By Terry Trucco
As The Great Gatsby, the most hyped movie since, well, Iron Man 3, steamrolls into theaters, two hotels are proudly trumpeting their Gatsby connections.
Most obvious is The Plaza. When Daisy suggests Gatsby, Tom, Jordan and Nick drive to Manhattan, they beeline for the Plaza, a favorite of F. Scott Fitzgerald and wife Zelda. “They lived at the Biltmore but drank cocktails at the Plaza – orange blossoms spiked with bootleg gin,” writes Sally Cline, author of Zelda: Her Voice in Paradise, in New York magazine. Ernest Hemingway once told Fitzgerald to “leave his liver to Princeton and his heart to the Plaza” – or so the Plaza website tells us.
The Plaza appears as a high-profile supporting player in the movie, even though the interior scenes depicting the hotel were recreated in a studio. That hasn’t stopped the hotel from happily linking its fortunes to the film – and Fitzgerald. Consider the newly unveiled Fitzgerald Suite, designed by Catherine Martin, the movie’s production and costume designer (she also decorated the sparkly Gatsby Holiday Tree in
the Plaza’s lobby last December). A few of the items you’ll find in the suite are the complete works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, photos of Scott and Zelda and Deco-esque furniture designed by RH Restoration Hardware, all yours for $2,795 a night (the hotel throws in a bottle of champagne, Gatsby-inspired cocktails for two in the Rose Club, breakfast for two in the Palm Court and a set of Plaza ‘his & her’ flasks).
Other Plaza tie-ins are Prohibition-themed drinks at the Rose Club, a Fitzgerald Tea in the Palm Court (curried lobster salad, deviled quail egg salad) and assorted foods riffing the Roaring 20s in the Plaza Food Halls.
Farther downtown The Mansfield, a Beaux Arts boutique hotel, boasts a subtler but equally potent strain of Gatsby cred. Max Gerlach, believed to be the inspiration for the character of Jay Gatsby, lived the last years of his life at the Mansfield, a modest men’s residential hotel at the time.
Gerlach spent years selling used cars in Queens, a cut above Wilson’s Garage but not exactly Long Island high life. The main evidence of his literary import is a note signed by him that Fitzgerald squirreled away in a scrapbook : “Enroute from the coast – Here for a few days on business – How are you and the family old sport?”
Back-up evidence comes from Fitzgerald scholar Arthur Mizener, who claimed that Gatsby was based on a Long Island bootlegger that Fitzgerald knew only slightly and that Zelda said late in her life that “this was a Teutonic-featured man named von Guerlach.”
So what do we know of Gerlach, with or without the von? A shadowy character, he may have been born Max Stork, he served in World War I, and he most likely was a bootlegger before turning to used cars. He was also a fabulist, embroidering his university pedigree, elevating his military rank and embellishing his name with that aristocratic von. When his car business tanked in 1939, he shot himself in the head at the Greenwich Village apartment of a girlfriend. He lived but was blinded and eventually checked into the Mansfield, staying until his death in 1958.
And the Mansfield? The elegant brick and limestone building you see today, albeit under some scaffolding, was designed in 1890 as a stylish residence for men – a sort of Barbizon for bachelors — by John Renwick, famed for flashier piles like the New York Public Library and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Early guests included the painter John Butler Yeats, father of the poet William.
The surroundings weren’t so polished by the time Gerlach showed up but that was then. A
deep-dish renovation in 2007 spiffed things up, including guest room bathrooms and the handsome wood-paneled library lounge. Rooms then as now came in a variety of sizes from extremely small to suites. Did Gerlach live large or in one of the teeny rooms? No one at the hotel could tell me.
That hasn’t stopped the hotel from celebrating its Gatsby cred. The hotel’s M Bar offers Gatsby-inspired drinks including updated riffs on Gimlets and Sidecars and a Live Like Gatsby package – two Gatsby drinks in the bar, a written guide to Gatsby’s New York, including 1920s architectural sites and a roundup of modern speakeasies, and a copy of the novel. Rooms start at $219.
The Plaza, 768 Fifth Avenue at 59th Street; 212 759-3000.
The Mansfield, 12 West 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues; 212 277-8700.