It was fairly nondescript from the outside: a simple awning, some signs stating its name, and a revolving door. You might not think much of it walking along East 53rd.
Once you walked in, though, your impression immediately changed. Especially if you were there early in the morning, the way I often was in the 80s and 90s. You would be at the top of the stairs looking over the whole place, and it was packed with people there for power breakfasts. The sound of people talking just washed over you, and if you managed to find a seat, you would hear what was on the mind of Manhattan men and women of that era.
It could be intimidating, especially walking down those stairs into the middle of it all. Everyone seemed so confident, so polished, so put together. The fact Mike Bloomberg would often dine here to start his day gives you an idea of what it was like. While I felt shy on my first visit, I quickly found the place thrilling and energizing. No doubt the other diners did too.
Among other things, it was a convenient place to go. I would be in the city for business and the offices we worked in and the hotels we stayed in were nearby. I could wander over to the Brasserie and have delicious croissants or a proper egg and sausage breakfast before I went to work. The coffee and orange juice? Also great. As was the service. Convenient yes, but excellent too.
I don’t ever recall it changing that much over the years, which is one of the things about it that appealed to me. It gave me that constant connection to midtown Manhattan over the decades. It was my spot. After a long period of not visiting, I went back to NYC around 2018 and I wanted to hit it up, only to discover it had closed. Sad.
I’m glad I got to go all those years. If you visit a city often, I hope you can find such a place that allows you to fit in and belong and be part of something. It won’t be Brasserie, but I hope you find the next best thing.
For more on it, see this piece in Eater on it’s closing. Looks like they went out with a bang. Nice. More on it, here. (Images from those two places.) Finally this piece is in Japanese but you can get Google to translate it and there are some good images of Brasserie in it too. One thing I like about the Japanese post is you can see some of the food but you can also get a sense for what the stairs were like.