I don’t much like pubs, but I love bars. If they are: decadent, plush, with piano music, great cocktails, elegant, sophisticated and inviting. Belemans’ Bar in new York perfectly fits the bill.
The was visiting a friend over Christmas, two years ago. She is a travel writer too, but of far more acclaim as I can ever hope to be. Which meant, that the Plaza Hotel had comped her for a night to write about their recent refurbishments and the Eloise shop for a New York magazine. Generously, she took me along and we both had a great time.
The next day I I was in for a surprise. I told her that I would like to visit Bemelans’ Bar. Believe it or not, a born and bred New Yorker, familiar with all the cool places, she had never heard of the establishment. It made me quite proud, I must say to be able to be her guide for a change and off we went to another New York landmark hotel, the Carlyle.
Located on 76th Street and Park Avenue, the Carlyle is a bastion of post-war decadence with the splendor of the times still in place. Stepping inside, is like entering the world of Scott Fitzgerald. The names Bemelman and Carlyle are inseparable because the illustrator of Eloise’s ‘sister in mischief’ , Madeline, decorated the Bar with a vast mural of a picnic in Central Park where the revelers are rabbits. It’s the only remaining work of the artist on public display. In exchnage for the creation of the murals, Mr. Bemelman and his family got to stay for free in the hotel for a year and a half.
Madeline is twelve and lives in an old , wine covered house in Paris, the youngest of eleven girls and, like Eloise, ready to take on the world and determined never to be bored. Ludwig Bemelman illustrated the books and although Madeline never set foot in Bemelman’s Bar (might have had something to do with her age!) I can vividly imagine her hidden in one of the deep leather banquettes, listening to the piano player and having serious opinions about the posh clientele.
I had one of their glorious cocktails with lots of lemon and fresh mint in it and said a toast to my childhood, made entertaining in great part by the adventures of Eloise and Madeline. We spent about three hours in the bar, listening to the piano player and getting into conversations with other guests. The tables are small and quite close together, so it’s nearly inevitable to exchange a word or two with your neighbors. And I was surprised how sociable New Yorkers are. During the three hours we talked to an attorney, a record producer, a journalist and a socialite, each and very one happy to enjoy the atmosphere and to discuss Mr. Bemelmans and his rabbits.
Afterwards, we needed to catch a train from Grand Central Station. The doorman wouldn’t let us use a taxi, he snapped his fingers and one of the hotel’s luxurious Mercedes curtsey cars took us to the station in style. Free of charge, will you believe it, but the driver got a very nice tip indeed.