Nur Khan, the Lower East Sider and “nightlife impresario” who was creative director at the Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar and (briefly) Don Hill’s, has taken his cache to Williamsburg, presiding over the re-designed rooftop bar at the McCarren Hotel & Pool (formerly the King & Grove).
Sheltering Sky, as the new space has been designated, takes its name from the 1949 novel by Paul Bowles, a favorite of the Beat writers (see what we did with the headline?). The Sheltering Sky follows a young, unhappily married couple as they escape the claustrophobia of New York’s intelligentsia for the liberating expanses of the North African desert. Khan’s design, a collaboration with Fernando Santangelo, predictably draws on the romantic associations of the Arab-populated regions of northern Africa: Tangier, Oran, the Sahara.
Hence the low-slung cushion-strewn benches, the Persian-esque carpets, the wicker light shades, the shimmering blue tile work behind the bar, and (I suppose) the foliage. All this is relatively understated, however, and one certainly doesn’t feel transported to a souk (especially given that Brooklyn’s own Skaters rocked the opening party Friday night).
But Sheltering Sky has what every good rooftop bar needs: a fairly gobsmacking view—across the East River to the shimmering spires of midtown Manhattan. It also has a small but carefully curated drinks list: with four $15 specialty cocktails hinting (via ingredients like peppermint tea and fresh watermelon) at exotic locales, and a handful of wines by the glass.
It probably isn’t news to Mr. Khan that in a Times review, Tennessee Williams noted that while most people would be “enthralled” by what was exotic in The Sheltering Sky, few would grasp its symbolic portrayal of a “Sahara of moral nihilism, into which the race of man now seems to be wandering blindly.” After all, what better place to disregard established moral values than a rooftop bar? Just don’t expect to escape from New York.
The Sheltering Sky, McCarren Hotel & Pool, 160 N 12th Street (between Berry and Bedford)