By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — George Lang, who escaped World War II from Hungary inside a coffin and went on to transform Café des Artistes into one of New York's most legendary restaurants, died Tuesday, according to published reports.
Lang, 86, was responsible for turning the ground-floor dining room at the Hotel des Artistes on Central Park West and West 67th Street into a go-to spot for performers such as violinist Itzhak Perlman.
The restaurant, which opened in 1917, was known for its romantic decor and murals of wood nymphs by the artist Howard Christy in 1934.
Lang reportedly had his "first real fine-dining meal" at Café des Artistes when he arrived in New York in 1946. After making a go as a violinist, Lang embarked on a restaurant career that began with a job as vegetable washer.
According to Lang's memoir, "Nobody Knows The Truffles I've Seen," when he bought Café des Artistes in 1975, the space was dark, dingy and empty most of the time, the New York Times reported.
It blossomed under his watch into a spot that diners favored for its exceptional French cuisine and charming, Old World atmosphere.
In 2009, Café des Artistes closed amid the economic downturn.
Earlier this year the restaurant reopened under new owners. The murals are still there, but the restaurant is now called Leopard at des Artistes.