Old New York is back, baby, from Broadway to the Upper East Side, where the 1930s-era Carlyle Hotel is having a moment.
Even downtown cool kids are trekking uptown for drinks at Bemelmans Bar, which reopened in May. The bar is named for the murals that adorn its walls by Ludwig Bemelmans, writer and illustrator of the beloved Madeline children’s books. Madeline may live in an old house in Paris covered in vines, but her spirit lives on at the hotel — just like Eloise at the nearby Plaza Hotel.
But Madeline will get an even bigger spotlight next month, when the Carlyle’s restaurant, renamed Dowling’s, reopens. Five never-before-seen Ludwig Bemelmans artworks that evoke the sophisticated playfulness of the Madeline children’s books will grace the walls of the eatery. The hotel purchased them for $422,800 at a Sotheby’s auction earlier this year, Side Dish can exclusively reveal.
It’s part of a $120 million renovation that began before the pandemic and included a total redo of the restaurant and a revamp of the hotel’s 190 rooms. While the designs are modern — thanks to Tony Chi and other designers — there are some Art Deco touches inspired by The Carlyle’s original designer, Dorothy Draper.
The 90-year-hotel — just a block from Central Park at Madison and 76th Street — closed its restaurant in March 2020.
When it reopens, there will be a new executive chef, Sylvain Delpique, formerly of 21 Club. Side Dish also snagged a sneak peak of the new menu filled with French and American classics and lots of flamboyant flambé — like Steak Diane, with its rich cognac-shallot-and-butter sauce, theatrically prepared tableside.
And there are new partnerships as well, with Assouline, the publisher, and a new collaboration with Frame, the upscale jeans retailer, which has created “must-have” loungewear pieces inspired by 1970s New York.
The idea for the collaboration with Frame “was born in the early days of the pandemic, when we couldn’t visit our favorite places, like the Carlyle, yet wanted to bring that experience to our customers,” said Erik Torstensson, co-founder and creative director of Frame.
One part of the beloved hotel won’t open right away: Cafe Carlyle, where generations listened to the late Bobby Short, however, isn’t set to reopen until the beginning of next year, said Carlyle hotel manager Andrew Archibald.
Still, the hotel is already in talks to bring back performers like singer/songwriter Belinda Carlisle and Isaac Mizrahi, the fashion designer and TV personality who last performed at Cafe Carlyle a week before lockdown, in early March 2020, though he graced a few “virtual” performances during lockdown.
Mizrahi tells Side Dish he is looking forward to a return to the classic New York space.
“It’s one of the last places on earth where you can go and where you are assured of a very sophisticated evening, where you are guaranteed a great drink, a great show and some great food,” Mizrahi said. “It isn’t exactly old world, but it is classic New York,” he said.
Part of the cafe’s success is the “intimacy of the space,” added Archibald, and that’s why they will likely wait until the early months of 2022 to reopen.
“We want to make sure we are providing a safe environment for our guests and staff, even though a little part of our heart is missing without it,” Archibald said.
“Still,” he added, “the response to the opening of Bemelmans Bar has been second-to-none. The support has been incredible from the local community. It’s full every night, and that puts a lot of atmosphere and energy back into the hotel. The noise echoes throughout the hotel lobby. There is a real buzz because of the bar.”
Just like the iconic Bemelmans murals, the new Bemelmans art in the restaurant will also resonate with generations who grew up reading Ludwig Bemelmans’ beloved tales of Madeline, first published in 1939.
While the Plaza Hotel has Eloise, who lived at the hotel with her pet turtle, dog and nanny, the Carlyle has Madeline, written and illustrated by Bemelmans. According to the books, she lived “in an old house in Paris that was covered with vines… [as one of] twelve little girls in two straight lines,” but she lives on in the spirit of the iconic murals at Bemelmans Bar.
The new pieces, which will be in the restaurant, were part of the Sotheby’s sale, “Madeline and More: The Whimsical World of Ludwig Bemelmans,” which was held in person last Feb. 17 through March 3.
The restaurant itself is named after Robert Whittle Dowling, an urban planner and former owner of The Carlyle. He bought it in 1944 and helped put it on the map.
Dinner menu appetizers will also include oysters, tuna tartare, and a classic wedge salad, while mains will feature steak tartare, truffle chicken with a perigord sauce and house-made waffle fries. Brunch boasts quiche Lorraine and croque madames along with the signature Carlyle burger with house-made brioche, and a carving station with prime rib and parmesan crusted Faroe Island salmon.
Designed by tonychi studio, the 80-seat restaurant features lots of dark wood and leather banquettes with printed leather table tops inspired by old New Yorker sketches.
The hotel shut down in March 2020 and didn’t reopen until November 2020 with “limited service,” including just in-room dining for guests. When Bemelmans Bar reopened in May 2021, Archibald said, New Yorkers have thronged there “living their best life.”
We hear … that Brazilian-born hotelier Jayma Cordoso, of Surf Lodge, celebrated Mexican Independence Day on Sept 16th by hosting a sold-out dinner prepared by acclaimed chef Gabriela Canara of Contramar in Mexico City and Cala in San Francisco.
The dinner was paired with Casa Dragones Tequila, a small batch tequila owned by the only female taquilera in Mexico, Bertha Gonzalez Nieves.
Guests included DJ Victor Calderone and his wife, Athena. This summer, Surf Lodge featured fare from Chef Diego Luis Feliciano Lopez, who showcased a veggie-heavy menu with seasonal ingredients sourced from local farms.