On a high note

Kristie Kellahan and Rob McFarland do brunch in five of New York's hottest spots.

Ask a New Yorker about their plans for the weekend and you're almost guaranteed to hear the word brunch. It's a New York institution. A chance to catch up with friends and indulge in a Mimosa-fuelled afternoon of good food and gossip.

The tricky bit is choosing where. Almost every restaurant in the city has a brunch menu and the scene can range from family friendly to Vegas-style debauchery; from $US12.95 ($12.35) all-inclusive to a $US200 splurge to remember.

Here are five popular brunch spots to get you started.

For the original boozy brunch

Like a respectable New York matron who unleashes her dominatrix whip behind closed doors, Bagatelle has a split personality. Arrive at 1pm on Saturday for brunch and you'll enter an elegant French bistro in the heart of the trendy Meatpacking District.

Order a bellini, nosh on the tuna tartar with citrus avocado salad, or share the mouth-watering truffle-glazed roast chicken.

By 2.30pm, you'll notice all the tables are full of sexy, beautiful people, the DJ has steadily cranked up the sound, the windows have been covered by heavy curtains to block the view in and there's a palpable buzz of anticipation.

By 3pm, mayhem has descended. The music is deafening, privileged Euro jetsetters fling off their shoes to dance atop the leather banquettes, model/waiters have stripped down to their underwear and shots are being passed around with abandon. This is one of the wildest boozy dayclubs in the city. Who needs to go clubbing in the wee hours when you can party like a rock star and be tucked up in bed by 8pm?

Drinks are on the pricey side - $US20 for a Mojito and $US15 for a glass of sangria - and they ascend into the stratosphere, with super-size bottles of wine and champagne priced at $US2000 and up.

Drop two Gs and the semi-clad waiters will make sure everyone knows about it: blazing pyrotechnics point like giant arrows at the big spenders.

Bookings are essential, at least one month in advance. Arrive no later than 2pm for weekend brunch.

1 Little West 12th Street. Weekend brunch served a la carte, with mains from $US18. bistrotbagatelle.com.

For upscale indulgence

On Madison Avenue in the heart of the Upper East Side, the Carlyle is an elegant haven of impeccable service and chandeliered opulence.

Attracting a well-dressed and well-heeled crowd, brunch here is an unhurried three-course affair served in an intimate dining room lined with oil paintings, brushed velvet walls and chintz-covered banquettes.

After a welcome glass of Roederer Estate sparkling wine, expect to feast on starters such as oysters, smoked salmon and lobster bisque. Mains include truffled eggs benedict, cornflake crusted French toast and the restaurant's signature dish - a creamy chicken concoction named after the cabaret singer Bobby Short.

If you still have space for dessert after this indulgent combination of foie gras, truffles, potato and sherry cream sauce, you're a better man than me.

35 East 76th Street. Sunday brunch served from noon to 2pm. Price $US65 a person (not including tax or tips). rosewoodhotels.com/en/carlyle.

For an Aussie experience

Stone the flamin' crows! The Down Under cliches are laid on thicker than tomato sauce on a meat pie at this Upper West Side bistro, little sister to Aussie eateries The Sunburnt Cow and Bondi Road.

It's hard to tell what draws the New York crowd in more: the beefy Bondi bartenders, each one competing to sound more like Croc Dundee than the next, or the all-you-can-drink brunch deal. I'd say it's a close tie.

For $US20, you get a main dish of your choice (options include banana pikelets, steak sandwich, burgers with the pineapple-and-beetroot lot, or Bush Benedict) and unlimited booze.

The steady stream of Foster's (try telling Americans it's not really Australian for beer), Mimosas, Screwdrivers and Bloody Marys is a hit with the college crowd as well as all the Aussie backpackers on a tight budget.

226 West 79th Street. Brunch is served Friday to Sunday. Priced from $US20, including choice of mains and bottomless Foster's and select cocktails. thesunburntcalf.com.

For music lovers of jazz

If you thought jazz could only be enjoyed in a dimly lit, low-ceilinged establishment at 2am, think again. Every Sunday the Kitano Hotel on Park Avenue in Midtown features the honey-toned vocals of the Tony Middleton jazz trio in its nine-metre-high, light-filled atrium.

Tony is a regular on the New York jazz circuit and while he and his band perform classics such as Riverboat, My Funny Valentine and What a Wonderful World, you can tuck into an extensive breakfast buffet that includes everything from pastries to scrambled eggs and apple wood smoked bacon. Although the food is more satisfactory than sensational, you can't argue with the price - $US35 for brunch with a side serving of live jazz is a bargain.

66 Park Avenue. Sunday jazz brunch served at 11am and 1pm. Cost $US35 a person, which includes one cocktail and the breakfast buffet. kitano.com.

For the all-inclusive party brunch

New Yorkers love a deal and they love to party, so it's no surprise Yotel's $US40 endless cocktails and small-plates brunch has gained a loyal following. Free-flow food and drink? Yo-de-lay-hi-ho!

White or red sangria, Bloody Marys and Mimosas by the jugful wash down tasty small bites of beef sliders, fish tacos, popcorn chicken, tortilla salad, scrambled egg and French toast. Order one - or more - of everything you fancy.

No wonder they impose a two-hour time limit on tables. Gluttons, be warned: masticate, don't hesitate.

Served in the Times Square hotel's FOUR restaurant every weekend, the brunch is as much about the party as the meal. A DJ sets the mood with old-school Madonna and Whitney Houston tracks, birthday guests are made to strut down a catwalk, waiters wear PJs, drag queens hold court and everyone agrees 3pm is the new 2am.

570 Tenth Avenue. Weekend brunch costs $US40 for two hours of all-you-can-eat-and-drink. Bookings strongly advised. yotelnewyork.com.

The writers were guests of The Carlyle, The Kitano, Bagatelle and Yotel.

Trip notes

Getting there: Qantas flies daily from Sydney to New York via Los Angeles and Dallas Fort Worth. 131 313, qantas.com.au. United Airlines flies daily from Melbourne and Sydney to Los Angeles and San Francisco, with connections on to New York. 131 777, unitedairlines.com.

Staying there: Ideally located near the Upper West Side's 72nd Street subway and Central Park, Hotel Beacon has spacious rooms with fully equipped kitchenettes. Room rates start from $US245 ($234) plus taxes. 2130 Broadway (at 75th Street). +1 212 787 1100, beaconhotel.com.

More information: nycgo.com.