tarting up the old king cole mural of the st. regis hotel new york

St.Regis-Old King Cole mural-removal

Recently I was walking by the St. Regis Hotel on 5th avenue and 55th street in New York, when it occurred to me to go in and look at the “Old King Cole” mural that was the cover for Joshua McHugh’s book “The Murals of New York City”.  At the time, it and the rest of the hotel was under restoration but you would never know it, EXCEPT that the mural was missing.

When you mention the “Old King Cole” Welsh nursery rhyme, chances are you’re not thinking of alcohol – unless you’re visiting the famous King Cole bar at the St. Regis, birthplace of the Bloody Mary.  And then this innocent children’s tale takes on a WHOLE different meaning!


St. Regis Hotel New York City

In 1904 as fashionable New York society continued its march further and further up Fifth Avenue, John Jacob Astor IV opened the new crown in his hotel empire, the St. Regis.  At the time the tallest building in the city at a whopping 18 stories (yes, you read that right!!), the press dubbed it “the most richly furnished and opulent hotel in the world”.  The hotel had central heating and air conditioning – luxuries unheard of in many homes at the time – and was truly a palace fitted out in marble hallways, French furnishings and sparkling crystal chandeliers.


Old King Cole mural restorationOld King Cole Mural renovation

The famed “King Cole” mural was not originally designed for the St. Regis.  In 1906, John Jacob Astor asked renowned American artist Maxfield Parrish to paint a mural based on the nursery rhyme for the bar of his Knickerbocker Hotel.  Parrish was a devote Quaker and disliked the idea of painting a commission for a drinking establishment, but was won over with a generous check for $5000 – a fortune at the time when you could stay at the St. Regis for only $5/night.


Old King Cole mural detail

Parrish completed the scene of “Old King Cole”, portraying Astor’s face as the Kings’ surrounded by attendants and musicians.  It’s a little known fact that the artist has the king’s aids holding their noses as a reference to Astor’s flatulence problem!!! I wonder if Astor ever knew about this or if he just played along?

After Astor’s death on the Titanic in 1912 and the later demise of The Knickerbocker Hotel, the murals moved around the city finally coming to the St. Regis in 1932 and finding their place over the bar in 1948.


Old King Cole mural transportation

We refer to the “Old King Cole” as a mural, but in fact its not – as it is not painted directly onto the wall – it’s just 3 very large paintings (each 8 x 10 foot canvases) affixed TO the walls.  As one can imagine, it took a small army of people to remove these from the wall and transport them to the restoration studios of Rustin Levinson in Manhattan.  Each was kept on their collapsible stretcher giving the ability to loosely “fold” the stretcher like a tortilla to transport each canvas with ease.


Room St Regis Hotel New YorkSuite St Regis Hotel New York

The St. Regis is concluding it’s extensive renovation of the hotel and bar (the latter, opened on 4 November to much fanfare).  The rooms have been re-fitted to exude timeless elegance by acclaimed design firm HDC which also had a hand in the renovation of what’s now the magnificent King Cole Bar & Salon.  And now back and standing proudly front and center, with years of Manhattan grime and remnants of tomato juice and egg whites removed (key ingredients of the perfect Bloody Mary), the “Old King Cole” mural looks now (below) just as it was when Astor commissioned it 107 years ago – rich, luminous and … humorous!


Restored Old King Cole Mural, St. Regis Hotel, New York

richard rabel
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city

image credits: the transportation and reinstallation of the mural/Joshua McHugh, New York; all hotel shots/The St. Regis Hotel, New York




  • Sherri Kohnle

    I thoroughly enjoyed this little piece of history.
    Thank you!

    • themodernsybarite

      thanks for letting me know. happy new year.

  • Judi Babcock

    Great background on this iconic piece. Thanks for this!

    • themodernsybarite

      with pleasure. Happy New Year!

  • Richard K. Segal

    What a great piece! Thanks for the story behind the mural and the shots of the renovation…

  • Judy Cusack

    The title definitely caught my attention ~ thanks for sharing Richard. Interesting.

  • Peggy Burks

    Loved the story, thank you for sharing.

    • themodernsybarite

      My pleasure. Happy Holidays.

  • Walter P. Bebirian

    great stories – I remember visiting a friend for lunch who was working at the administration offices of the St. Regis back in ?1971 and this strange fellow with this big mustache came up to me and said hello – I said hello and he gave me his business card which was a 3″ X 5″ photograph of a man sitting by the Met casting a very looooong shadow – when my friend finally showed up I told her about it and she said – that was Salvador Dali – he was living in that hotel at the time –

    Happy Holidays ! 🙂

    • themodernsybarite

      What a terrific story. TY. Happy Holidays to you

  • John Calicchio

    Great story. I will have to enjoy both the drink and art the next time I am in New York.

    • themodernsybarite

      Cheers. Happy Holidays!!!

  • James Thatcher

    Fun read and good information–thanks for sharing!

    • themodernsybarite

      happy to oblige.

  • Kathy Moses Shelton

    Great article! When in New York, often did business in the mezzanine of this glorious hotel and always found it a thrill to pop in to see Old King Cole. Next time he will look refreshed and I’ll have a Bloody Mary with him (didn’t know about his kingdom being the birthplace of that drink). Kathy Shelton

    • themodernsybarite

      Happy Holidays!

  • themodernsybarite

    Peace Josie!

  • themodernsybarite

    and to you!

  • CV

    Thank you Richard for this intersting story about this amazing hotel..

    • themodernsybarite

      It’s one of the Grand Dame’s of NY. Happy Holidays.

  • Cynthia A. Haight

    I love your blog … always so much to learn with wonderful images to spice up the text. Thank you.

    • themodernsybarite

      TY Cynthia. It’s always a pleasure when people share my aesthetic and point of view.

  • Stuart Warner

    Great article!

    • themodernsybarite

      TY. Happy Holidays!

  • Ellen Fisch

    The St. Regis is a stunning and luxurious hotel in the perfect NYC location. Goregeous mural! Parish’s work is magnificent! AND satirical! For many years his house in Cornish, New Hampshire was a museum I enjoyed visiting. Now, sadly, it is closed. A visit to Cornish, an art colony in the early 1900’s, will inspire: the light there is magical! One can see the influence of the Cornish light in every Parish painting.

    • themodernsybarite

      Love you bringing other aspects of beauty into your commentary Ellen. You are a true sybarite! Happy Holidays!

  • Carol Dupre

    after this you can be sure to find me sitting in the restaurnat of the Regis Hotel, NY. Thanks Richard, a delight to see this famous illustrator Maxwell Parrish again.

    • themodernsybarite

      Salud to a Happy New Year!

  • Thomas

    Love to see Old King Cole every trip to NYC. And nice to see he’ll be looking like new again this Christmas season!

    Thomas McKennon

    • themodernsybarite

      Have a bloody mary on me!

  • Nancy Kwallek

    Marvelous presentation/story about the art piece.

    • themodernsybarite

      Thank you Nancy. Beautiful painting. A visit to the bar on your next trip .. my treat!