Jazz Age New York

Jazz Age New York

"Can’t repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!" -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby This month’s release of a film version of The Great Gatsby sets thoughts turning to the 1920s, an era that saw NYC emerge as a major metropolis. The city abounds in ways to drink, dress and cavort like a flapper or a sheik–some direct tie-ins to the Baz Luhrmann movie, some not.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Already an institution by the Roaring ‘20s, The Plaza plays a pivotal role in Gatsby (as it did in the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald), so it’s natural the grande-dame hotel is staging nostalgic events all over its premises, from a Fitzgerald Tea for the Ages in The Palm Court (replete with rich salad sandwiches and Sacher tortes) to a Moët Champagne Bar, featuring a special bubbly-infused cocktail. During twice-weekly Gatsby Hours in The Rose Club, a jazz band serenades while guests partake of signature drinks, one of which is served in a take-home flask. Although alcohol has long been legal in NYC, speakeasy style characterizes many of the town’s hottest watering holes today: dark, intimate, private. In fact, one prime member of the species, The Raines Law Room, doesn’t even have a phone. Ring the doorbell by the tiny brass plaque for entry and you’ll be ushered into an interior with Chesterfield sofas, curtains, flapper-silhouetted walls and an extensive list of artisanal cocktails shaken and stirred, classic and contemporary. The art of adding juices, bitters and flavorings to drinks flourished in the Jazz Era (often to disguise the dubious pedigree of the bootleg liquor being served). Technically, The Empire Room is a bit out of the period, occupying the ground floor of the Empire State Building (which opened in 1931)—but why quibble over a couple of years, when it’s decorated in high Art Deco style and offers several Gatsby-inspired libations? Appropriately, you have to know to ask for a mint-adorned Long Island Mule (vodka, ginger beer and watermelon chunks) or a Roaring 20’s Tippler (peach puree, fruit juices, sparkling wine, served in a champagne flute). Or bring a crowd and order a bowl of Bootleg Punch (whose ingredients we mustn’t name; suffice to say copious amounts of iced tea, gin and simple syrup are involved).

Song and Dance

Musical comedy flowered in the 1920s. The Prohibition-set Nice Work If You Can Get It offers a fun facsimile of those old-fashioned romps, filled with chorines and bootleggers tap-dancing and wisecracking to vintage George and Ira Gershwin songs (the show is loosely based on the duo’s 1926 hit, Oh, Kay!). Next month, the ever-elegant Café Carlyle is presenting a revue,Tales from the Jazz Age: An F. Scott Fitzgerald Songbook. The three-person cast portray characters from Fitzgerald's fiction, interspersing excerpts from his novels and short stories with period songs (the author often referenced or quoted actual hits of the day—one of the things that made his reputation as a chronicler of the Jazz Era). A more modest and modern take on Jazz Era entertainment is Speakeasy Moderne, a once-a-month show that apes the mix of cabaret singers, burlesque dancers, and comedy routines that provided diversion in those surreptitous spots. The good, mostly-clean fun unfolds in a nightclub setting, which means a drink minimum (don’t worry: the booze is better-quality than bathtub gin, happily), and audiences are encouraged to dress in period clothing.

Flapper Chic

Speaking of which: True 1920s garb in good condition is hard to come by (it’s nearly a century old, after all). Vintage clothing store The Family Jewels displays diaphanous day dresses and, upon request, sequined or fringed evening gowns. It also carries a nice collection of period beaded bags. Several well-known labels contributed costumes to the film, and they’re marketing the designs for public consumption. A “Great Gatsby Hosiery Collection” of elaborately patterned tights and knee-highs is offered by Fogal, the Swiss luxury lingerie manufacturer, which actually dates back to the 1920s (with skirts climbing to unprecedented heights during the decade, stocking-sheathed legs were on view as never before). Brooks Brothers (for whom, some might say, the 1920s have never gone out of style) executed many of the male characters’ clothing, and guys can buy the same green knit cardigan sported by Nick Carraway in the movie, or Gatsby’s infamous pink suit. Displays of women’s costumes decorate Brooks’ flagship in Midtown. Tiffany & Co. dug into archival designs to create jewelry for the movie. Several pieces are displayed in the Fifth Ave. store’s windows. Inside, the “Ziegfeld Collection” boasts no diamond headbands like Daisy’s, alas, but it does have an Art Deco feel: big on black/white combinations and tassel pearl necklaces, with sterling silver standing in for platinum. Not sure we believe, like Gatsby, that you can recreate the past. But you can have a lot of fun simulating it.


» The Plaza Hotel, 1 W. 58th St., 212.759.3000

» The Raines Law Room, 48 W. 17th St., no phone

» The Empire Room, 350 Fifth Ave. 212.643.5400 

» Nice Work If You Can Get It, Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St., 212.239.6200

» Speakeasy Moderne,Stage 72, 158 W. 72nd St.,  800.838.3006

» Tales from the Jazz Age: An F. Scott Fitzgerald Songbook, Café Carlyle, The Carlyle, 35 E. 76th St., June 13, 14, 20 & 21, 212.744.1600

» The Family Jewels, 130 W. 23rd St., 212.633.6020

» Fogal, 785 Madison Ave., 212 535 8510

» Brooks Brothers, 346 Madison Ave., 212.682.8800

» Tiffany & Co., Fifth Ave & 57th St., 212.755.8000