On 51st Street, just off Madison Avenue, a nondescript door gives entrée to the opulent and sophisticated Villard Bar at the New York Palace Hotel. The building, constructed in 1882 for railroad mogul Henry Villard, not only includes the hotel but also the restaurant Le Cirque 2000, which moved into its south wing four years ago. The north wing languished for ten years as neglected office space until a $3 million renovation was completed in February. Frenchman Pierre Court, who also recently renovated Paris' Plaza Athénée, and apartments for the royal family of Brunei, has, with the Villard, created one of Manhattan's most singular lounges. There are four rooms occupying two floors, each room having its own distinctly luxurious feel. The lower level features a 12-seat mahogany bar that separates a modern open-plan area from an intimate room with tented ceiling, undulating high-backed banquets, and walls covered in plush red damask.
A painstakingly restored mahogany staircase, accented with motifs in ebony and cherrywood, leads upstairs to two grand parlors reminiscent of the mansions of Newport. The Empire Room is filled with furniture of the First Empire, dramatic torchieres, and archeological drawings from Napoleon's campaign in Egypt. Across the hall, the most lavish of the four lounges is done in the regal style of Louis XIV.
A menu befitting the setting includes canapés and caviar to accompany 25 wines by the glass. The impressive selection of vintage bottlings, from Champagnes to ports, will dazzle, but the crown jewel is the bottle of 1870 Hardy Perfection Cognac (one of only 300 ever produced) at $500 per glass. 24 East 51st Street, New York, NY 10022; 212-303-7757.