The Knickerbocker Hotel New York

New York City, New York (NY)

Rumoured to be the birthplace of the Martini, the Knickerbocker Hotel, New York, has had a colourful history full of murders, celebrities and a chimpanzee dressed as a human.

Built, in 1904, by the richest man to die aboard the Titanic, the Knickerbocker Hotel New York is a huge, 300 room building on the Southeast corner of Times Square.

The Architectural Design Of The Knickerbocker Hotel New York

The building is largely of the French Beaux-Arts style, popular in the US between 1880-1920, although its 41st St annex is of Romanesque design.

It stretches 15 stories into the sky and all the way down to the subway, where it once featured two exits into the station, one for men and one for women. One of these can still be seen today, a disused white door which commuters hurry past daily. The only hint of its past is the word 'KNICKERBOCKER', embossed above it in faded caps.

The Knickerbocker Hotel In Its New York Heyday

The Knickerbocker opened to guests in October, 1906 and quickly became a huge and popular success, thanks in part to a constant stream of guests coming up from the subway.

In 1908, a 600 seat cafe was opened on the ground floor and, over the years that followed, the physical hotel grew alongside its reputation,the neighbouring Ryan Hotel being acquired for its expansion.

Not even the death of its owner could stop its runaway success. When, in 1912, he died in the Titanic disaster, his son took over and the hotel continued its rise.

Celebrity At The Knickerbocker Hotel New York

Opera singer Enrico Caruso took up residence in a large suite, the Knickerbocker being close to the Metropolitan Opera House.

Other famous guests included actor and composer, George Cohan, director and producer, D W Griffith, and The Great Gatsby novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.

And it doesn't stop there, the hotel was also a political hub, William Hearst's failed run for city mayor having been launched there.

What the hotel is most famous for, however, isn't its guests, but its legends.

The Knickerbocker Hotel New York Gives Birth To A Legend

Rumour has it that, in 1912, a Knickerbocker barman invented a world-renowned cocktail whilst serving John D. Rockefeller.

That barman's name: Martini di Arma di Taggia. No prices for guessing the name of the cocktail.

Although this legend has since been debunked as most likely apocryphal, it is hardly surprising that such rumours have sprung up around the famous hotel, its '42nd Street Country Club' having been something of a legend in its own right.

The Hotel Club is also credited with having maybe invented the velvet rope. And its chef came up with the not-so-legendary tradition of decorating the table with live chicks trapped in eggs during Easter celebrations. The idea was that, as guests dined, the chicks would hatch infront of them as a tribute to Spring.

I'm sure it sounded good in his head...

Of course, not everything was glitz, glamour and animal cruelty at the Knickerbocker. The New York hotel was a place of crime, too.

Murder, Heists And Madness At The Knickerbocker Hotel New York

The year was 1920. Two gem thieves had broken into an oil tycoons room and were now fleeing with $100,000 worth of gems, their only weapons: guns loaded with tabasco sauce.

Tabasco sauce is no match for bullets.

They tried spraying it in the eyes of responding patrolmen, but no good. Their escape attempt ultimately failed.

This is just one of many ludicrous incidents to happen at the hotel. Some of the others were grim, such as the in-house violinist's attempt to seal his murdered wife in plastic, and others were outright ridiculous.

A Suave Chimp At The Knickerbocker Hotel New York

'BIG APE IN BROADWAY HOTEL', a 1918 NY Times headline reads. 'A Chimpanzee, 11 years old, answering to the name of Prince Charles was taken to the West Thirtieth Police Station last night after it entered the Hotel Knickerbocker... and caused excitement among some women in the lobby.'

The chimp had escaped from a nearby theatre and was apparently in full-costume, it being dressed in human clothes.

Who wouldn't have been excited?

The episode ended in the chimp's handler getting booked and another handler arriving to take poor Prince Charles back home.

The Knickerbocker Hotel New York In Later Years

The prohibition laws of 1919 saw a marked decline in the Knickerbocker's business, and in 1920 the building was converted for office and commercial use.

It remained this way until the early 21st Century, hosting such names as Newsweek Magazine and Gap.

In 1988, it was awarded the status of a NYC landmark and, in 2006, work was at last started on turning it back into a hotel. This was a slow process, however, and the new version of the Knickerbocker Hotel New York did not open its doors to the public until 2015.

To this day some historic features, such as the subway entrances, are still not in use, but the building has at least been partially restored to its former glory.

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What you need to know

The Knickerbocker Hotel New York
6, Times Square, New York, NY, USA
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