A Cocktail Institution is Reborn: The Campbell

When reminiscing on places that embody classic New York City, The Campbell Apartment immediately comes to mind. Though it only operated as a bar starting in 1999, the historic venue’s first-class style combined with its prime Grand Central location made it feel like you were stepping into a bygone era. It was one of the most elegant places to enjoy a classic cocktail for over a decade, until it closed its doors last year. But much to New Yorkers delight, Gerber Group announced they would be re-opening The Campbell (as it’s now known) and visitors flocked their way up the staircase to its door.

The history of The Campbell is what makes it so special. Most New Yorkers knew it as a stylish suit-and-tie bar primed for first dates, a backdrop for Mad Men-style boozing, or perhaps a sneaky affair. But originally it served as the private office of John William Campbell back in 1923, leased to him by the Vanderbilt family. The millionaire financier and railroad executive brought ornate decorations to the space, which he also used to host gatherings. After his death, it became an office, a closet, and even a small jail for the MTA Police. Only in 1999 was it restored, with much of the appearance resembling Campbell’s original space. Despite changing hands over the years, the bar possesses landmark status for the interiors, limiting any changes made inside.

The Campbell Palm Court Seating (1)

It was this landmark status that Gerber Group was after when they bid for the property last July, after the lease ended and the bar closed. Now, New Yorkers can be confident in returning to The Campbell in its true form, albeit with two major changes. The first change is that it’s no longer hidden, and justifiably so; almost as soon as NYC ‘speakeasies’ became popular again, the concept was rendered futile thanks to sites like Yelp and Facebook. This time there’s an outdoor bar titled The Campbell Terrace and a ground floor bar called The Campbell Palm Court, both new additions easily accessible from the outside. The second change similarly comes from a more egalitarian approach – there is no longer an enforced dress code. Though dressing up can add to the charm for some, the bar encourages a diverse and eclectic group of people, many of whom will get to experience the gorgeous setting without a trip to the dry cleaners beforehand.

With these changes, it is clear that The Campbell is aware of the shifting culture, and seeks to move with it rather than insist on tradition. But while the crowd is always changing, what remains is the baroque styling, the unmistakable windows, and the indulgent glimpse into a 20th century industrialist lifestyle.

The Campbell is open daily from 12pm – 2am at 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. For more information, visit www.thecampbellnyc.com.

Words by Gautam Balasundar