It’s a chilly Saturday night; all is eerily quiet on the Upper East Side. Not a soul on the sidewalk, and not a car on the street. I cross East 77th Street and immediately catch sight of two identical Jaguars with the engines running opposite a sign that reads: “Bar & Books: New York; Prague; Warsaw: The Most Refreshingly Civilized Places to Meet.” I walk in, and I am greeted by Muhammed; a tall and imposing, yet soft-spoken gentlemen in long coat with brass buttons who offers to take my coat. After thanking him, I ask him for permission to take his picture for this article. He politely but unflinchingly declines my request as he moves towards the door, bidding me to come inside.
As the door opens, the serene quiet of the passageway is swept away by the din of clinking glasses and loud conversation, all wrapped up in a layer of fusion Jazz music. The room is smoky and very dimly lit; indeed, most of the faces are barely more than silhouettes; and probably intensionally so. The light shines through the place just enough for me to recognize that the crowd is made up of tightly-knit groups of young professionals, most of whom don’t look a minute over 30.
Business is booming tonight; the place is just short of completely packed. A beautiful brunette in a red dress and a blazer approaches me and escorts me to a low-set table the size of a nightstand with two square cushion chairs on each side. It’s a a comfy spot, with the authentic fireplace just a few feet away and a framed, autographed copy of David Talbot’s Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years located just above the table. As the beautiful brunette silently departs to give me time to decide what I’ll have, I take the opportunity to observe the immense activity around me while I decide. The many patrons are mostly members of groups, and they all appear to stay within their respective groups; never venturing outside their immediate sphere of conversation. I take particular notice of two suited gentlemen seated far off in the corner, seemingly in the middle of a most pertinent conversation. They constantly, sometimes nervously, look about the room, especially when a patron or server passes by them; it’s as if the subject of their discussion is highly classified. Witnessing this dynamic in varying degrees throughout the place, I feel as if I’m somewhere in between the Godfather and Dr. No.
Just to my right is a large group; gorgeous blondes in elaborate dresses sporting foreign accents on one side of the table and American guys with unbuttoned collars and cigarettes on the other. I ask the woman nearest to me to take a picture of me so I can test the lighting’s effects on the camera; she smiles and takes my phone. After snapping a few shots, she speaks to me in a thick Russian accent, gently tapping the seat next to her with her long, bright red fingernails, inviting me to join her and her friends. Just as I’m about to leave my own seat, I catch the woman’s friend not-so-subtly shaking her head in disapproval. Not wanting to be that guy, I kindly excuse myself and adjourn to my original seat just in time for the mysterious beautiful brunette to return asking me what I’ll have.
Everything on the extensive menu looks fantastic, of course; the wine selection features not only top-notch reds and whites, but a lineup of different champagnes as well. Yet, one particular drink catches my attention: the Monkey Business. It’s a house cocktail consisting of vodka, St. Germaine, lime, ginger beer, mint, and cucumber; I ask her for it without thinking twice. I decide to pair it with the all-Dominican Purito. At just 4 ½” x 32’, it’s the smallest member of the Bar & Books house blend. After placing my order, I finally get my server’s name; Gina. Sadly, she also politely declines a request for a photo.
The Purito packs a hell of a punch for a cigar its size; its flavors are rich and full, yet also quite sharp and spicy, leaving the tastebuds nourished with every draw, albeit slightly singed. The Purito’s aroma is fantastic; a full-bodied cloud of sweet nutmeg graces the air with every puff I take. The Monkey Business keeps the Purito almost perfectly in check; the subtle smoothness of the vodka with the mint and cucumber, in combination with the sweetness of the ginger beer, provide a balancing, alkalizing effect to soothe over the acidic notes of the smoke.
As I head out after paying the bill, Muhammed hands me my coat, giving me a smile while two older gentlemen leave c-notes for him as tips. As I step out of the noisy lounge and back into the barren streets, I see the gentlemen get into the back seats of the matching Jaguars, and they depart in formation.
Wow! The smoke and the drink were excellent, beyond any shadow of a doubt. However, if you wish to enjoy Lexington Bar & Books to the fullest, bring at least one friend along. This is a place where privacy is top priority; after all, what would an intimate evening on the Upper East Side be without privacy?