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Raising the Bar

A visit to the newly reopened bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel reveals a classic that's a little less shabby, a little more chic.

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After eight months of collecting dust, the storied bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel, a favorite spot of local celebs like Chloe Sevigny and Ethan Hawke, is finally reopening this week. The hotel's new owner, the frighteningly well-connected financier Steven Greenberg, who once co-owned the Roxy and later the Palladium with close friend Ian Schrager, officially took over operations from the troubled Weissberg family on October 1. The bar is the first of the hotel's four revamped public spaces to debut; a parkside lobby bar and a rooftop bar will follow shortly, as will a swank forties-style lounge Greenberg's calling the Cobalt Club -- for which he bought up the entire inventory of cobalt-blue glass at the recent Triple Pier shows.

Nostalgic guests will find the once notoriously seedy front room much the same, save for the new crimson drapes and scented candles (lilac!) -- though the piano and its regular player, Phyllis, are sadly missing. But behind the bar, Greenberg's fashioned an adjoining lounge from what used to be the dining room, complete with Belle Epoque sofas and a dubious mural of the park. The effect is somewhere between Paris and pizza parlor.

Just how will these upgrades go down among the hipster loyalists? "You can never script these things," Greenberg says cautiously, recalling how nightcrawlers initially balked at the Roxy's "no blue jeans" dress code, then embraced it. "The anticipation of the change is the worst part."

Last Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., a half-hour into the first test run, the bar filled quickly. A Schrager-esque team of two Asian girls with black ponytails and tank tops poured champagne alongside the manager, a Jason Sehorn look-alike -- a far cry from the previous bow-tied crew. Even the bar's signature Pepperidge Farm goldfish have gone gourmet, replaced by dry-roasted mini-peanuts and, soon, spring rolls. A traveler from Houston sipping the house Merlot -- curiously, out of a Scotch glass -- gave his review: "The best house wine I've ever tasted," he said before adding wistfully, "but I'd rather have the goldfish."


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