Co-creator of How I Met Your Mother in New York’s Most Romantic Places

This article is part of a guide to New York by FT Globetrotter

It’s no surprise that New York is such a popular setting for romantic comedies, a genre that is more often than not about the novelty of love. Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, boy meets boy, girl meets girl. . . New York, with its endless crowded sidewalks, is practically designed for these happy collisions. Every morning you walk out your front door into what is potentially the first act of a love story.

I think that’s why, for me, the most romantic places in New York are the ones that have been around for a while. In a city buzzing with endless reinventions and new beginnings, it’s the old places that anchor you and remind you that you’re just a page in a story much longer than your own. Here are some of my favorites.

by Keen

72 West 36th Street, New York, NY 10018

A tray of old clay pipes at Keen's, labeled with the names of their famous owners.

Just a few of Keen’s countless vintage clay pipes, labeled with the names of their famous owners.

A table set at Keen's

Opened in 1885, Keen’s is “one of the most gloriously distinctive vintage capsules New York has to offer.”

In the middle of a part of town that isn’t particularly historic, a gridlock neither here nor there known as Midtown South, you’ll find one of the most gloriously distinctive vintage capsules New York has to offer: Keen’s Steakhouse. Established in 1885, Keen’s began as a watering hole and feeding ground for the theatrical stage. Broadway actors regularly wet their whistles here before, after, and sometimes during performances.

The first thing you might notice as you enter this sprawling labyrinth of dining rooms and bars are the old clay pipes hanging from every inch of the ceiling. Once upon a time, regulars enjoyed an after-dinner puff and were invited by management to store their pipes on the premises. They’re still there to this day, including those belonging to Babe Ruth, Albert Einstein, Theodore Roosevelt, and countless other luminaries who have gotten into Keens’ legendary steaks and chops over the years. If you don’t get goosebumps imagining the conversations these walls have overheard, you’ll at least have one of the best steaks New York has to offer. (Website; Addresses)


1648 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10028

A plate of pork and sausage flanked by large glasses of beer in Heidelberg

Head to Heidelberg for old-school German food and “delicious beer in a mug the size of a small fire hydrant.”

The facade and sign of the Heidelberg restaurant

The neighborhood was once home to New York’s German community.

Listen to me. A plate of sausages is not inherently romantic. Nor is a server in lederhosen. Heidelberg has both in abundance, but I promise we’re a long way from the Germany pavilion at Epcot. This is the real thing, handed down from generation to generation. Once upon a time, this Yorkville neighborhood was full of German émigrés, and Second Avenue was full of beer halls. Heidelberg is all that remains of that forgotten time, but what a specimen it is. You can hear the drinking songs still echoing in the murals. I always prefer the beef goulash with spaetzle and one of the many delicious beers in a mug the size of a small fire hydrant.

Then, to walk away, I go out, head to East 86th Street, turn right and keep walking until I reach Carl Schurz Park, my favorite green space in Manhattan, a place that feels like Central Park in miniature, although in a quiet part of the city no tourist would think of visiting it. Walk through the park, up the steps and on to the river walk. Find a bench and watch the water go by. You can see an excellent collection of bridges from here, as well as a lighthouse on the tip of Roosevelt Island. It is the perfect place for a summer afternoon. (Website; Addresses)

Pete’s Tavern

129 East 18th Street, New York, NY 10003

A brick building on Irvine Place in Manhattan, with trees in front of it and a rooftop garden

Leafy Irvine Place in one of New York’s great historic neighborhoods © Alamy Stock Photo

The interior of Pete's Tavern

Pete’s Tavern, who survived Prohibition by disguising himself as a florist © Alamy Stock Photo

Much of the appeal of Pete’s is that it’s in the middle of one of New York’s great historic neighborhoods, so walk around a bit before you go inside. Irving Place is a beautiful little tree-lined avenue, with generous layers of ivy climbing its stone and brick facades. Walk north a few blocks and you’ll come to Gramercy Park, the closest thing New York has to a classic London private square. Even if you’re not lucky enough to access this quiet slice of calm (the only keys belong to the residents who live across the street), a stroll around its circumference is a great way to step back in time and work up an appetite. what some say is the best burger in New York.

Pete’s has been around forever, even surviving Prohibition disguised as a “florist,” and it’s no wonder, since it looks and feels like you want every bar to look and feel. The oak is dark, the conversation is lively, and the story is palpable. Storyteller O Henry lived nearby and wrote “The Gift of the Magi” on one of the tables. (Or so the legend goes. It wouldn’t be much of a bar story if it wasn’t served with just a whisper of Apocrypha.)Website; Addresses)

Grand Central Oyster Bar

89 East 42nd Street, New York, NY 10017

Customers sitting at the counter in Grand Central Oyster BAr

The counter at Grand Central Oyster Bar © Alamy Stock Photo

A dozen oysters on a bed of ice

Aw-shucks: A dozen of these beauties await you at Grand Central © Polaris/Eyevine

Grand Central Terminal is without a doubt one of the best places in Manhattan. It is difficult to find spaces that take your breath away and that are also open to the public; it’s pretty much limited to churches and train stations. And this is a very special train station. The high, massive ceiling, with its constellations of orange-yellow stars set like jewels in a blue-green sky, is one of those sights a million postcards won’t prepare you for when you see the real thing in person.

But to access my favorite place in Grand Central, you have to exit the Great Hall and go down the ramp to the lower level, where you’ll find a place that looks like a repurposed catacomb with Christmas lights and subway tiles. This is the Oyster Bar, and it’s older than all of us. There are plenty of tables, but turn right when you walk in and grab a seat at one of the counters. Order a dozen oysters and a martini, and you’ll share communion with more than a century of travelers who have sheltered here for decades before departing for parts unknown. Finish your meal, go back upstairs, gaze at the stars one more time, and I dare you, right now, not to feel the sudden urge to jump on a train and go somewhere you’ve never been. That’s the beauty of this place and of New York City: the endless sense of possibility. (Website; Addresses)

Carter Bays is the co-creator of the American sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” and the author of mutual friendpublished by Hodder and Stoughton

What is your most romantic place in New York? tell us in the comments

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