Television travel host and Platinum List expert Samantha Brown loves the old-world elegance of this classic Manhattan venue
King Cole Bar
New York City
You should get the Bloody Mary—after all, this is the place that made it famous,” suggests Samantha Brown. Amid the plush, wood-paneled surroundings of the King Cole Bar at New York’s St. Regis hotel, the popular travel-program host is sipping coffee, which surprises the waiter. “I thought you would order a Bloody Mary,” he tells her with a smile. Brown is clearly a regular at this posh Midtown Manhattan spot, though she’s quick to admit this wasn’t always the case. A New York resident since 1992, Brown waited on tables for eight years before scoring her first gig with the Travel Channel. “I always heard about old New York and the Astors and those old-money families, but that was a world I never had access to,” she says. “Then I figured out that there are still ways to experience the best of the city. I like to think of it as going on a date with a place. You can date old New York here.”
Brown is an unabashed fan of the King Cole Bar and its history, which extends beyond its legendary cocktail, created in 1934 and originally christened the Red Snapper. Built by Colonel John Jacob Astor IV, the St. Regis opened in 1904; at 18 stories, it was considered a “skyscraper” by New York standards at the time. Astor would go down on the Titanic in 1912, an event that would only burnish the hotel’s lore. It wasn’t until 1932 that the famed Maxfield Parrish mural of Old King Cole would find its way into the bar area that would take its name. Astor had commissioned the mural from Parrish in 1906 for the then-princely sum of $5,000, but patron and artist didn’t get along, “so Parrish painted King Cole in the likeness of Astor,” Brown explains. And that mischievous look on the king’s face? “Stomach discomfort” might be the most elegant way to put it. “That’s the joke Parrish played on Astor,” Brown adds.
The King Cole Bar is one of several classic New York locales on Brown’s must-see list, alongside The Carlyle Uptown and the High Line Downtown. “I also love the parks and public spaces that put all of humanity together,” she says. “New York does that brilliantly.” After 17 years hosting a variety of Travel Channel series, from Great Hotels to Girl Meets Hawaii, Brown is striking out with a new show she’s also producing, Samantha Brown’s Places to Love, which debuts in January on PBS. The half-hour series explores destinations as diverse as Oregon, Texas, Montreal and China, with a focus on the people who contribute to a place’s unique flavor. “Every destination has a soul cultivated by its residents, and I want to connect with that,” Brown says.
But there’s still no comparison to the place she calls home. “After being out of town, I still feel a little thrill when I see that first glimpse of Manhattan,” Brown says. “This city never stops being amazing.”
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