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Ophelia Lounge pays homage to Beekman Tower’s eclectic past

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.

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Photo Credit: Nicole Levy

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.”

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Photo Credit: 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:

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