When I happened to stop by the Bar Room in the Beekman Hotel last week, the Dow had just fallen another 1,000 points and Fashion Week was underway. I took a table for one in this perfect storm of Manhattan-ness, five minutes by foot from Wall Street, just as the afternoon runway shows wrapped up—one of them in the basement below me.
Normally, the convergence of financiers and fashionistas would send me running, or at least rolling my eyes, but in this setting, with its grand scale of polished old and tarnished new, they acquired a charm that can usually only be supplied through the haze of distant memory, or by Fitzgerald. The crowd felt like the real thing, and not like this kind of crowd usually feels, which is as though it is trying very hard to approximate the real thing. Across the way, a man shed his fur coat as he ordered a drink, and I hoped for everyone it was faux, or at least vintage. I looked away from him, down at the many oriental rugs and then up at the artfully plastered wall.
To my left, two middle-aged men met for some shop talk, one in a suit, the other defiant in his Peter Pan outfit of jeans, sneakers and hoodie. They talked of money. To my right, a table full of glamorous Italians talked of I don’t know what. Was it always like this here?
Minutes before, I’d found the Beekman Hotel on one of those narrow Financial District streets that throws you into a bygone New York. Once, a long time ago, I took molly and then walked around the West Village, sure as anything that I’d gone through a portal into 19th century New York. What a wander that was. Stepping into the Beekman is something like that, but with attire and haircuts not from previous centuries but rather this year’s fall collections.
From my deep leather armchair I looked straight up through nine golden stories of wrought iron railings wrapped around an atrium culminating in an enormous gilded skylight. These nine stories qualified the building as a skyscraper when it was built in 1883. Back then, any number of lawyers kept their offices here. Sometime in the 20th century, the atrium was hidden with drywall. Those who worked there believed the building drab. What better metaphor for humans and their brilliant, tedious tendencies—to build this magnificent thing and then cover it up.
I ordered the gnudi, which was far more meticulous than the service. I had to flag down the waiter to get my order in; I later flagged down the waiter to get my water refilled. It was a drag but I kind of enjoyed the side-eye their inattention empowered me to throw their way.
“My fund used to be on 47th,” said Peter Pan to the man in the suit. I meant to hear more, but just then three more Italians showed up and joined the other party and I got lost in their air kisses.
“This is reminding me of 2008,” Peter Pan was saying when I turned my attention back to his table, “when I stayed in the office until 10pm, waiting for the Asian markets to open. Worried about survival.”
The two financiers took stock of their level of worry now, their personal volatility indices. It didn’t compare to 2008. This put them in the mood to reflect on past glories. “I bought Apple at 36,” said Peter Pan. “And that was before it split.”
Finally, I got my water refilled without asking but my empty dinner plate stayed on the table, ignored. I asked two different waiters, five minutes apart, for a drinks menu and in a desultory manner one materialized. The shift changed. Suddenly I had someone checking up on me every few minutes. My cocktail came and I stared at it for a long time before sipping it, because of the way it looked against my black and white marble table. It was $18, though; I couldn’t just leave it there forever.
The room was filling up, afternoon indolence giving way to evening energy. I asked for the check, having outlasted both Peter Pan and the Italians. I pushed through a crowd to get out into the night.