Last Night at the Plaza
I’m a native Manhattanite and sorry that I’d only been to the old Oak Bar in the Plaza Hotel a handful of times. I’m pretty sure that I first heard of it in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. It begins with Cary Grant, mistaken for someone else, being kidnapped at the bar.I know I went there occasionally, but I worked Downtown, so it wasn’t a convenient after-work place-to-go. And when I was in the area of Fifth and Fifty-Ninth, I’d choose someplace else without really thinking of the Oar Bar. It seemed a bit stodgy to me and my contemporaries, not a place we frequented.
When I heard it was closing, I suddenly felt nostalgic about losing the Plaza. I made it a point to stop in for a drink. I went to the Oyster Bar first. The bartender and I were the only ones there. I ordered a Beck’s, and we chatted while my oysters were being shucked. Neither of us brought up the hotel’s closing.
When the oysters were ready, he served them professionally, setting out napkins and utensils but the silverware threw me. When all I really needed was an oyster fork, he’d also placed a fish knife on my napkin. I looked at it – it was pewter with the monogrammed Ps of the Plaza on the handle. I put it in my inside jacket pocket. When I finished the oysters, another customer was coming in as I paid my check. The bartender and I gave each other a friendly smile as I walked out. I left cash under my beer glass. That covered the check, the tip and what I thought a Plaza fish knife was worth. I like that fish knife and still have it so I guess I thought it was worth a lot. I never got his name, but we had a commercial interaction in addition to the beer and oysters. He knew I would understand his offer and might be interested. By looking me over and talking a bit, he surmised I was the kind of guy who’d appreciate a Plaza souvenir and give him a fair price. Everything would be auctioned off or thrown away within a few weeks, and I think we both felt that at least one fish knife now had a good home.
I left the Oyster Bar and crossed the lobby to have a last drink at the Oak Bar. I enjoyed looking at the famous nighttime murals around the room and wondered what would happen to them. After commiserating with another customer about its closing, I left feeling nostalgic for something that I never really knew but was a big part of my city. There were no souvenirs for sale and the only Cary Grant sightings were in the imaginations of the customers and staff.