Thursday, October 23, 2014

Oak Room

I used to like to walk through the Plaza Hotel, before it was converted to condos bought by Russian oligarchs who leave them empty and dark. I liked the liveliness of the place, the ladies in the Palm Court, the tourists snapping pictures of the chandeliers, the heavy, rich, old New York feeling of it all. Now it just feels dead inside.

I liked, once in awhile, to have a drink in the Oak Room and bar. It closed in 2011 because it had filled with all of the most horrible people in the city and they ruined it. Sometimes, I'll wander in and peek through a crack in the closed doors of the old Oak Room. It's empty and dark inside, a haunted space. But it used to be something.

1959--The Oak Room in Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock's day:



Through the 1960s--Gore Vidal and Truman Capote lunch weekly at the Oak Room: "where they nibbled at their friends during the first course, devoured their enemies during the second, and savored their own glorious futures over coffee and dessert." (Gerald Clarke, Capote)

1981--The Oak Room in Arthur, when the presence of a hooker in hot pants was still a scandal:



In 1980, New York described it: "There is about the place a breathless, frenetic vitality, and on any given evening one is likely to spot a few luminaries like Liza Minnelli...or Harry Reasoner. Of course, you have to pay $4.05 a drink for the privilege. But the peanuts and pretzels on the table are plentiful and free."

"There are a lot of very important ghosts here," wrote New York in 1990, "celebrating in the brooding haute-German gloom." And it's "a snug reminder of what it was supposed to feel like to be a grown-up."

2000s--The Oak Room in its latest years:



As the Post described it: "a Champagne-fueled orgy of gyrating jet-setters, lithe gold-spangled dancers and Chanel-sheathed debutantes is taking place. One particularly enthusiastic young man, Gareth Brookes, 29, is triumphantly perched on top of a service station in the center of the room, drinking Veuve Clicquot out of his Tom Ford lace-up shoe."



Paging Roger Thornhill. Come back to the Plaza, Mr. Thornhill.



15 comments:

Anonymous said...

When I first started traveling to NY for business in 1980 with my ACCESSNY guide in hand, The Oak Room was one of the first swanky hotel bars I wanted to see. Thirty some years later, I wonder what's in the guide books these days.

Anonymous said...

Unreal..really. What a shame. What's happening to New York right now is just incredibly sad.

Mark said...

In many ways, New York was much more of an adult city in those days. We would dress up and have drinks at the Oak Bar and The Four Seasons. We'd dine, quietly holding hands under the white table cloths, sitting on the banquettes and admiring the blackened baroque carvings in the Oak Room.

I wish I could go back to those days. That city no longer exists.

Makeout said...

That third picture made me feel sick.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry! It's in good hands with Geoffrey Zakarian, who took over all food and beverage in the Plaza except for the basement food hall. He just re-opened the Palm Court today, and it's gorgeous with a new bar in the center of the room that's completely aligned with the rest of it. Next he's turning his attention to the Oak Bar and Oak Room, and when they re-open they'll once again be one of the best places in the city for a drink. I know (with good sources) that all he's planning on doing is giving it a nice shine and not altering it much at all.

Anonymous said...

I'll never forget my first time at the Oak Room, many years ago. Craig Claiborne hit on me in the men's room and we wound up talking at the bar for hours. A couple of days later Werner Klemperer hit on me in yet another men's room. I must have looked pretty good that week...

John M said...

I hope Anon is right about Zakarian.

Of course, even if he brings back the Oak Bar, he can't bring back the type of people who used to go there. Today, it will probably be tourists and douchebags. But we can hope the tourists will be a little classy and the d-bags will find it too staid and move on quickly.

Crossing my fingers.

Gojira said...

My mom and I were thrown out of the Oak Room bar for hooking in 1974; she was staying at the Plaza for a business convention and I was taking the opportunity to bunk with her in a very swank hotel right before I went off to college. At the end of one day she and I went in for a drink (18 was the legal age back then so I could do so) and were sitting at a small table when some of her male colleagues came in and invited us to join them at a larger one. We did so, only to have the maitre' d rush over and inform us we would have to go back to our original seats, that it was forbidden for women to move from one place to another to join men, the inference being that only prostitutes did such things, and that there was no other reason for doing so. Mom and her cohorts protested, showed business cards, but the maitre d' was inflexible, so mom promptly went to management and complained; they could not have cared less. So she sued, won, and from then on it was illegal to prevent women from joining men at the Oak Room Bar. I used to think that was a good thing; looking at picture #3, now I'm not so sure. @Mark is right, NY used to be a city for adults. Now it's a playground.

Anonymous said...

I spent many an early afternoon at the Oak Bar between 2003 and the first closing. I brought friends, clients, etc, put on a proper set of clothes, (jacket required, even through 2011), and had a few Martinis prepared by guys who'd been behind the stick since God knows when. Never saw the crazy spawn of Russian oligarchs and such, so the decline occurred outside my vision....I still miss the simple pleasure of a well-prepared Martini at the bar there, no matter the cost. It was, at the time, the most civilized place to have a drink...

Anonymous said...

I Spy Inspector Henderson, second from the right - ROT on the left.

Yank said...

They just might get a bit of atmosphere back if they implement a dress code- jackets, no sneakers.

Henri de By said...

It used to make you feel part of old New York — the city were lunches lasted at least two cocktails and promising evenings started in the Oak Bar. So, two weeks ago while passing by the Plaza Hotel — where the once so exiting bustle of the grand hotel entrance is sadly no longer — I and my brother decided to just check. If only because it is hard to believe that a once loved place is no more. The hallway to the Oak Bar was deserted and to our surprise the door gave way to our touch. And there in complete silence lay the old Oak Bar, completely empty, no tables or chairs, just silence. The big old long bar as if asleep and the wonderful murals of evening scenes in the city still beautiful but forlorn. It made me wish that, just for a moment, the bar would, as by wonder, come alive again; the bustle of guest's voices would start to sound, and out of nowhere the white jacketed waiters would appear just once more, as in a ghostly film. Of course, but just as unfortunately, it stayed silent with just the soft buzz of the city penetrating the past. The kind of surprising door to the past that makes you feel just for a moment that you could go there, if only... Before I left, I couldn't help but thank the place, softly but audible, for all the evenings so full of promise. Before I closed the door behind us, I heard my brother say to the empty room: "See you again Oak Bar, maybe it will only be a winter-sleep..."

Pat said...

@Henri de By:

That's beautiful.

Anonymous said...

When Al Pacino from Scent of a Woman checked in at the Waldorf=Astoria 'center of civilization', he immediately called the Oak Room for a reservation. Jackets required.

paulsp2 said...

The Oak room was synonymous with legendary New York City so perhaps its closing was just a part of that fading legend. Glad I was able to stay there back in the 1970's when the Plaza was still a great New York Institution and a real hotel rather than a combination of hotel/condos. I remember with great affection having lunch in that beautiful room frequented by well behaved and well dressed people. Times change, some things get better for sure but a hell of a lot get worse and the decline of New York City as a great sophisticated metropolis (with the problems that go with that of course) is another example of what is generally called "progress" !