Plaza Hotel's Famed Oak Room Could Be Altered to Gain Toilets

By Jill Colvin on August 31, 2011 11:11am | Updated on August 31, 2011 11:18am

The Oak Room's potential new owners want to slice through a wall to access new toilets.
The Oak Room's potential new owners want to slice through a wall to access new toilets.
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Flickr/flickr4jazz

MIDTOWN — The potential new owners of the Plaza Hotel's iconic Oak Room bar are petitioning the city to let them alter the historic landmark — so patrons don’t have to walk as far to use the bathroom.

Architect Glen Coben appeared before Community Board 5’s Landmarks Committee Tuesday night on behalf of Jacob Sebay and Associates, which owns a handful of eateries across Paris.

Coben was trying to get the committee's backing for a plan to slice through a wall in the famous turn-of-the-century Oak Bar to create an entry to new basement bathrooms exclusively for use by patrons of the bar.

“They would like to have a certain degree of independence when it comes to their patrons going to the restrooms,” explained Coben, who said that customers are currently forced to walk out of the eatery, into the hotel and then into the Plaza’s food hall if they need to use the bathroom.

The plaza’s interior was granted landmark protection in 2005.

But Coben downplayed the impact of the proposed changes, noting the section of paneling where the the doorway is planned is not actually original wood.

"We know that definitively. The grain does not line up, the stain does not match," he said.

The owners would also protect the panel by using the same piece of wood they cut out to construct a new, hinge-less door, which would blend into the wall whenever closed.

“The only visible sign that it’s a door would be a seam,” Coben said.

Creating the door would give the potential new owners access to a small, hidden space about 4 feet wide that the team discovered while inspecting floor plans.

“It’s this weird space. It could have been 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,' where you go into a parallel space,” Coben said, noting that it would take a lot of work to turn that space into a usable staircase.

Coben also presented an alternative plan in which the area would be used for a service staircase or a dumbwaiter, to provide a backup option to the committee in case it rejected the bathroom plan, which his clients prefer.

The new potential owners of the Oak Room want to add new bathrooms for the Oak Bar.
The new potential owners of the Oak Room want to add new bathrooms for the Oak Bar.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

He made it clear that using the newfound space is crucial to the potential owners.

“I don’t want to say it’s a deal-breaker, but it’s very important to my clients,” Coben said, adding, “if we can't get any of this, we don’t have to talk about the floor" or any of the other potential alterations the new owners may want to make in the future.

Board member Joseph Hagelmann questioned the necessity of new restrooms.

“Patrons walked through this beautiful, landmarked hotel for years… I don’t understand,” he said, showing support for protecting the existing condition.

But Hagelmann and other committee members eventually voted unanimously in favor of the plan, stressing the fact that the panels that will be altered are not original and that no section would actually be removed.

“It seems appropriate,” said board member David Golab, adding that hidden doorways are used at historic sites all the time. “I don’t see a problem with it,” he said.

The Oak Room and Oak Bar are currently closed, after the Plaza slapped their former operator with a a $33 million lawsuit claiming the famous bar's recent foray into burlesque dancing and other bad behavior had tarnished its storied reputation.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission is set to vote on Coben's proposal at its next public hearing on Tues., Sept. 6, at 9:30 a.m.

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