It would have pleased F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby was meant to be his great American novel, but it wasn’t recognised as such during his lifetime and, as he glumly wrote to his editor, he would have to ‘go to Hollywood and learn the movie business’. If he could only see New York today, and how places, old and new, have fallen over themselves to connect to his creation, with Gatsby packages, boat tours, suites, cocktails, he would marvel.
Daisy and Gatsby: Carey Mulligan is wooed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s film
And as a Hollywood scriptwriter he might
appreciate that much of the enthusiasm is due to the fantasy of film.
Even the Jade Hotel, a new boutique hotel in Greenwich Village, is in on
the act, with Art Deco mirrors, slender lamps and bakelite phones (or
‘retro-rotary’), making the most of Baz Luhrmann’s film, The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan – released tomorrow on DVD.
We were there for the Gatsby Getaway, which included a copy of the paperback and appropriate cocktails. But first we went to the genuine article, the Plaza Hotel, basking in its lofty standing in the Fitzgerald canon. Scott and his wife Zelda hung out here, and Scott, as chief concierge Raphael told us, scampered in the fountain outside. This was where, in the novel, narrator Nick Carraway had tea with Jordan Baker, and where Gatsby and his gang took a parlour for the fateful scene in the unravelling drama.
There had been thoughts of a Fitzgerald Tea (with sandwiches of devilled quail egg or wild sturgeon caviar, cranberry-orange scones, and chocolate bonbons) but that requires advanced planning as bookings for this feast, which costs $60, or $82 with ‘warm Fitzgerald tea’ (champagne), are much in demand. Instead we brunched — on club sandwiches and buttermilk pancakes — as we savoured the Palm Court, with mirrored doors, marble pillars and domed stained-glass ceiling.
New York favourite: The Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel in the Big Apple
The DVD of The Great Gatsby (released in America in August) was in prime position in the Plaza Shop together with an elegant edition of the novel, sleek in black with gold flapper silhouette, priced at $98. The Great Gatsby has been good for the Plaza – though a row of DVDs indicates all the other films featuring the hotel. But none other has a dedicated suite – the Fitzgerald Suite, which contains all his books as well as items from the film, was created by the movie’s production designer, Catherine Martin. Just as Nick and Jordan did after meeting at the Plaza, we took a carriage round Central Park.
We sat on red velveteen padded seats behind the swaying rump of our horse as he ambled round, overtaken by joggers, cyclists, walkers. Amid the rituals of a sunny weekend – father playing football with son, friends singing Happy Birthday, man with fishing rod practising casting his line – our driver discoursed on all the films shot there. After a cocktail in the Jade’s bar, we were ready for a night on the town, starting at the 21 Club, an original speakeasy from prohibition days. The regulars today are more decorous than in the film: more likely to be coming up from South Carolina for a show on Broadway, like the women on the next table, or gathering for a guys’ night out.
Verdant luxury: Oheka Castle – a chateau on Long Island – has often been suggested as the inspiration for Gatsby¿s palatial home
The downstairs bar room, the place to see and be seen, is cosy though the low ceiling is strangely festooned with model trucks, planes, baseball helmets and – as our waiter pointed out on hearing our accent — a Chelsea football. Still, alcohol remains at the heart: my Southside cocktail – Tanqueray gin and muddled mint — was suitably strong; and the menu feels right: hominy grits accompanied my barbecue pork chop. Our evening was going to end at the Campbell Apartment, an atmospheric bar tucked under the shoulder of the Grand Central station.
But a private party meant we were allowed only a glimpse of the cathedral-like space that was once the office of financier John W Campbell. He transformed it into something resembling a medieval Florentine palace, with beamed ceiling and leaded windows, adding Persian rugs, organ and piano. In later life, it served as a lock-up for the NYPD before its reincarnation as chic cocktail lounge. Thwarted in our desire for Prohibition Punch, we adjourned to the Campbell Terrace to sip milder cocktails of pomegranate and strawberry as we sat in rocking chairs at a wicker table — altogether more genteel. This metropolitan glamour contrasts with the dignified elegance of Long Island, full of grand houses in wooded plantations.
Enduring legacy: The Great Gatsby writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, pictured here with his wife Zelda
Fitzgerald’s home on Long Island, where he lived for 18 months, was more like Nick’s modest house in the shadow of Gatsby’s extravagant mansion, though 6 Gateway Drive is now considerably embellished. Fitzgerald began his novel in a room over the garage, describing the lavish lifestyle at King’s Point on the Great Neck peninsular, which serves as West Egg, home of the recently rich Gatsby. Across the water is Sands Point, or East Egg, representing old money: the home of Daisy and Tom Buchanan was modelled on houses Fitzgerald knew from visiting friends. Within easy reach of the bright lights, Fitzgerald rented a Rolls- Royce and drove the way that Gatsby takes to Manhattan, through Corona Dumps, the ‘Valley of Ashes’, through Queens and across the double-cantilevered Queensboro Bridge.
Though the film was shot in Australia, so much effort was put into mimicking the environment that the depiction of Queens, a former resident told me, is utterly recognisable. Field trips along the Gold Coast Mansion Route ensured that the film also captured the grandeur of Long Island architecture, which ranges from Tudor and Georgian to a Spanish hacienda at Eagle’s Nest, the seaside roost of William Vanderbilt II. Built round a courtyard with arcade and a wall-sized sundial, this 24- room mansion was where he spent just one month a year.
His bedroom was full of sun and sea views; his wife’s more modest. In the middle of the corridor between was the table where they met for breakfast. There ‘s also a French chateau – which inevitably has been linked to Gatsby’s palatial residence. Banker Otto Herman Kahn built Oheka Castle (Oheka is derived from his initials), the second largest private house in America in 1919, with golf course and Versailles-style gardens and lived a life of sumptuous elegance with a staff of 126 catering for a family of six and frequent guests, including Charlie Chaplin. After Kahn’s death in 1934, the castle went through many transformations including a retreat for sanitation workers and a military training school before being abandoned and vandalised.
Architecture with film star credentials: The Queensboro Bridge in Manhattan
In 1984, it was bought by developer Gary Melius who spent decades putting it back together: beside each painstakingly reconstituted chamber is a photo of what it looked like before. Now it’s the top wedding venue in the US, a spot for celebrity parties and ardently desired location setting (and still a private home to Melius and his family). This is one stately home that Fitzgerald probably didn’t visit, but homage is paid anyway with two Gatsby suites and a summer garden party, billed as A Great Gatsby-style Affair, with guests in 1920s dress.
Oheka Castle reminded me of Xanadu in Citizen Kane – because of its magnificence but in fact Oheka Castle is Xanadu, appearing briefly in the film. Daily mansion tours emphasise all the cinematic and celebrity connections; when we arrived at the palatial showpiece suite with its two balconies and two sitting rooms, there was near ecstasy among the retired teachers in our group at discovering this was the location for an American soap called Royal Pains.
On our last evening, at an early dinner, a man asked if we were comfortable, and where we were from. ‘You should be in the Gatsby suite,’ he said. It was the owner, Gary Melius. Moments later, he reappeared with key cards to something even better — the suite we’d admired that morning. I was living the life of Gatsby. It was a fitting fantasy climax.
Travel facts…plan your own Gatsby getaway
The Great Gatsby is available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from 11th November.
Three nights at The Plaza (theplazany.com/the-greatgatsby) costs from
£1,140. Both include return flights from London on Delta.
information: Oheka Castle (oheka.com), Club 21 (21club.com), Eagle’s Nest
Vanderbilt Mansion (vanderbiltmuseum.org), Long Island Visitors Bureau