Monday, December 21, 2009

King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel

Posted by Beau 
The snowpocalypse this past weekend wan't much of anything but the cold dregs and coming months of winter have me turning to the list of things I would like to do (or should want to do) in New York City before the end of my days.   Having drinks at the King Cole Bar in the St. Regis Hotel in Midtown East was an easy choice.  It was not so much about having expensive cocktails in a dark-paneled, up-scale location where supposedly the Bloody Mary was introduced to the US, but rather the famous Maxfield Parrish mural backing the entire length of the bar.

Maxfield Parrish is a favorite artist and illustrator of mine.  I've collected replicas of his work and always try to have at least a post-card hanging in my cube or office.  The King Cole bar, nestled within the St. Regis Hotel, is as stately, intimate, and dark-paneled as you could hope for which seemed to be the perfect setting for the glowing mural which is 8ft tall and spans 30 feet across behind the bar.  The beauty and hallmark of Parrish's work was his use of a glazing technique rather than just outright painting.  In glazing, the light seems to pass through the layers of glaze and then reflect back out, causing the painting to glow from an internal light.  The darkness of the bar framed this effect beautifully.  The colors Parrish used, also specific to him and his art, were absorbing,warm and inviting.

I spent most of my glass of red wine staring at the mural realizing that other than Parrish painting it, I didn't know much about it so I Googled it up when we got home.  What I was most amused about was learning the legend of the wry smile on King Cole's face, thought to have been modeled after John Jacob Astor who originally commissioned the mural for his Knickerbocker hotel bar which was down the street from where the St. Regis is now.  As the tale goes, there was an unwritten competition among illustrators of the day to see who could sneak the act of flatulence into one of their public works.  Supposedly Parrish won this contest with Old King Cole.  Not only is the king smiling a secret smile but the reactions of his flanking knights, which I've always been curious about, give the secret and King Cole away.
It's not the DiVinci Code, but I'll take it because its funny, seems to be appropriate for early-American illustration, and who doesn't like a bit of 6th grade fart-humor thrown into their works of art to bring it back to the common man?

When I was reading up on the mural I found this article in the NYTimes article about its restoration a few years ago that also relates the secret farting tale.

Anyone coming to NYC with some time to kill, especially during this cold, dreary holiday season and the impending winter beyond it, would be worthwhile to sneak into the King Cole bar and check out this work of art.  I'm glad I finally did.

If you can't make to NYC and like Parrish and cocktails, there is also the Pied Piper Bar at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco that has a mural of Parrish's "Pied Piper" behind their bar.  Unlike the fun of a hidden fart in the King Cole, the Pied Piper mural was painted by Parrish, a Quaker who disapproved of liquor and bars, with lots of children as the theme.  The story goes that Parrish hoped the bar patrons would look at the children in the mural  and think better of staying at the bar in favor of returning home to their own families.  Snore.

Come to NYC and smell the roses.
(Unauthored photo is a close up detail of Maxfield Parrish's "Old King Cole")


  1. i was there just this past weekend enjoying a drink after strolling fifth avenue to take in the lights and windows (specifically the fantastic mr. fox windows at bergdoff-goodman). it was wonderful once we made it past the crowds of visiting shoppers! highly recommended!

  2. I'll confess to not having yet visited this room. Perhaps you'll accompany me there and I'll spring for Manhattans. No one has ever painted the twilight sky with as much mastery.

  3. Oh and swtc, the Baad Lamb has some pics of those windows. I'll publish a few herein but please get there first.

  4. I'm going to hit the all the NYC windows on the 24th. I zipped past Bergdorff's last week but need to do a second viewing because they're so sumptuous.