Reservations at the swanky Polo Bar in New York City are some of the hardest reservations to come by in the Big Apple right now. There’s really only two ways to get in, either you stalk their reservation hotline for weeks/months in advance like a total lunatic or you try calling every person you know in the restaurant industry in NYC to see if they know someone who knows someone who knows someone. I know what you’re thinking. Why not forgo dinner and just have a drink at the bar? Not so fast. Polo Bar is also one of the very few restaurants in New York City that does not even allow you to come in and sit at the bar unless you have a dining reservation that evening. You can’t even sneak in! When you arrive at the door, they will in fact double-check to confirm your evening reservation before they let you even step foot inside the restaurant. If however, you are able to secure a reservation, you’ll have the pleasure of dining at one of the classiest restaurants in the New York area with outstanding service and good food to match.
The first floor of this New York City high-end dining establishment has a vintage and classy bar that will remind you of the Mad Men era. In a nutshell, The Polo Bar is a romantic type of restaurant where women of the 1950s expected to be taken for a fancy dinner date. Assuming you arrive a few minutes early for your reservation or are waiting for the rest of your party to arrive, do sit at the bar or the leather couch bar seats across from the bar and order a Manhattan or tequila-based cocktail to start. You may need to refinance your house to be able to afford more than one cocktail, but this isn’t the kind of place you’re going to eat at every night (one would assume). Anyway, they’ll immediately hand you a drink menu and some delicious bar snacks to start, including deep fried olives, freshly made kettle potato chips and delicious roasted nuts. (Side note: they really need to package up these roasted nuts and start selling them in grocery stores, or at least give them out on planes. I think we all might enjoy flying again if I could have these delightful, well-seasoned nuts, but I digress). When your party is fully in attendance and the time has commenced for your dining reservation, the host will tell you to follow her downstairs and off you go! The downstairs opens to what looks like an exclusive private gentleman’s polo club in Charleston, South Carolina. Between the fancy leather couches, wooden paneling, swanky mini lamps on each table, forest green walls, and numerous framed pictures of competition polo horses, you’ll feel like you’re leaving ‘2019 NYC’ and entering a whole different world. Another lavish detail at this restaurant is their use of monogrammed items. Every single item at the Polo Bar is monogrammed. From the plates and bowls to the menus, everything says ‘The Polo Bar’ Ralph Lauren as if you forgot where you were. (Not likely).
The menu is an excellent collaboration of traditional high-end American favorites like shrimp cocktail, pigs in a blanket, tuna tartare, prime filet mignon and their infamous Polo Bar burger. From the oysters to the bone-in rib eye, every dish is executed very well here. The staff is also very friendly, hospitable, and well-versed on the menu. You will be treated like royalty (you are paying enough for it!) Don’t be surprised if you see “A level” celebrity sightings in the bathroom or the table next to you. In addition to the restaurant being super exclusive, the downstairs has this ‘secretive’ vibe as nothing is visible from the outside. It’s quite the experience overall.
The Polo Bar in Chicago has a bit of a different ambiance.
In Chicago, you can walk in and have a seat at the bar, even if you don’t have a dinner reservation that evening. The restaurant itself looks more like a gentleman’s club from the 1940’s, rather than a polo club from the 1950’s and 60’s. There’s a bit of an old school ‘Chicago mobster’ kind of vibe going on. The bar area is surrounded by vintage, wooden bookshelves filled with novel books like Moby Dick. What’s interesting about the bar itself is the unique, antique glass vases on the stop shelf of the bar. They are interesting decorations. Move past the bar area and you’ll enter an open style dining room with low, wooden paneled ceilings, navy blue walls, tons of framed paintings on the walls, luxurious leather seating, and white tablecloth tables along with numerous little ‘library’ lamps and a few decorative white roses on every table. There’s a certain prohibition like feeling to this restaurant as there’s no windows in the dining room and lighting is kept dim.
Another main difference between the NYC location and the Chicago location is the fact that the Chicago location is open for lunch and weekend brunch and NYC location is only open for dinner (only adding to its elusive vibe). Both locations focus on their steak and meat choices, but the Chicago location also offers a delightful seafood tower, while NYC does not. The meat fish and meat sections are similar, as are the side offerings. The NYC location, as you might expect, is a bit pricier.
Note that the plates in Chicago say RL and the plates in NYC say ‘The Polo Bar’.
Try to eat on the earlier side, as you’re bound to be treated better and the staff will likely be more present. We arrived on a weekday at 5:30pm for our dining reservation for the location in NYC, and the service was second to none. On the other hand, we arrived around 9:30pm on a Saturday evening to Polo Bar in Chicago, and the place was just about empty when we were done eating.
Looking forward to visiting their London and Paris locations in the future!