Museum-going in New York City requires stamina. Hard floors, long hallways, and heavy crowds undermine your ability to concentrate on what you’re looking at. Good news: Food helps.
Gone are the days of plastic-wrapped sandwiches and spiritless salads; museum cafés now strive to actually keep visitors in the museum. Restaurateurs like Danny Meyer (who opened Untitled at the Whitney in 2011, and manages dining at MoMA) and Steven Starr (responsible for fare at the Rubin Museum of Art and the New-York Historical Society) have helped drive this upswing, but there’s also greater awareness of the wider intermingling of food and culture. Increasingly, menus connect to museum missions and effectively enhance the intellectual experience. Sustenance fuels both body and mind.
Most museums in New York now have passable restaurants associated with them. Some have very good ones. The aforementioned Starr opened Caffe Storico at the New-York Historical Society in 2012, bringing with it a notion of fine Italian dining that, while perfectly pleasant, had little to do with the institution’s story. Similar experiences can be had atop Columbus Circle’s Museum of Art and Design (the restaurant, Robert, began welcoming guests in 2010), at the Wright in the Guggenheim, and at Saul Bolton’s eponymous venture at the Brooklyn Museum. Meyer’s Modern, located next door to MoMA, is a cut above, but sufficiently removed from the museum’s core to distinguish itself more as a standalone enterprise.
Museum cafés thrive when administrators, chefs, and curators share a vision. The best of the bunch express institutional competencies and offer contextual cultural touch points, helping diners better understand the intentions or history of the place they’re visiting.
Here are our five favorite places to eat inside NYC museums.