Do not wear flip-flops to the Campbell Apartment. What was once the private office and salon of tycoon John Williams Campbell, is now one of New York’s best-kept secrets, a Roaring Twenties cocktail lounge for the digital age.
I walked up a narrow flight of red-carpeted stairs. Inside, stylish young women in black cocktail dresses and pearls stood behind the maître d’ lectern. There was a 25-foot inlaid wainscott ceiling and a cathedral window. Plush red settees and sofa booths were flanked by cocktail tables. Soft yellow lamplights hung from the walls. Upstairs, a mahogany balcony with five tables overlooked the 3,500-square-foot space. At the bar the bartender Raúl recommended the Kentucky Ginger, a blend of Maker’s Mark bourbon, ginger liqueur, agave nectar, fresh lemon juice and muddled rosemary. But I came here for the signature $20 Prohibition Punch and stuck with it.
Inspired by the bootlegged punches served at high society parties, Raúl combined Appleton Rum Estate V/X, Gran Gala, passion fruit juices, cranberry juice and a splash of lemon juice topped off with Moët & Chandon champagne. I took a sip and shut my eyes…
I could hear Bing Crosby’s croon glide over a ride cymbal. At any moment Chaplin or Joan Crawford should saunter in. There were flappers, bankers, writers and musicians crowding the bar. Talkies were the talk, jazz was the age. It was postwar prosperity where song and dance thrilled the streets and jammed the cafes. America was awake and I was suddenly immersed in its abandonment.
I opened my eyes and took another sip. On the stool next to me was a fortysomething man in a jacket and bow tie. “I love this goddamn place. It’s like stepping onto the set of a golden age Hollywood film.” he said. “I know it,” I smiled.
The Madison Avenue post-work crowd crowded in. One young female in a Chanel tweed jacket ordered a Flappers Delight. Two men at a table barreled over with laughs. Another guy on his cell phone waved over a group of friends. “Let’s find a booth,” they cried. Everything was big and loud. I took one last sip and kept my eyes staring wide.
The Campbell Apartment is hidden in plain sight on the southwest corner of Grand Central Terminal, just off the West Balcony right next to the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance.