“There is something about a mural, painted on-site, that shows commitment,” says Stephen Alesch of Roman and Williams, a design firm responsible for a variety of murals in locations around Manhattan—from the lobby of the Viceroy hotel to the guest rooms at the Ace. “It stays with the space,” he adds. “You can’t take this thing out.”
A relative lack of permanence, especially in a city where tastes, whims, styles and neighborhoods change constantly, may be one reason why the large-scale artworks are an attractive choice. They add gravitas, put down roots.
They also help build institutions, communicating the identity or story of a place to its customers and community. Take, for instance, the Waverly Inn in the West Village, whose walls tell the neighborhood’s history vis-à-vis its memorable cast of characters. Or Chelsea’s Willow Road, which captures the surrounding contemporary milieu.
Then there are the more fantastical imaginings of the city, like the midcentury paintings by the author of the Madeline series at Bemelmans Bar, or the textured etchings recently completed at restaurant Clement in the Peninsula New York. Others abandon New York completely, carving out a place of escape within their highly stylized walls—like the dreamy musical heaven depicted at Café Carlyle or the Renaissance-inspired setting at Machiavelli.
Here, we explore 11 of the city’s most interesting murals, found within some of its top restaurants and bars.