There have been Oscar Wilde bars before now: in Berlin, San Diego, Chicago, and, I seem to recall, one previously in New York City.There is a Wilde Café in Minneapolis,and a bar called Oscar Wilde 9 located, both surprisingly and unsurprisingly, at #9 Oscar Wilde St. in Mexico City.
Most of these pretenders, however, merely give a nod to the old boy by borrowing his name. One or two, such as Wilde’s Restaurantin The Lodge at Ashford Castle, in Cong, Ireland, and the Oscar Wilde room at the Café Royal in Piccadilly, London, try a little harder to embody Oscar’s maxim that moderation is a fatal thing, and nothing succeeds like excess.
Raising The Bar
But believe me, none of them, past or present, comes remotely close to the lavishness to be found at the newOscar Wilde Bar in New York City.
As one artistic passerby was heard to exclaim when poking his head through the door, “Minimalism is dead!” And that was when the place was only half finished during the renovations.
Now that it is finished it was time to attend the press reception.
Oscar Wilde’s Reception in Kansas and the Sunflower Soirée.
I recently gave a talk on the subject of Oscar Wilde and the sunflower to the good people of the Maryland Agriculture Resource Council at their Sunflower Soirée, a yearly festival devoted to the Helianthus annuus. Literally, an annual event.
Between you and me, it was a wonderful occasion; but as there was a gloomy weather forecast I choose to focus on the portent to a poignant moment.
If Oscar Wilde really did live in terror of not being misunderstood—as he wrote inThe Critic as Artist in1891, he need not have worried. At least not so far as his plays are concerned, because there are parts of the texts now so arcane that they are almost bound to be misunderstood—if they are understood at all.
Take Wilde’s most famous play The Importance of Being Earnest.
As many appreciate, Earnest still resonates today in everything from the fact that sugar is no longer fashionable to the facade of human shallowness.
But we should not allow the play’s continuing relevance to distract us from its many dated, regional or topical allusions, many of which had an esoteric meaning when Wilde wrote them, but which are now elusive—especially for young or non-British audiences.
In the East Village of New York City there is a bar called Dorian Gray and this week I made my inaugural visit. It styles itself as Simple, Cheery, and Charming—which it is, and that will have to suffice as a review as I was only there long enough for one beer. And therein lies a tale.
If I am to find Wildean relevance in topical US culture, there is a latter-day Nellie the Elephant in the room. And before proceeding, I should explain that twisted metaphor for the uninitiated.
I refer to the UK children’s novelty song of that name, and in particular to the eponymous pachyderm who was celebrated in the oft-repeated chorus for going off with a trumpety-trump, trump, trump, TRUMP! Apparently, it’s a sound elephants make.
And like any other annoying refrain stuck in one’s head, it’s a word currently hard to ignore. So reluctantly I must face it—the capitalized version that is—before we send in the clowns and say goodbye to the circus that is becoming politics in America.
The item is a note sent by Wilde to Anne Lynch Botta, the 19th century doyenne of New York literary society, in which he expresses regret at not being able to attend a reception owing to his impending departure for Canada.
Aided by the letter’s evident authenticity and the fact that the consignor is a direct family descendant, it sold at auction for $5,500.
The excerpt below is from Current Literature—a journal of the Current Literature Publishing Co. (New York) which published monthly periodicals from 1888 to 1912.
This account is from an article in the October 1905 edition entitled “How Oscar Wilde Died” which was given to deny claims in a earlier issue that Oscar was still alive. Its source was the Paris correspondent of the BerlinerTageblatt.