Sunday, 15 March 2009

Knickerbocker Hotel Update

We could never verify that anyone named Martini di Arma di Taggia worked at the Knickerbocker, much less made a martini there for John D. Rockefeller and placed an olive in it to counter the harshness of American gin (though that's the legend of the martini getting an olive, and formerly one of those birth of the martini stories that cropped up decades after the drink was born). 

But the Knickerbocker is still of great interest. Harry Craddock moved through New York after working in Chicago, prior to taking his post at the Savoy in London. In New York he wasn't head barman, but just another bartender at the Knickerbocker. 

In its short life as a hotel, 1906 to 1920, the Knickerbocker hosted a who's-who of pre-Prohibition celebrities. Opera tenor Enrico Caruso famously leaned out his window and led the crowds below in a sing-a-long of the US national anthem on Armistice Day. Maxfield Parrish was commissioned to create a 30-foot painting titled Old King Cole for the Knickerbocker Bar (which can be seen today at the St. Regis Hotel). 

But all of that is ancient history. Our dear friend Audrey Saunders brought it to mind recently when she sent us a New York magazine story about the Cedar Tavern, a venerable Greenwich Village pub whose owner saw green and demolished it to put up condominiums. 

The connection between the two? The bar. The three of us, along with many other late night miscreants, used to frequent the Cedar Tavern in the early morning hours for prime rib and manhattans while admiring the ornate bar rumored to have come directly from the Knickerbocker Hotel (click here to see a photo of it). Then one night, Audrey and Anistatia got behind the bar and found a small plaque that confirmed it. 

The bar is now on its way to Texas, according to this report.

A real shame as there's a possibility that the Knickerbocker Hotel will be re-opened if the economic downturn hasn't put Dubai-based real estate development company Istithmar's plans on ice. My fantasy? They get the bar back form Texas. They come up with an equally striking painting, since the King Cole Bar isn't about to give up their namesake art, and they bring the bar back to its original splendor. Oh, and they re-open the private entry from the Times Square subway station.

One other tidbit on the subject. The Knickerbocker's former bartender wrote a cocktail book after the hotel closed. Check back here for more information about that, as we will be reprinting it in partnership with EUVS some time this year. 

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