner at Loi, which has three banquet spaces, on the Upper West Side.

Private dining also benefits other restaurant guests, who are spared the disruption of large groups. “If you are having a romantic dinner and suddenly you are seated next to a table of 10, the intimacy is lost,’’ says Georgette Farkas, owner of the recently debuted Rotisserie Georgette. “Having a unique, private room is standard now when it comes to building a smart restaurant.’’

Read on for some of the city's most unique private-dining spaces.

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  • Credit: Clay Williams

    Tao Downtown, Sky Box

    The massive new downtown sister of the Asian-inspired Midtown party palace is a block long and contains two giant gold Buddhas.  The private rooms are not fully enclosed so that guests can appreciate the restaurant’s spirit. “We try to have them overlook the dining room so they have a sense of the action,’’ explains partner Paul Goldstein.

    92 Ninth Ave., 212-888-2724

  • Credit: Clay Williams

    Rotisserie Georgette, Rotisserie Room

    A rounded tile wall and antique French library shelves add a chic touch to the intimate room that seats up to 10, while windows overlooking the kitchen and spit-roasting meats provide spectacle. “You can experience the kitchen without hearing its noise,” says owner Georgette Farkas. "It’s better than food TV.”

    14 E. 60th St., 212-390-8060

  • Credit: Clay Williams

    21, Wine Room

    Originally built as a secret room in 1930 to hide alcohol in the Prohibition era, the handsome subterranean space that holds up to 22 has housed the private collections of Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Aristotle Onassis, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Eva Gabor and Mae West. It now holds bottles of Montrachet, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, among other blue-chip wines.

    21 W. 52nd St., 212-582-7200

  • Credit: Clay Williams

    American Cut, The Morrison Room

    A scaled-down version of the main dining room at Marc Forgione’s new TriBeCa meat mecca has its own full bar area and seats up to 40.  

    363 Greenwich St., 212-226-4736

  • Credit: Clay Williams

    Lambs Club, Stanford White Studio

    The smaller of two private rooms above Geoffrey Zakarian’s restaurant in the Chatwal Hotel is one of the most exquisite spaces in the city, complete with a grand fireplace, paneled oak walls, coffered ceilings and a large terrace. It seats 36 and has played host to some memorable events, including a Fashion Week party for L’Wren Scott, at which Mick Jagger danced for hours.

    132 W. 44th St., 212-997-5262

  • Credit: Clay Williams

    Nerai, Midnight Room

    Pressed grass walls, latticed ceilings, white oak floors, banquettes with white pillows and hand-painted lanterns all lend an island feel to the upstairs room at this beautiful Greek restaurant. Up to 48 guests can feel like they are in Mykonos for the evening.

    55 E. 54th St., 212-759-5554

  • Credit: Clay Williams

    B & Co., upstairs lounge

    This Midtown newcomer opened with two private floors above the dining room - one for members, and another for private functions with seating up to 80. The glam decor - snakeskin walls, silk light fixtures and large sketches of dancing women - has already helped draw events such as the premiere party for Lifetime’s House of Versace.  

    14 E. 58th St., 212-838-3200

  • Credit: Clay Williams

    Atlantic Grill West, downstairs private room

    The excitement of Lincoln Center is reflected on the walls of the private room at one of BR Guest’s most attractive and popular restaurants, featuring photos of performers including Luciano Pavarotti and Frank Sinatra. Wood paneling and textured gold wall treatments add warmth to the room, which is equipped with high-tech equipment and seats up to 35.

    49 W. 64th St., 212-787-4663

  • Credit: Clay Williams

    Cucina Ciano’s Wine Room

    Walking into the small room below the new, more gently priced version of Ciano is like stumbling upon a little oasis. Velvet banquettes, pillows and curtains make the space, which seats 18, both cozy and sexy; the flat-screen TV and surround sound add audio-visual potential.  

    181 E. 78th St., 646-422-7550

  • Patricia’s of Morris Park 

    Exposed brick, a wood-burning oven, and homemade pastas and pastries are a draw at this Southern Italian spot that has a spectacular wine cellar for parties up to 12.  An antique Murano crystal chandelier sheds soft light over the oak table, and shelves store rare vintages.

    1082 Morris Park Ave., Bronx; 718-409-9069