The Plaza Checks Out

Converting New York’s most famous hotel marks the end of a storied past.

Plaza hotel

Credit: Plaza Hotel

It was the early 1970s, and the fate of the Plaza Hotel—and thus of New York and western civilization itself—was hanging in the balance.

New hotels were springing up all around the country, many of them featuring the architectural equivalent of love beads—trendy atrium restaurants. By then, the 64-year-old Plaza Hotel's venerable Edwardian Room Restaurant was feeling a bit too high-collared and, well, Edwardian. So the hotel's owners closed the restaurant, and when the place reopened, it was rechristened the Green Tulip. The old wood paneling had been painted, dining platforms bordered with emerald-green railings had been installed, faux Tiffany glass was added, and the windows were adorned with hanging plants. Folk singers now strolled about the small dining gazebos (gazebos!), and waitresses in colorful outfits, inspired by the munchkins from the Wizard of Oz, served fondue and wheeled carts filled with cocktails.

Though the hotel touted its new restaurant as "a sun-drenched indoor garden," unconvinced New Yorkers saw only a sexagenarian in bell-bottoms and a paisley shirt trying to look "with it, baby." Some years later, New York Times architecture writer Paul Goldberger compared the Green Tulip to "a restaurant in a suburban shopping mall that specializes in quiches." The Plaza conceded the error of its ways, and the restaurant was soon converted back into a more dignified dining room appropriate to its advanced years. As if in penance, the hotel even issued funeral notices announcing the demise of the Green Tulip. New York had been pulled back from the brink. Civilization as we knew it was safe. For the moment.

"Every time something changed at the Plaza, there was always the same reaction," said Curt Gathje, author of At the Plaza: An Illustrated History of the World's Most Famous Hotel. "Everyone was afraid they were going to ruin the place."

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