Ophelia Lounge pays homage to Beekman Tower's eclectic past

By Nicole Levy

When you go for a cocktail at any rooftop bar in this city, you expect to see (and pay for) sweeping skyline views.

When you order your drink at Ophelia Lounge atop the historic Beekman Tower (3 Mitchell Place, midtown east), you don't expect to find relics representing the building's past right under your fingertips.

Everything from snapshots of the young sorority women who once lived in the tower (built as a Panhellenic house, or residence for college students in Greek letter organizations, in 1928) to razor blades from the early 20th century to a 1936 antique camera lie embedded in the bar countertop, beneath a pane of glass.

And they're only a handful of the many antiques showcased at Ophelia, all hand-picked by Chicago-based curator and fine artist James Wheeler from sellers across the globe.

Wheeler acquired objects from antique dealers, estate sales, anonymous collectors, online auctions, close friends "and even dumpsters," he says. "Some of the pieces came directly from my imagination."

His original creations -- including small sculptures, butterfly slides and wooden shadow boxes -- are the rarest items to find a new home at Ophelia, but the most expensive? "Wouldn't you like to know!" he says, offering one hint: "There may or not be a bronze bust on display, which holds a pretty high dollar value."

His most challenging acquisition: a stuffed set of peacocks (technically a peacock and a peafowl), a mating couple in their previous lives on an active Polish farm.

Altogether, Wheeler describes a collection of "mysterious relics from forgotten times and places" intended to "hypnotize" the viewer, perhaps while she sips her Ophelia's Ascension (activated charcoal, bourbon, Jamaican pepper-infused mezcal infused with smoked Jamaican peppers, aromatic bitters) or her Purple Tuxedo (gin, absinthe, plum bitters and edible golden flakes).

Take a close look around for yourself, below:

The "grand terrace"

Photo Credit: Liz Clayman

The "grand terrace," or the lounge's central room, was designed to create a "jewel box" effect -- perfect for all the antiques or "gems" displayed inside. Original Art Deco elements preserved in the renovated space include ornate window frames.

The "outer terrace"

Photo Credit: Liz Clayman

The "outer terrace" provides a 360-degree view of the surrounding Manhattan skyline, and features exotic objects, many from the 1920s and '30s.

On this shelf in the main room

Photo Credit: Nicole Levy'll find a cash ledger dating back to the mid '20s, a selection of medicine jars made between the 1880s and 1950 and a blonde raccoon stuffed circa 1960.


On another shelf across the room

Photo Credit: Nicole Levy

...sits a taxidermied polycephalic (i.e. two-headed and extremely creepy) duckling and a goat skull.

This postcard from 1937

Photo Credit: Nicole Levy

...shows a view of the Empire State Building.

Wheeler found most of the postcards exhibited at antique shops in the Midwest, he says. "Most of these types of shops will always have shoeboxes filled with postcards from around the world. I literally shuffled through thousands of cards looking for those pieces."

The photo to the right of the postcard captures the building's awning in 1950.

Behind are perched ladies' cloche hats from the '20s and '30s.

The quartz crystal ball on display

Photo Credit: Nicole Levy contemporary and American, but the tarot cards were printed in the '60s in Marseille, France.

On a walk

Photo Credit: Nicole Levy

...around the lounge's black-and-white-floored perimeter, you'll find this Freemasons horseshoe plaque (identifiable by the square and compasses emblem), dating from between 1945 and 1950.

You'll also spot

Photo Credit: Nicole Levy

...this mesh Joan of Arc mask from the 1920s, an object that once belonged to the international fraternal order of the Odd Fellows. (The order, founded in England in the 18th century, has guiding tenets of friendship, love and truth, according to its website.)

Sitting behind bar counter's glass inset

Photo Credit: Nicole Levy

...are photos of some of the sorority women who once lived in the tower.

Wheeler bought most from a seller liquidating a relative's estate, he says: "They were a little surprised that I was so interested in the sorority items. I guess I don't really have the "frat" look!" Originally hesitant, the seller changed their mind when Wheeler explained his project "and even remembered some stories of their late family member's trips to New York and New Jersey."

Joining the snapshots

Photo Credit: Nicole Levy

...are some interesting gadgets, like light meters.

All over the bar

Photo Credit: Nicole Levy'll find about 100 preserved butterflies -- some behind glass, some displayed openly.