Can a restaurant in a luxury retail store ever live up to the best standalone fine dining establishments in the world? We decided to find out. In our ongoing series, Retail Restaurants, we go in search of the best restaurants in luxury retail stores in cities around the world. In this edition, we get a taste of Palette at Bergdorf Goodman’s in New York. It’s the “other” Bergdorf restaurant, in the basement of the iconic retailer.
One upon a time, when everyone shopped retail, the dining options in even the best luxury department stores were not really about the food.
They were about the glamorous setting, the people-watching, the convenience, and the chance to gab and gossip with your shopping companions. If the food was good, that was just a nice extra. The real point was to be surrounded by a chic setting and a fashionable clientele of your peers.
Fast forward, and all of that has changed. As retailers fight to stay relevant and to lure shoppers off their sofas, the retail restaurant is experiencing a major renaissance and rejuvenation.
Around the world, luxury retailers seem to be doubling down on the idea that food is a core part of what attracts shoppers to retail. And that having an exclusive, buzzed-about restaurant is mission-critical to their success.
We love shopping retail. And we love eating at interesting restaurants. But does one plus one equal more than two when you combine this pair of beloved experiences? Dear reader, we decided to find out.
Our first stop is Palette, the vest-pocket cafe on the lower-level Beauty Floor of Bergdorf Goodman.
palatte at bergdorf goodman
Tucked away in a discreet corner of the Beauty Floor (in the basement of Bergdorf Goodman), you won’t find Palette unless you go in search of it. The space, billed as “part art gallery, part café,” is open daily for brunch, lunch, afternoon snacks, and cocktails (it’s also available for private events).
We stopped in recently for a mid-morning cup of joe, and we had the place to ourselves for a few precious minutes before the lunch crowd started to arrive.
As we descended the stairs leading into the subterranean space, we found ourselves immersed in a fabulous, cheerful whirl of rainbow colors and vibrant wall decor. (The feeling is not unlike the new handbag department at neighboring Saks Fifth Avenue).
Designed in collaboration with New Orleans-based artist, Ashley Longshore, the walls are filled with her work and the furnishings reflect their sassy and sweet attitude (think Valentine’s Day “conversation hearts,” or jelly-bean colors, and you’ll get the basic idea). Depending on your tastes and color preferences, you’ll find it to be way too much, or just enough. Your call.
For the previous 20 years, this space was a rather nondescript coffee-shop, with mostly beige and neutrals setting the tone. The new look was unveiled at the beginning of June 2018.
Now, nearly every historical and pop culture signifier of Girliness is represented here: pink, purple, red, sparkly jewels, flowers, princesses, butterflies, fancy hats, shiny balloons, lips, sunnies, and more pink.
The chairs are candy-colored, and some bear the statement “Time Out.” The equally vibrant place mats proclaim “yes yes yes.” One piece of wall art declares “I do not cook. I do not clean. I do not fly commercial.” Another demands “Let me drink my champagne in peace.”
Who hasn’t felt that way at least once or twice?
Is all of this ironic? Or sincere? Who cares? It’s like climbing into your mom’s jewelry box for a quick bite to eat with your friends. Girly-girl heaven, in other words.
hail to the chiefs
The only male presence on the walls is a series of comic portraits of former Presidents (but sadly, no President Obama – at least, not yet).
Teddy Roosevelt retains his somber mien, despite being surrounded by bright gold Mylar balloons shaped like stars.
Abe Lincoln rocks a statement sport coat and sapphire blue bow tie. He seems to have streaked his beard pink, perhaps to complement the starry pink balloons surrounding his head.
And of course, there’s Founding Father George Washington, looking a bit more femme than we usually see him. Nice specs, Mr. President!
We snagged one of the glittery pink banquettes along the wall, and smiled as we tucked a lavender cloth napkin into our laps (we’re pretty sure its the precise shade of Bergdorf’s purple found on the iconic store’s shopping bags). High Girl, indeed.
We have to say, we were starting to love it.
The service the day we went was prompt and friendly, and our server explained that the artist Ashley Longshore created all of the works on the walls. Hidden among them are several self-portraits of the artist. Once we knew to look, we found ourselves seeing them everywhere.
The menu is pretty much what you’d expect, given this exuberant decor. There are lots of options for a glass of Champagne or rose. There are pink cocktails, and tea sandwiches, salads, and soups. Surprisingly, there’s also a fried baloney sandwich. The dessert menu is extensive (the confetti sundae with rainbow sprinkles is clearly the hero here).
We settled on a coffee and an almond croissant (both good) and let the colors wash over us.
As one would expect, the clientele here is primarily Bergdorf Goodman Woman (and Man). People come with friends, or alone, and we got the sense that there’s a group of regulars who come all the time. It’s clear that the hope is the next generation of shoppers will be drawn to the plentiful Instagram opportunities.
If that’s your goal, definitely wear pastels for the perfect photo.
We got nothing but friendly vibes from our fellow diners. Based on our visit, we’d say that Palette has that same feeling as when you’re in the shoe department two floors up at Bergdorf’s. When you catch someone’s eye, you almost always get the once-over, a nice smile, and sometimes a compliment on what you’re wearing. Dress accordingly.
Unlike other restaurants, of course a luxury retail restaurant is going to have lots of things to buy. Everything on the walls is for sale in the Home department on the 7th floor of the store. In addition, there are a handful of pieces for purchase right in the cafe: place mats, serving trays, and other small tabletop items.
no crying at bergdorf goodman?
The iconic statement wall art is of, course, the bold declaration “There’s No Crying at Bergdorf Goodman.”
On that, Ms. Longshore, we beg to differ.
Personally, we have cried at least twice at Bergdorf’s: once when we couldn’t zip up a fabulous Dior dress in our size because we ate too much during the holidays. And once when we fell in love with a pair of Chanel boots that were so crazy-expensive that we just couldn’t go through with it.
Oh, and there was that time that we went swimsuit shopping. That was really bad.
The spirit of the statement, though, is one we’re all in with: retail therapy is a real thing, and grabbing a bite alone or with a friend in a secret little corner of the city is guaranteed to lift your spirits.
No crying . . . but perhaps after we eat, a little buying?
In a slate-grey city, it’s good to know that at least at Bergdorf’s, there’s always gonna be a rainbow.
We’ll be continuing our series on the best restaurants in retail stores in New York City and in the world. It’s a tough job, visiting the great shopping emporiums of the world and sampling their dining options. But someone has to do it, dear reader. We’ll report back. In the meantime, bon appetit!
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