by John Delach
John Clancy worked as a waiter at both the Rainbow Room and the Rainbow Grill during the 1960s. Here is how I composed a few of his memories of the time when he served those two grand slices of paradise when the Rainbow Room and Grill still represented the elite in New York dining and entertainment. From his memoir, “Never Say: I Can’t:”
It was called the Rainbow Room because it had a circular floor that slowly revolved around as an organ played and all of the lights in the ceiling would change colors just like a rainbow.
The grill was a nightclub starring performers like Ella Fitzgerald, Count Bassie, Flip Wilson, Liberace and many others. It was not uncommon to have more than one of these stars perform on the same night.
When Richard Harris starred in Camelot, he did a performance for guests that included Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden. Even Burton’s first wife, Sybil, was at the performance. That night, I couldn’t believe Harris put his cigarette out in a saucer on Princess Margaret’s table.
The Rainbow Room and Grill closed in 2009, victims of the failed economy and irreconcilable differences between Tishman Speyer, the owner, and the Cipriani Family, the operator. In this 2014 guise, the Rainbow Room will be able to seat 300 mostly for private parties but, as The New York Times reported: “…it will be open to the public on Monday evenings and most holidays when there will be live music and entertainment. It will serve an elaborate, globally inspired Sunday brunch buffet.”
Not to be outdone, The Wall Street Journal noted: “The original chandeliers and sconces remain…The mechanics of the revolving dance floor 30 feet in diameter have been upgraded as has the sound system.” And “The blinds on the 15-foot windows…were removed to make way for three-stranded crystal curtains, each featuring 1,200 crystals.”
The three-course dinner is prix fixed with nine appetizer choices that includes Maine diver scallops baked in its shell, oysters Rockefeller and hot and cold Hudson Valley foie gras. There are ten entrees such as Dover sole, Maine lobster pot pie with black truffle and beef Wellington. Desserts include baked Alaska.
The Rainbow Room was never the destination for a “cheap date,” this new prix fixed dinner starts at $175 per person that will vary based on entertainment. Needless to say, it doesn’t include alcohol, tax or gratuity. Neither does Sunday brunch which costs $95.
The New York Post gave the brunch mixed reviews. On the positive side they note, “…It’s already worth $95 a head not including liquor. (…at the Waldorf Astoria’s Peacock Alley, Sunday brunch is $98 and the view is not of tower tops, but luggage stacked on the lobby floor.)” They liked “…well-turned out breakfast favorites” pot pies. beef ribs, chicken and the raw bar, but pass on the apple cider donuts, sushi, popovers and preheated dessert crepes.
The Rainbow Grill has been reincarnated as the Sixty-Five Club, named after its location on the 65th Floor of 30 Rockefeller Center… “with a silvery, faceted Gehry-like ceiling and a wraparound outdoor terrace, and the Gallery, a bar just outside the Rainbow Room.” Sixty-Five will be open nights from 5 until midnight offering views up to 30 miles to the north, west and south.
This divine cocktail lounge and bar will offer two drink menus, the classics and contemporary drinks. Classics include the 1915 Gin & Tonic featuring Dorothy Parker Gin ($22), Negroni ($26) and a Manhattan with Wild Turkey 101 Rye ($25). Contemporary cocktails include a Gotham mule with apple infused vodka and ginger beer. Wine by the glass ranges from $15 for a 2013 Pinot Gris rose to $32 for Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve Champagne NV.
One critic dubbed the dinner menu as having been designed for “Old School Millionaires.” I hope to report later when the food critics report their verdicts. Meanwhile, we can only hope that those lucky enough to re-gain this paradise never have the misfortune to suffer a similar fate as the one John Clancy described to me:
Then there was the blackout of 1965 when all the lights in Manhattan went out. We had a full house and since we were on the 65th Floor of the RCA Building, everybody had to stay there all night. They had to sleep on chairs and the next morning, many who were scheduled to leave on a cruise had to watch helplessly as the ship left Pier-95 at Fifty-Seventh Street without them.