It's all about the classics for the siblings behind NYC hangouts like Mr. Fong’s and Oliver Coffee.

By Siobhan Reid
July 11, 2018
Courtesy of Primos/Adrian Mesko

In New York City, it’s all too easy to succumb to a novelty-fueled search for the next “It” restaurant, the coolest new art exhibit, the most of-the-moment concept store — even the most Instagrammable cup of coffee.

But for Noah and Aisa Shelley, the siblings behind NYC hangouts like Mr. Fong’s and Oliver Coffee, your time and energy are better spent visiting the tried-and-true classics.

“We live in a very digestible and disposable time period,” said Aisa. “So I love throwbacks like Balthazar and The Odeon, two restaurants where you can sit in a booth — a booth is key — order steak-frites, and really feel like you’re in New York.”

Despite the brothers’ penchant for all things old school, their latest opening, Primo’s, inside The Frederick Hotel, is a veritable hot spot. On a recent Thursday night, the nostalgia-steeped bar was filled with hip downtown types, who lounged on velvet banquettes and sipped classic cocktails (try the “Double Dirty” martini, laced with white anchovy and piquillo pepper) at the marble bar.

And while the Tribeca spot feels wholly original (where else can you play out Mad Men fantasies and rub shoulders with Jake Gyllenhaal?), the brothers insist that it’s a nod to the city’s great drinking dens of yore.

“Primo’s couldn't exist without icons like Bemelmans,” said Noah, referring to the legendary piano bar at The Carlyle. “We wanted Primo’s to similarly communicate the idea of a great city called New York.”

Curious to find out what other spots ranked high on their list, we asked Noah and Aisa for their top recommendations for shopping, sightseeing, and dining in the city. From breakfast at Sadelle’s to movies at Metrograph, their top picks below.



“I love starting the day with bagels and coffee at this restaurant in SoHo. I’ll read the newspaper and make a morning of it.” — Aisa

Vinegar Hill House

“I live in the neighborhood, and this spot is my go-to for weekend brunch. They’re famous for their sourdough pancakes, which are cooked in a cast-iron skillet in a wood-fired oven and drizzled with way too much syrup. If the weather’s nice, I’ll sit outside on the patio.” — Noah


Neue Galerie New York

“Neue specializes in German and Austrian art from the early 20th century. The gallery is really intimate, so unlike the nearby Met, you never feel overwhelmed. After I’m done, I’ll have a pretzel and a cup of coffee at the on-site restaurant, which is styled after a grand Viennese café.” —Aisa


“I’m a really big fan of juxtaposition, and at MoMA, you can see a Francis Bacon alongside a Richard Prince. Plus, there’s always a world-class exhibition on view, so you’re pretty much guaranteed an amazing experience.” — Noah


The Odeon

“The Odeon is an icon, and my favorite restaurant in the city. The waiters wear aprons, you’re given a dessert menu at lunch, and you never feel like you’re being rushed out. Go for a late-night dinner and order the steak-frites. You’ll feel like a true New Yorker, even if you’re not.” —Aisa


“Frenchette is brand new, but feels like it’s been in New York forever—and it probably will be. The food is amazing and the interiors are beautiful. Reservations are notoriously hard to come by, but don’t be deterred— it’s that good.” — Noah

Live music

Bemelmans Bar

“Bemelmans is an institution. The waiters wear white jackets, there’s live music every night of the week, and the murals are painted by Ludwig Bemlamns, the bar’s namesake and the author of Madeline children’s books. For a long time, Woody Allen used to play jazz there every Tuesday. It’s great for a late-night drink.” — Noah


Westerlind and Assembly

“One of my favorite places to shop is Westerlind, in SoHo, where you can buy fashionable sportswear and mountaineering-style technical gear from Europe. Another go-to is Assembly, which is owned by my friend Greg, and has a good mix of vintage and modern styles.” — Aisa

Front General Store and Pilgrim Surf + Supply

“Front General Store has amazing midcentury American vintage. I especially like their bomber jackets. While I’m in Brooklyn, I’ll also head over to Pilgrim Surf + Supply, in Williamsburg. I surf, so I mostly go to buy technical apparel, but I invariably end up finding a bunch of other stuff I like, like a sweatshirt or a pair of chinos.” — Noah


Film Forum

“I like a classic movie-going experience, with a concession stand, popcorn, and the rest of it. Film Forum delivers on those fronts while offering really solid programming.” — Aisa


“In high school, I worked at a video store and managed two movie theaters, so I have pretty strong feelings about what a movie theater ought to be. And Metrograph does a bang-up job. There are two theaters, a mini bookstore, a curated candy store, and an Old Hollywood-inspired restaurant called The Commissary. I love that I can go there ten minutes before the show, throw back a glass of wine, and then watch ‘The Shining’.” — Noah


Oliver Coffee

“Our coffee shop is unique in that it’s home to one of the few newsstands left in New York City. Import News curates our collection of avant-garde, mainstream, and indie magazines, as well as a selection of snacks from countries like Japan, Mexico, and Germany. We also serve CBD oil in our coffee.” — Aisa

Fellow Barber

“A beard trim is one of the few things we guys can do to pamper ourselves. And Fellow Barber offers reliable service and nice products.” — Noah

Juliana’s Pizza

“New York is a pizza town, so the competition for the best slice is stiff. The spot that gets my vote is Juliana’s. The DUMBO shop has a really fascinating history — it was actually founded by the same guy who opened rivalry pizza shop Gimaldi’s, which is only a block away. But the pizza at Juliana's is way better. It's Neapolitan-style and cooked in a coal-burning oven.” — Noah