Last night I was at a party at The Wooly, which is a bar on the ground floor of the Woolworth Building. It was a fun party, though I basically just talked to the two people that I knew there. The bartenders made delicious drinks that went particularly well with the decor of the place. There was a painting hanging above the bar of a lady in olde-time garb sipping a cocktail in front of a peacock that I could not stop staring at.
The most memorable part of the night, though, happened before I got to the party, when I arrived at the Woolworth Building not knowing where to find the bar.
I had never been in the Woolworth Building’s lobby, though I’d seen pictures of it and had heard it was so beautiful. I should have gone in to see it before 9/11 happened, because they closed it to the public after that. But last night, as I came to the entrance and saw the “No Tourists Allowed Beyond This Point” sign that had always previously kept me out, I thought to myself, “Hey, today I am not a tourist! I have been invited to this building and have a legitimate question to ask the guard sitting inside.”
So I walked in through the doors and looked up at the glimmering, gold and blue and green mosaic of the Gothic cathedral ceiling (how high above me 100 feet? 200?!) and all around at the football-field sized arrangement of chambers — what Columbia University historic preservation professor Andrew Dolkart calls “one of the most lavish spaces in New York.”
Heineicke and Bowen, a very prominent decorating firm in the early twentieth century, was hired to do most of the work inside, and they prepared barrel-vaulted mosaics filled with flowers and birds and other ornament that were modeled after the early Christian mosaics in Ravenna, Italy. They were responsible for the stained-glass dome over the marble staircase that led to the Irving Bank. And it was they who put together the marble, the bronze, the plaster, the mosaics, and the stained glass — all of the different materials used to create this very special interior.
I walked as slowly as I could towards the desk, taking it all in. It was 7:30 p.m. There was no one else there.
“Can I help you?” said the guard when I got up to him.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m looking for the Wooly Bar. Can you tell me where that is?”
“Sure,” he said, perfectly friendly. At the risk of seeming rude, I went back to gazing up and around in awe. “You’re gonna go back outside and turn right, and then make a right at the corner. And walk a little bit until you see a big black window. The door’s right there.”
“Thanks,” I said and gave him a smile. “Man, it’s fantastic in here.”
“Mmm hmm,” he said, like he was very used to people telling him that.
I thought to say, “It must be nice to get to sit here and look at such a beautiful place all the time.” But then I thought that maybe the niceness of that might have worn off for him a long time ago. He seemed a little tired, like he might be nearing the end of his shift.
So instead I said, “Can I walk around and look at it some more before I go?”
“Nope,” he said.
So I left, a bit sad.
Maybe if I buy one of the 40 luxury condominiums that Alchemy Properties are turning the building’s top 30 floors into, I will be able to come back and look around some more. A 2,500-foot apartment will only be 7.5 million dollars.