How the Rainbow Room Inspired Generations of Nightlife

It's a space with many heydays

Rainbow Room
A view of the Rainbow Room in its heyday.
Bettmann Archive

Some bars, venues and clubs exist for far too brief a time; they make a mark on their given city and then cease to be, with their DNA turning up in unexpected ways in future establishments. Other spaces become long-running institutions, mainstays of a particular scene for decades or more.

Such is the case with the Rainbow Room, located in Rockefeller Center. In 1987, the space underwent a high-profile renovation. Writing about it in The New York Times, Joseph Giovannini noted that “[s]ince its opening in 1934, there has been a tradition of elegance and surprise in the Rainbow Room.” The paper’s architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, also spoke of the power of the renovation, writing that it evoked a time “when we first realized that there was something utterly glorious to the world of great 30’s design.”

What’s made the Rainbow Room endure for all these years? A new oral history of the space, assembled by Joshua David Stein for Punch, covers plenty of details around it, from the nightlife to the cocktails. And it turns out that one of the things that’s helped carry the Rainbow Room forward all these years is, well, the memory of the Rainbow Room. Specifically, the way the splendor of its past events has inspired others to want to bring that feeling back.

General manager Charlie Baum recalled his family’s involvement with the space over the years. “My great, great memories were of New Year’s Eve Parties,” Baum told Punch. “They were spectacular. My father instigated a Fellini-themed New Year’s party and, as GM, some of that responsibility fell onto me.”

As the oral history notes, the Rainbow Room hosts private events only these days — but its influence seems to be on the rise again. And it remains a singular place, where the city’s history overlaps with itself in unexpected ways.


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