Charlie Palmer is one of the restaurant world’s most recognizable names, with a career that spans over 25 years, a hospitality empire on both coasts (such as numerous outposts of Charlie Palmer Steak, as well as his New York fine-dining flagship, Aureole,) and a host of honorifics and awards, including stars from Michelin and medals from James Beard. But his impressive resume has mostly been shaped around progressive American cuisine, with a strong emphasis on farm-to-table (he was one of the earliest proponents of the movement), clearly expressed in dishes, such as Elysian Fields Lamb with young carrots and purple potatoes, and Hudson Valley Foie Gras with rhubarb confit.
That’s why his newest venture, Crimson & Rye (located in Midtown’s iconic Lipstick building) is somewhat of a curveball for Palmer — more of an upscale bar and lounge than traditional, sit-down restaurant, with far less of a focus on food than on strong spirits and craft cocktails. That’s not to say you’ll leave hungry. But Palmer’s signature style is articulated through small bites instead, such as Tuna Tartare with lavash crisps and lime, Warm Corn Pancakes with smoked salmon and chives, Pulled Pork Sliders with Brooklyn pickles, carefully curated Farmstead Cheese and Salumi boards, and shareable platters of hand-carved Roasted Strip Loin, served with seasonal slaw, potato salad, hunks of toasted baguette and dollops of smoked chipotle and horseradish aioli, for assembling free-form, slapdash sandwiches.
Because (as the name suggests), whiskey is the true star here, fulfilling Palmer’s self-described “selfish need for a place to get great drinks in Midtown.” There’s a small but solid selection of local beers and reasonably priced wine by the glass (four bubbly, four red, & five white), and even two virgin tipples for teetotalers; a Strawberry Fields Cooler and a Lemon-Basil Shandy. But it’s all a precursor to the multi-page menu of spirits, from Whistle Pig Rye from Vermont, to Noah’s Mill Kentucky Bourbon, to Macallan 18 Highland Single Malt, and even a few, non-brown options, including Brazilian Yaguara Cachaca, Barr Hill Vodka, Don Julio Tequila, and Hayman’s Old Tom Gin.
If you’re not big on drinking spirits straight, there’s a lot to like on Luis Mendez’s (formerly of Mercer Kitchen) cocktail list as well, which includes versions of classics — like the “Pickled & Dirty,” an extra-skunky Martini with New Amsterdam Vodka, pickled onions, extra olives and olive brine — and eight or so house creations, from the cold weather ready “Doctor’s Note,” a heady mix of Bank Note Scotch, Ardbeg 10 Yr Scotch, Domaine de Canton, lemon and honey syrup, to the endless summer “Salty Chihuahua;” a sprightly combo of Lunazul Blanco Tequila, fresh grapefruit and Golden Moon Dry Curaçao.
Charlie Palmer may not be aiming for Michelin-level accolades at this clubby, late-night spot, but it’s a dream come true for Midtown’s intrepid office workers, keen to kick off the evening with a stiff shot of whiskey, a classic Shrimp Cocktail, a salty ribbon of Coppa, and a hunk of good, artisanal cheese.