New Yorkers are cheering as the St. Regis Hotel has now reinstalled Maxfield Parrish's famous King Cole Bar mural after a four year absence. After a century of being surrounded by smokers, the artwork has been restored to its original stunning luster. The result is like seeing the large 30 foot painting for the first time.
The restored mural now glistens with an iridescent effect that is exactly what Parrish famously created during his lifetime without equal.
Like a master chef who layers flavor on flavor to create a final culinary masterpiece, Parrish placed layers after layer of light-enhancing varnish between his individual colors to create the unique glowing effect that the staff of the Rustin Levenson Art Conservation Associates have so carefully reclaimed.
Art historians, as a result, consider Parrish to be in a class by himself – just like the famed King Cole Bar itself. Year after year the rich, the famous and the talented have favored this New York landmark. Most often it is the Bar’s famed Bloody Mary cocktail that everyone seems to ask for at least once (or twice).
Indeed, this esteemed cocktail was created in its final form at the King Cole by bar master Fernand, “Pete” Petiot. And although there had been previous versions, it was at the St Regis that it was finally christened the Bloody Mary – all thanks to James A. Michener and Juanita Hall.
Prior to 1947, the Bar had served the cocktail under the name of the Red Snapper. But that year a previously unknown writer, James A. Michener, released a small book entitled, Tales of the South Pacific. Within a year this collection of revealing stories about war in the Pacific theater would win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. It would go on to be transformed into the epic musical, South Pacific, by Rogers and Hammerstein.
Enter Juanita Hall. In the Broadway production and also in the 1958 movie version, she would play a unique character entitled, yes – you guessed it, Bloody Mary. A skilled jazz singer in her own right, she made this role her own. Her haunting rendition of the song, Bali Ha’i, won her the Tony Award, the first ever presented to an African American woman.
In one of those rare moments when a society acknowledges a major cultural change, the name of this half tomato-half vodka (plus spices) cocktail converted overnight to the Bloody Mary, the name of Juanita Hall's unforgettable character.
And so it has been called ever since. Oh, various individual people would, through the years, say they alone named the drink. Such occurances, however, seldom stem from a single source - history rarely works that way.
No perhaps, just perhaps, it was the conscience of the American people who decided to honor a book, a musical, a pivotal role – a difference, an acceptance of equality... all still presided over to this very day by ol’ King Cole in the restored mural that now glows softly behind the bar at the legendary St Regis Hotel.
Post Note, November 21, 2013: Chef John De Lucie just finished his relaunch of the King Cole Bar and Salon. Among those present to celebrate the re-installation of Parrish's grand painting at the St. Regis Hotel were Uma Thurman and Hilary Rhoda - definitely ladies of discerning taste and style.
Your Culinary World copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2013