Whether you know the King Cole Bar at Manhattan’s St. Regis Hotel for its namesake art (an eye-popping mural by Maxfield Parrish), its highbrow clientele, or a little drink said to be invented on the premises called a Bloody Mary, you’re likely familiar with the storied history of the watering hole. Dali drank here. So did Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio and even John Lennon. And cinephiles may recognize the space from The Devil Wears Prada, Hannah and Her Sisters and The First Wives’ Club.
This week, an upgraded King Cole will reopen under the command of chef John DeLucie, who made his name at such impressive eateries as Crown, The Lion and The Waverly Inn. DuJour spoke with DeLucie about what to expect from the bar and what’s really happening in Parrish’s famous painting.
What was your first experience with the King Cole Bar?
When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn and Long Island, the King Cole Bar was one of those places where all of those famous people were. My experience was one of glamour, ambition and aspiration.
Do you remember the first time you visited?
I was with my parents and we were going to Radio City Music Hall, and then we walked into the St. Regis—just into the lobby. I was in awe.
Why do you think the bar is such an enduring spot?
It’s gorgeous, the design is iconic and there’s so much history and glamour attached to it. You can’t be from New York and not have that feeling when you walk into it like, ‘Oh, my God, this is amazing, this is so beautiful.’
Were there certain things that you wanted to keep?
The design was very much in-house. I had very little to do with the actual design of the place. My focus is really on the food, and I think that the St. Regis people have a very good handle on how to move the place forward and what to leave and what not to leave. It’s certainly going to be more modern, but it feels very iconic and glamorous.
This isn’t the first time you’ve overhauled a beloved space. What about that sort of project appeals to you as opposed to going into somewhere that’s a blank slate?
I’m a New York City boy and I’m extremely nostalgic and curious about how New York was before. I’m in love with Grand Central Station, and I marvel at it every time I go. And I go even when I have no reason to go. I’m a nostalgic kid; I guess that’s really the best way to put it.
In 2007, the King Cole had a $400,000 makeover. What needed to be updated this time?
I think you’ll walk in and the vibe will be more modern. There will be a communal table, there’s a fireplace in one corner. It will be a little less, dare I say, stuffy, and more of a focus on communal dining, people meeting, having a casual bite to eat.
What can we look forward to seeing on the new menu?
A simple, straight-ahead menu with a sharing concept. There will be really simple things like braised short ribs, and you can choose a bunch of sides. There will be a great hamburger. There will be a couple of fresh tapas dishes. There will be my grandmother’s meatballs. There will be stuff that people might not expect to eat in the former incarnation of the King Cole Bar.
Obviously the Maxfield Parrish mural is a huge part of the identity of the space, and everyone seems to have his or her own opinion on what is going on in that mural. What do you think?
Well I know what’s going on in the mural, but it’s a big secret and I think the best way to find out what that secret is would be to go have a Red Snapper at the bar. The bartender would be happy to tell you that story.