George Christy Talks About Ralph Lauren, The Polo Bar, Henri Soule, Truman Capote and More!
New Yorkers can’t stop talking about Ralph Lauren opening his first restaurant, The Polo Bar, in Manhattan, his third dining room worldwide.
RL in Chicago. Opened 1999, on East Chicago Avenue.
Paris. Opened 2000, on the Left Bank along the Boulevard Saint-Germain, where the all-American burger with fries became the overnight draw.
Open since December, The Polo Bar is located alongside Ralph’s flagship store, fronting 55th Street across from the St. Regis Hotel, once owned by Mr. Vincent Astor, who never refused a tipple.
The posh dining room is an oasis for good food prepared with excellent ingredients from a down-to-earth menu. Where catch-up New Yorkers order Ralph’s favorite zesty corned beef sandwich, house-brined, with melted Swiss cheese and mustard on rye with a side of cole slaw ($22). Also Chesapeake Bay crab cakes, and the best steaks, when available, from Ralph’s 17,000-acre Colorado ranch.
Unless you’re in a deli, corned beef is a dish not around the corner, and Ralph addresses his childhood passion, and serves it “for lunch and dinner.” In its previous life, The Polo Bar was La Cote Basque under the wing of grand seigneur Henri Soule (more about this later).
Only last week, The New York Times’ astute social chronicler Guy Trebay profiled the comings and goings of the Who and the Who sipping and supping amid the clubby equestrian art and glowing trophies.
“On a banquette beneath an oil painting depicting the racehorses Man o’ War and Citation,” observed Guy, “Rihanna and Naomi Campbell sit like sleek and impossibly beautiful fillies after a sudden storm.”
Savoring a Gruyere popover, CAA’s Bryan Lourd is with client Chris Hemsworth, who’s “practicing his incognito, which is what one does when the prize view at a prize-view table happens to be you.”
Guy finds Ralph’s contains the “dazzle and excitement of a celebrity petting zoo.” While Estee Lauder heiress Aerin Lauder sees “an unusually ‘crossgenerational’ array of New Yorkers.”
Burnished mahogany, caramel leather, gleaming brass and crystal, candlelight and sexy table lamps provide a warm ambiance. Prompting chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernadin, globally critiqued as one the finest French restaurants, to assess The Polo Bar’s lighting as the best he’s seen anywhere in a dining room.
For quite a while we’ve been haranguing about chefs indulging in silly “overcreativity,” and we’ve now discovered that Ralph concurs. Truth is we don’t give a fig about the “foraging” cuisine of Denmark or the oddball Asian dishes that crop up on show-offy menus. Eric Ripert adds high praise for The Polo Bar’s classic comfort food from chef Sepp Stoner. To boot, Ralph imports his own coffee.
“I’m about longevity,” Ralph tells the press. “I’m about timeless. I don’t want to be the hot restaurant. I want to be the restaurant you want to go to twice a week.”
We met Henri Soule, the grand seigneur of French restaurants, during our youthful New York days. He was famous for launching his luxurious Le Pavilion during the 1939 World’s Fair, later bringing the acclaimed room to East 57th Street and Park Avenue, frequented by Cole Porter and Marlene Dietrich for their Beluga caviar and Louis Roederer rosé champagne trysts.
Soule later opened La Cote Basque at 1 East 55th Street, with Truman Capote following with his “swans” – Gloria Vanderbilt, Carole Matthau, CZ Guest, Babe Paley – who, in time, were prominently featured in his Esquire short story La Cote Basque 1965. They groused over some of his revelations, as did Soule.
Would have been better for the “swans” to have shrugged it off, and joked. “Laughter,” as the Reader’s Digest reminded us long ago, “is the best medicine.”
Truman was exiled from their inner circle, where he entertained them with nonstop gossip and killer wit, while Soule continued to serve Truman’s favorite Souffle Furstenberg, popular with Austria’s nobility. Cheese and spinach and a softly poached egg plopped in the souffle’s center and spilling its golden river throughout the batter.
It was during our roving editor years with Town & Country magazine when Soule guided us on the intricacies of the yeas and nays with tasting caviar. Considered the food and wine king of America (James Beard came later), the portly Soule introduced the newly rich and beautiful to the refinements of France’s elegant cuisine and culture. Legend has his tragic demise occurring in the restaurant men’s washroom. Suffering a stroke, he collapsed and was found the next morning by the clean-up crew.