What the "Most Romantic Restaurant" In New York City Reveals About Modern Love


In the age of Tinder, Seamless and Netflix, some may declare romance officially dead. The romantic dinner in particular may be an increasingly foreign concept, especially for young people. It's a miracle restaurants can manage to get New Yorkers out of their apartments at all, let alone convince them to drop several hundred dollars on a meal for two.

But do candlelit dinners really represent the passion of a modern couple? A visit to the so-called "most romantic restaurant" in New York City reveals a more honest reality about modern dating: Romance itself isn't dead. If anything, it's simply gotten more authentic and honest.

Classic romance on a silver platter: Looking for love? Enter One if by Land, Two if by Sea. If your significant other snags a reservation at this charming historical eatery, you might just be getting a ring with your dessert — it's the top result in a search for "engagement dinner" in NYC. So what, exactly, makes this restaurant so notoriously romantic?

If Hallmark designed restaurants, they would look like this.  Believe it or not, the upscale spot where you'll shell out upwards of $90 per person for a prix-fixe dinner used to house horse shit. Tucked away on Barrow Street in the West Village, the cozy spot was built in the 18th century as Aaron Burr's carriage house.

One if by Land, Two if by Sea/Facebook

But on a recent weeknight visit to the Michelin-endorsed restaurant, a piano player provided live music while couples talked softly at two-tops. Eighteenth-century artwork depicted Paul Revere's famous ride, from which the place derives its name, and menus faithfully presented Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poetic account of that journey.

The lights remained low, the service smiling. The food was fine, as it ought to be when accompanied by such a steep price tag. Dishes were plated elegantly, scallops dappled with aioli, the signature beef Wellington golden, the wineglasses perpetually replenished. To this diner's surprise, cell phones surfaced throughout the evening, shattering One if by Land's old-school illusion, and one gourmand seemed to buck its traditional dress code, his Nike trainers peeking out from under the tablecloth.

If Hallmark designed restaurants, they would look like this.

Patricia, who has been a maître d' at One if by Land for the past 15 years (nearly a third of the establishment's 43 years in business), uses the words "charming" and "romantic" countless times when asked about the restaurant's ambience. She rattles off the laundry list of storybook features: candlelight, roses, four fireplaces, live jazz. "I don't think there's too many restaurants that have all those different elements," she says. She once saw four proposals in a single night.

Romantic or "romantic"? In 2015, how does it feel to be treated to such calculatedly romantic fare? "The fact that he wanted to bring me here in itself was so sweet," said Cordelia, a woman in her early 20s, of her date that night. "Though this doesn't seem personal at all. It's cliché, kinda cheesy."

"It's like the idea of someone getting you red roses," offered Alice, another recent visitor. "You think it's romantic because you saw it on TV, and it makes me wanna barf in my mouth a little bit."

Critics agree. Gael Greene encouraged aspiring Casanovas to "Forget it. A joke ... The minute you walk in she knows what you have in mind. You might as well write her a note 'Tonight I expect to do it.' It's too obvious."

It's not just One if by Land that's finding itself out of step with younger diners. Many of its contemporaries have also fallen out of vogue, partly due to changes in dining trends. "We just don't live in a very intimate dining era anymore," New York critic Adam Platt said last year. "Two-fisted bro restaurants just don't lend themselves to dates."

One if by Land, Two if by Sea/Facebook

But it's not just a change in restaurant trends; there's also been a palpable shift in what we seek from our romances. To an inundated dater juggling apps and partners' busy schedules, the simple act of going out in public instead of showing up on your hookup's doorstep can feel special. 

Some might pin this on lowered expectations, lamenting the rise of "hookup culture" and the demise of formal courtship traditions. But it's more likely a shift to something simpler and more authentic. Those of the so-called millennial generation aren't loveless, after all, but we are decidedly more upfront about what we want from romantic encounters (as one glance at Tinder proves) and remarkably more low-key in our approach to dates.

Still, One if by Land seems committed to maintaining a certain ideal of romance, one some people do appreciate. Yelper Devin S. notes, "You are paying for the full experience, and for a special occasion I'd say they do a great job of it."

What the restaurant truly offers is a fantasy fulfilled, illuminated in candlelight just dim enough to obscure its modern-day shortcomings. There are far worse things to experience than good food with someone you love. But for what it's worth, the brunch menu is more affordable, making an intimate "morning-after" meal more realistic than an unnecessarily candlelit dinner.

For young people in 2015, that might be the most romantic option after all.