Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cocktails in Wonderland

I am a downtown girl. No ifs and buts about it. I prefer the low key vibe and village atmosphere. But I have to admit that every now and then there is a teeny bit of Upper East Side in me as well. And when this side of me wants to come out, I head straight to a New York icon; Bemelman's Bar at the Carlyle Hotel on 76th Street.

It's not exactly a secret, but it is not often on a tourist's radar, which means your fellow sippers tend to be those died-in-the-wool, old-school New Yorkers. Built in the 1930's, the Carlyle has been considered a home away from home for many a socialite, actor, politician and everything in between. I'm not sure I would suggest to my friends to stay here, but I would always take a New York first-timer to Bemelmans.

The charm of this bar lies in its whimsical mural by Herr Ludwig Bemelman. Born in Austria, he moved to New York during WWI. He drew this mural in 1947 in return for accommodation. A fantastical depiction of Central Park, the walls of this haute New York establishment are filled with picnicking rabbits, elephants reading the newspaper and families of giraffes out for a Sunday walk. The childlike naivite of the mural may seem at odds with the elderly clientele of the bar sipping their sherry and listening to the resident pianist. But that is what makes it all so marvelous and so New York.

And a little piece of trivia. If you are trying to remember how you know the name Bemelman, perhaps it is becuase you - like I - were a fan of the Madeline books when you were a child. This same Mr Bemelman wrote and illustrated six Madeline books. You remember, "In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, there were twelve little girls in two straight lines." She even makes an appearance in Bemelmans bar.

images: rosewood hotels, vanity fair, artslant, flickr, boston, stay