Each week, First We Feast photographer Liz Barclay (@liz_barclay) grabs her camera and hits the streets to explore a different aspect of the food world. Here, she shares her photos and stories.
What could be better than sipping classic cocktails inside a children’s book? This is precisely what it feels like when you step inside Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle Hotel in NYC’s Upper East Side. When it opened in 1930, the hotel became a destination for Hollywood celebrities, socialites, and politicians (JFK owned an apartment on the tenth floor and Marilyn Monroe used to sneak in through the service entrance on East 77th Street). But the real history of The Carlyle revolves around artist Ludwig Bemelmans, who was commissioned to paint large-scale murals on the bar’s walls.
If his name sounds familiar, that’s because Ludwig Bemelmans penned and illustrated the children’s book Madeline. You know the one—about a charmingly mischievous Parisian girl who lives in a vine-covered house in Paris.
Bemelmans’ extraordinary murals bring whimsy and enchantment to the dimly-lit space. A baby grand piano spilling out jazz only convinces you further that you’ve landed in another era. Bemelmans Bar is truly one of New York’s most iconic bars—one that reminds you of a Manhattan which you may have never had the chance to experience.
Fun fact: Bemelmans refused payment for the work. Instead, he created the murals in exchange for a year-and-a-half of rent-free residency in The Carlyle for himself and his family. Now that’s something straight out of a children’s story.
Click through the gallery to view Ludwig Bemelmans’ extraordinary murals.