There is a lot to recommend Bryant Park: Its bathroom has been ranked among the nation’s cleanest, for one, and the sight of the library can remind anyone in a bad mood why they’ve chosen to live in New York City.
The dark side of this bright spot, though, is that the surrounding area is overrun by fast-casual restaurants (many with minimal to no seating), giving the neighborhood a suburban-mall feel not much unlike its nearby Times Square. Like many writers, I turn to the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library for a quiet, free space to get my work done, but when I work up an appetite and don’t want to go far from the hallowed work space that generously provides me with librarians who chase down my books for me, Wi-Fi and access to Jstor, the options feel limited to soulless burritos and sad desk salads—though sans desk at which to eat it. Here, from experience, a list of spots that provide a bit more ambience (and a place to sit).
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13 E. 37th St.
A restaurant with a Michelin star might be an easy pick, and you definitely need to make a reservation or go during off-hours, but when in the mood for an early solo dinner and a Tsingtao, there’s no better choice in the area. Go for the tiger salad and mapo tofu.
City of Saints Coffee Roasters
108 W. 42nd St.
The historically uncool Midtown area has received its cool coffee shop in the form of City of Saints, with matcha lattes, SuperMoon Bakehouse croissants, and perfectly poured lattes. Head in when in need of a caffeine and/or Instagram break.
Grand Central Oyster Bar
Grand Central Station
Chances are good that no one needs to be reminded that the Oyster Bar exists, but on the off chance that someone’s day would be vastly improved by a dozen on the half-shell, an order of fries and a martini, here’s the permission to go for it.
12 E. 32nd St.
A stressful day almost requires a visit to Hangawi, the classic vegetarian Korean restaurant, which is a 10-block walk from the library. The mini prix-fixe lunch goes for $26 and includes a starter, appetizer, entrée and dessert, or go for the specials that run weekdays from noon to 2:30 p.m. Spicy tofu kimchi hot pot might become a habit.
8 W. 40th St.
This is a chain, yes, but there is a rare seating area in the back of the café that’s great for quick catch-ups with friends—perhaps who are also working in the library—when work gets overwhelming, and it’s a very quick walk from the library’s main entrance for when one’s energy has been replenished.
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21 W. 39th St.
Google lists this spot on 39th Street as “no-frills” and that’s certainly true, but the lunch specials, range of options and quick service make it a lifesaver for when lunchtime hunger strikes. The baby eggplants in spicy garlic sauce provides the right amount of fuel.