Della Robbia Bar
4 Park Ave at East 33rd St
This place features a truly striking vaulted ceiling. Not in the mood for a steak? Stop by anyway and feast your eyes!
The Della Robbia Bar is a surviving part of the Della Robbia Grill which, in the 1920s, was considered one of the best restaurants in the city. Its guest list included silent cinema star Rudolf Valentino, legendary glutton of the Gilded Age Diamond Jim Brady, and Enrico Caruso, the world’s premier operatic tenor.
The main feature of the room is its spectacular ceiling made of Guastavino tile. Spanish architect and builder Rafael Guastavino created a special vaulting technique called the “Tile Arch System.” The self-supporting arches with interlocking terracotta tiles can be found around town, notably in places such as the Oyster Bar and the Manhattan Municipal Building, among others. However, this is the only ceiling trimmed by bright blue terra-cotta tiles.
The Della Robbia Bar, along with the Della Robbia Grill, was opened in 1913 by Alfred Gwynn Vanderbilt, the great-grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt and head of the Vanderbilt family clan at the time.
The prominent Vanderbilt family owned quite a few mansions in the city with one of them occupying this exact location. Alfred decided to demolish it and build a hotel instead, naming it predictably: the Vanderbilt Hotel. He and his wife were themselves residents, occupying the 15-room apartment on the top floor. The posh Vanderbilt Hotel ran the elegant restaurant and bar, the latter of which was also known as “The Crypt.”
Alfred Vanderbilt and his wife stayed in the apartment until 1915 when Alfred tragically perished in 1915 aboard the Lusitania. Just a side note – Alfred was strangely fated to die this way. In 1912, he was supposed to go on board the Titanic when he changed his mind at the last moment. The Lusitania, which he boarded three years later, was torpedoed by the Germans and sank. The next occupant of the apartment was none other than Enrico Caruso.
In the 1960s the hotel was closed down and its interior was repurposed. It was split into apartments and commercial space, the grand public rooms were destroyed, and most of the original Della Robbia Grill was converted into a parking garage.
Miraculously, the bar room and a portion of the grill room escaped demolition and were resurrected as a new restaurant. The furnishings are not original, but the most notable part – the grotto-like ceiling – is there in its original form. The space, now a designated landmark, is here to stay.
The Della Robbia Bar was named after the most famous terra cotta artist in history – the Italian renaissance master Luca della Robbia. The use of terracotta for interior designs became fashionable at the dawn of the 20th century, although hardly any of these spaces survived.
The Della Robbia Bar is located inside of Wolfgang’s Steakhouse Restaurant on Park Ave.
The restaurant gets very busy during lunch and dinner time. The best time to visit is between 3:00 and 6:00 pm when the crowd subsides and the bartenders get talkative.
Wolfgang’s doesn’t have a happy hour, but by restaurant policy, their pour portions are extremely generous.