A New Vision for a Landmark

September 14, 2016

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In the past five years, we’ve made a number of visits to the Campbell Apartment and, for one reason or another we were unable to get in. So, imagine our dismay, when the New York Post, 7/1/16, reported that it was closing as of the end of July.

The Grand Central entrance on Vanderbilt Avenue to the Campbell Apartment

Why? Quite simply, the lease was up for renewal and the current holder of the lease, who had made a number of renovations over the years, and had a highly successful business there since 1999, was outbid and evicted.

Reading this, we decided that we had to make an effort to see this famous cocktail lounge right away. So on July 21st we went to 15 Vanderbilt Avenue and entered the special Grand Central doors marked “Campbell Apartment” at 4:00 pm. This was an early time for a drink, but we suspected that a lot of people would have the same idea as us.

We were right because when we walked in, the place was jumping and an hour later it was five-deep at the bar. We secured a small table and sat down on the plush red velvet banquette to order. I then decided to take a number of photos before it got even more crowded.

The Campbell Apartment was once the office of the American financier, John Campbell, who was a member of the New York Central Railroad’s board of directors. He secured the lease in 1923 and my only comment is, “some office!!”

The Campbell Apartment in 1923, this photo is courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Your jaw drops as soon as you walk in. It’s a single 3,500 sq. ft. room that is 60 ft. long and 30 ft. wide with a 25 ft. high hand-painted ceiling, a spectacular leaded-glass window and an enormous faux fireplace.

The jaw-dropping leaded-glass window at the Campbell Apartment

After Campbell died in 1957, the place fell into decline until financier Mark Grossich decided to bring the water-damaged property back to its former splendor and spent $2.5 million doing so.

We perused the menu and decided on a drink named, Prohibition Punch (see recipe below) that is the Campbell Apartment’s most popular cocktail. For munchies we ordered a combo of cashews, olives and wasabi peas. 

Before we go any further let’s take a look at the much-discussed “dress code” for the Campbell Apartment. It’s NO sneakers, jeans or T-shirts. [Full disclosure: I was wearing jeans, but they are a dark blue and nicely pressed. Yes, there’s even a crease. No one said a word.]

Before he was evicted, Grossich signed leases with no problems until 2015 when the MTA began changing Grand Central’s restaurants and bars. Their goal was to get higher rents and more high-end leaseholders. This led to entrepreneur Scott Gerber offering a bid of $1.1 million. This was way over Grossich’s bid. After many weeks, a judge in the Manhattan Supreme Court declined to extend Grossich’s stay of eviction. “It’s a sad turn of events,” he says.

Campbell Apartment is a landmark so the new tenant can’t change the walls, ceiling or century-old windows. But he’s making many other changes such as a new bar and, instead of fringed wall lamps he’s bringing in multiple chandeliers and high-tech lighting to show off the beautiful ceiling. “I just think it needs to be – today,” says Gerber. Stay tuned. We’ll see what the future brings.

RECIPE FOR PROHIBITION PUNCH

1 oz. Appelton Estate Rum V/X

1/2 oz. Grand Marnier

2 ozs. Passion fruit juice

Splash of cranberry juice

Splash of fresh lemon juice

1 oz. Moet et Chandon champagne

Preparation: (1) Combine the rum, Grand Marnier and fruit juices with ice in a brandy snifter and stir gently. (2) Top with champagne.

The Prohibition Punch at the Campbell Apartment

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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