Best People-Watching in NYC

Soak in the Scene
April 25, 2017
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by Zagat Staff

People-watching is considered a sport in the Big Apple. From classic establishments to eclectic hotspots, these are the places to see and be seen.

Nobu Fifty Seven
Japanese · West 50s · $$$$
Food 4.7 · Decor 4.4 · Service 4.3

This “over-the-top” Midtown branch of Nobu Matsuhisa’s Japanese-Peruvian powerhouse continues to draw a “happening” crowd with “knowledgeable” servers providing “standout” specialties in an “expansive” upstairs dining space; the scene is “loud” but “alluring” , especially “if you can find someone to treat you.”
Carbone
Italian · Greenwich Village · $$$
Food 4.5 · Decor 4.2 · Service 4.3

“Amazing twists” on “old-school” Italian cooking (including “life-changing” rigatoni) make for a serious “feast” at this “clubby” Village “destination” , where the “classic” decor, “nattily dressed” servers and “throwback” soundtrack will take you back to “Little Italy of the ’50s” ; the bill might “set off the smoke alarm” (beware the specials), but reservations still remain “too hard to get.”
Bar Pitti
Italian · Greenwich Village · $$
Food 4.4 · Decor 3.5 · Service 3.8

Home to “many a celeb sighting” , this “jet-set” Village Italian is best known for its “excellent people-watching” from indoor/outdoor tables, even if the “easygoing” fare is pretty “delicious” as well; no reservations, no plastic, “no discernible decor” and “far-from-friendly” service don’t faze its “paparazzi” -ready patrons.
Balthazar
French · SoHo · $$$
Food 4.4 · Decor 4.3 · Service 4.1

Keith McNally’s “legendary” SoHo brasserie “still delivers the goods” with its “magnifique” French fare ( “blissful” breakfast, “oh such wonderful” breads) and atmosphere straight out of “Belle Époque Paris” ; it’s “always buzzing” with “locals and tourists alike” , plus a “celebrity or two” , meaning the “tight quarters” can be a “madhouse” – but that’s part of what makes it “a New York classic.”
Minetta Tavern
French · Greenwich Village · $$$
Food 4.4 · Decor 4.1 · Service 4.1

“Nostalgia trip” meets “trendiness” at Keith McNally’s “energetic” Village “standout” that revives a circa-1937 tavern with “vintage” knickknacks, “snappy” service and “excellent” French fare including a “mind-blowing” Black Label burger ( “holy cow!” ); the prospect of “famous” faces in the back room keeps it a “tough table” , despite digs “more crowded than the subway.”
Lure Fishbar
Seafood · SoHo · $$$
Food 4.4 · Decor 4.2 · Service 4.1

Still “trendy” and filled with “beautiful people” , this SoHo staple wins ‘em over with “fresh seafood par excellence” and a “swank” , “yachtlike” setting tucked below street level; tabs “on the pricier side” don’t seem to dampen the “active bar scene” or “challenging” decibels.
The Spotted Pig
British · West Village · $$$
Food 4.4 · Decor 3.9 · Service 3.9

A certified “hot spot” , this West Village gastropub is a “proven winner” where nightly “throngs” convene for April Bloomfield’s “mouthwatering” Modern European chow (including a “killer” burger) and sporadic “celeb sightings” ; too bad the “tight quarters” are always “jammed” and the no-reservations policy makes for “really long waits.”
Catch NYC
Seafood · Meatpacking District · $$$
Food 4.3 · Decor 4.3 · Service 3.9

“Beautiful people” and random “Kardashians” populate this “trendy” Meatpacking “scene” for “very good” seafood in a sprawling, “pumping” duplex with a rooftop lounge; “expensive” tabs aside, it’s “good for groups.”
TAO Downtown
Asian · Chelsea · $$$
Food 4.3 · Decor 4.6 · Service 4.1

Still “delivering the wow factor” , these “dramatic” Pan-Asians feature “mega-sized” Buddhas anchoring “impressive” , soaring spaces where attractions include “imaginative” food and cocktails and a chance “to be seen” ; count on “pulsing music” and a “vivacious” “scene” that’ll distract from the “high-end” tabs.
Cafe Cluny
French · West Village · $$$
Food 4.2 · Decor 4.0 · Service 4.0

A “wonderful vibe” has evolved at this “quaint” West Village bistro, a bona fide “nabe fave” thanks to “appetizing” Franco-American cooking served in a “bright” space; since the weekend brunch can be a “free-for-all” , regulars say “arrive early.”
The Standard Grill
American · Meatpacking District · $$$
Food 4.1 · Decor 4.1 · Service 3.9

A “happening” crowd collects at this “festive” scene in the Meatpacking's Standard Hotel, drawn by its “reliably good” American bites, “fun people-watching” and front cafe “pickup scene” ; still, “deafening” decibels and “shoulder-to-shoulder” crowds lead some to dub it a “place more to be seen than fed.”