Those of us who are Salvador Dali fans know that when the Master was in New York he stayed at the St. Regis Hotel at 2 East 55th Street and that many afternoons he held a salon at the King Cole Bar. Many are the photographs of him with famous people of the time. The bar’s still there, and still features the marvelous Maxfield Parrish “Old King Cole” mural. Last time I was there, however, there was no plaque or other recognition of the fact that it was a famous Dali haunt. In fact, that information is nowhere on public display in the hotel lobby either. No one I talked to knew what suite he used either.
An article in the March, 2012 Art & Antiques magazine by Henry Adams gives the following information about the mural.
“At the urging of his friend Nicholas Biddle, the business manager for John Jacob Astor IV, Parrish created the mural in 1905 for the bar of Astor’s Knickerbocker Hotel on 42nd. Street and Broadway. Initially, he is said to have been hesitant about producing work for a barroom setting but agreed because he was excited by the challenge of creating such a large painting. Also, the fee of $5,000 was very welcome to a young artist who had just married and was building a home in Cornish, New Hampshire. When he executed the paintings, Parrish had only a small studio, and he had to work on each of the three panels separately. Even then, they would only fit when they were placed diagonally in the room.
That merry soul King Cole, shown with a drinking bowl, was a natural patron for a bar. Bartenders have circulated the rumor that the smirk on King Cole’s face and the reactions of his courtiers were caused by the King’s flatulence, but Parrish himself denied this, protesting that ‘when I painted it my thoughts were 100% pure.’
After the paintings were installed, the bar of the Knickerbocker became a popular gathering place for stage celebrities, such as John Barrymore, but it closed when Prohibition was enacted, and the hotel was converted into an office building. The paintings languished for a time in storage; then were lent to the New York Racquet Club; and finally, in 1932, were transferred to the St. Regis Hotel (build by Astor in 1904), where a room was designed around them by the architect William A. Mackay with Parrish’s guidance.”
What I don’t know is whether Dali knew the hotel had been built the year he was born, and what he thought of the Maxfield Parrish “Old King Cole” that dominated the room–except when the Divine Dali was holding his own court.