Monkey See, Monkey Redo: Graydon Carter’s Bar Rehab Is All About the Booths

Guests invited into Graydon Carter’s revamped Monkey Bar on East 54th Street for intimate “friends and family” dinners this past weekend were already raving—those big red booths are fantastic!

“If you were sitting in the booths, you could watch everyone and not even have to turn your head!” said one publishing industry guest, who attended a dinner on Saturday, March 21, and asked not to be identified. The booths faced outward along the upper level and lower levels, making it easy to ogle fellow diners.

Look, there’s Dick Cavett! Mr. Cavett was accompanying Condé Nast editors Ingrid Sischy and Sandy Brant. Nearby, Vanity Fair contributing editors James Wolcott and Laura Jacobs were dining with ballet dancers Damian Woetzel and Heather Watts, also a VF contributor. Executive literary editor Wayne Lawson was there with contributing editor Mark Seal. Fran Lebowitz was there, as was photographer Jonathan Becker with Vogue editor Alexandra Kotur.

“It was like being in a regular restaurant, except that you knew everybody!” said the publishing guest. “People were happy and gay and were jumping from table to table.”

It was a proper focus group, given the literary locale. The refurbished bar, which originally opened during the Great Depression, is inside the hallowed Hotel Elysée, where the author Harold Robbins wrote many of his novels and where the playwright Tennessee Williams spent his final days.

An exact opening date for Mr. Carter’s makeover of the restaurant, which he is opening with hotelier Jeff Klein and London restaurateur Jeremy King—Revlon billionaire Ronald Perelman is an investor—is still uncertain. “Reopening Summer 2009,” according to the hotel’s Web site.

For now, Mr. Carter’s dear friends and VF staffers have been welcomed inside to give helpful feedback regarding important details like food and décor. (According to the magazine’s publicist, Mr. Carter was out of town over the weekend and was not present; perhaps he will make an appearance as the private dinners continue over the next several weeks.)

The magazine’s photographer-at-large, Todd Eberle, was in one of those booths with publicist Nadine Johnson and interior designer Carlos Mota on Sunday evening.

“The main dining room feels like a stage set from a film about Manhattan in the Jazz Age, with arrivals descending theatrically for all to see,” he told the Transom via email. “The lighting is perfect and everyone glows in amber light and look like they have been cast in an imaginary movie that I’m certain Graydon ‘sees’ in black and white.”

The menus placed in front of guests listed comfort foods such as meatloaf, chicken Payard and the old iceberg wedge with blue cheese. Everything was priced at $0.00. And Mr. Klein was making the rounds and inquiring about the food. (“There was this sticky toffee pudding and a red velvet layer cake that were just to die for,” gushed our publishing guest.)

Mr. Carter has retained the Monkey Bar’s famous mural by Charlie Wala, depicting monkeys with human features riding elephants and mixing up daiquiris. But the new boss has added his own artistic touches as well. There’s a new Ed Sorel mural, similar to the one at Mr. Carter’s Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village, but with a more uptown cast of characters, including Fred Astaire and Duke Ellington. The general “uptowny-ness,” as one guest described it, of the place is what makes it distinct from Mr. Carter’s downtown establishment.

“The Waverly is cozy and low-ceilinged, whereas the Monkey Bar is grand and dramatic,” noted Mr. Eberle. “Images of the Stork Club or a luxury ocean liner are evoked, but [I] didn’t see a dance floor, although if the tables were cleared, it could easily be. I’m sure they are casting a dance band as we speak!”
Monkey See, Monkey Redo: Graydon Carter’s Bar Rehab Is All About the Booths