Ralph Lauren Relaunches the Fantasy

Ralph Lauren said he was happy to be back on the veranda of his property in Montauk, New York, above the sound of breaking waves, a powerful white noise that was more roaring than calming.

He’d returned to New York two days before for the first time since moving to his Colorado ranch this spring. It was the longest time away from his home state for the Bronx-born designer of warm Americana clothes.

Ralph Lauren, who is primarily an architect of aesthetics and an engineer of vibes, desired a brief respite before returning to his primary property, a Westchester County mansion. So he stopped in Montauk for a brief visit at his airy Frank Lloyd Wrightian beach home, low-slung and unobtrusive in stone and cedar and framed by the dunes and trees.

“I prefer the peace and quiet,” Ralph Lauren stated as he walked around the grassy slopes of his property. When his pool came into view, so did a basket of freshly-rolled white towels, put poolside as if to instil the sense that you could take a bath here, on this property, at any time, even on a near-sweater-weather Tuesday in October.

“I like the house since it’s not too enormous,” he explained.

Ralph Lauren was agreeing to an interview — something he does seldom — to coincide with the reopening of the Polo Bar, a clubby Midtown Manhattan restaurant popular with the rich, famous, and adjacent. After successful ventures in Chicago (RL Restaurant) and Paris (Ralph’s), the wood-paneled, softly lighted establishment became Mr. Lauren’s favourite project when it launched in 2015.

The Polo Bar, like many other restaurants forced to close at the outset of the epidemic, switched to delivery and takeaway in 2020 before restoring its private dining area early this year. However, it did not completely reopen its main dining room until October 12.

And it did reopen. The basement-turned-dining room was effervescent that night, crowded with a static of talk and clinking cutlery down a flight of wide wooden steps. Diners exchanged greetings with friends and acquaintances, occasionally pulling up a chair or slipping into a booth to join another group.

Hugh Jackman, Al Roker, and Clive Davis were among those who dined; Tory Burch, Thom Browne, and Laura Kim of Tory Burch; Fernando Garcia of Oscar de la Renta; Stellene Volandes, the editor of Town & Country; and an often shirtless Instagram-famous couple who, according to a staff member, “have the best abs in the world.”

The Polo Bar’s trademark $30 hamburgers, shrimp cocktails, BLT salads, corned beef sandwiches, and ice cream sundaes are among the crowd pleasers on their tables.

A glittering golden figure zigzagged the room every now and then – it was one of the restaurant’s maître d’s, dressed in a completely sequined gown similar to the one Bella Hadid wore at Ralph Lauren fall 2019 runway show. Two cooks cut pastry dough at the rear of the kitchen, constructing pigs in a blanket (an appetiser on the menu).

In the front of the house, Nelly Moudime, the head maître d’ cheerfully dispensed greetings and personal send-offs as if she weren’t one of the busiest people in the room — as if she didn’t need to drop everything, for example, to accommodate security for the unannounced arrival of Ehud Barak, the former prime minister of Israel.

Ms. Moudime, 40, has worked at the Polo Bar since it opened and is among the 90 percent of staff retained throughout the pandemic. Before takeout and delivery service began, she spent her furlough at home in Harlem, working on a script.

“Don’t you sense the energy?” she inquired. “It’s as if we never left, yet at the same time we know how much we went through and how this is nearly a miracle.”

Several customers expressed the same fundamental feeling: that returning to the restaurant had let them temporarily forget about the difficult world outside, whether for a fleeting minute or the entire evening. The term “it’s as if nothing happened” was cheerfully thrown about. (When Ms. Moudime heard the statement again, she recoiled: “No, a lot occurred. Covid cost us a dishwasher. During the epidemic, we had staff members who were ill.”

But, Ms. Moudime maintained, that experience, albeit focused on reopening night, precedes the pandemic: “The place transports you.” It gives you the freedom to be anyone you want to be at the time.”

Ms. Moudime bid farewell to Monica Lewinsky on her first night back, giving her a hug as she walked away. Around the same time, Ms. Lewinsky’s TV programme about the Clinton affair was airing an episode showing the “most horrifying day of my life,” as she tweeted that afternoon. She spent the evening at the Polo Bar.


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