Why Is The Rainbow Room So Famous?

Talk about a room with a view: When the legendary Rainbow Room made its debut on the 65th floor of New York City's RCA Building (later named the Rockefeller Center) in 1934, it offered striking, sweeping vistas of the city from a vantage point no other business could claim. At the time of its opening, it was the highest restaurant not only in New York, but in the country, per Thirteen.

Boasting tall windows, elegant Art Deco decor, a rotating dance floor, fine dining, and live entertainment every night of the week, the Rainbow Room was a place to see and be seen for celebrities, members of high society, and everyday New Yorkers and tourists alike. How did the venue get its name? "An organ attached to a colorful light display" bathed the space in a spectrum of color as the music played, says Punch.

The Rainbow Room was also famous for its staying power, thanks to mega-million dollar makeovers over the years. These days, it is typically open only for private events. Joe Baum, the famed New York City restaurateur who oversaw a $25 million redo of the Rainbow Room in the 1980s, got his first glimpse of the place as a Cornell University hotel and hospitality student in 1940. It made a major impression. "I saw this wonderful room," he told Edible Manhattan years later. "I saw all the people of consequence being served in this great, glorious room. I knew that was what New York was meant to be."

The Rainbow Room: an elevated cocktail destination

Baum managed the Rainbow Room for over a decade after its relaunch. He is credited with bringing the place back to its original 1930s sophistication and glamour, going so far as to track down the family of the man who created the original revolving dance floor and asking them to create a new one for his revamped Rainbow Room (via Punch).

Perhaps realizing that some guests would come for a drink — and to drink in the view of the New York City skyline from the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center — Baum and company focused on the Rainbow Room's beverage program. They hired Dale DeGroff ("King Cocktail”), an early innovator in the craft cocktail movement who had developed a following for his scratch-made, authentic drinks. Long before the current craze for cocktails (and even before "Sex and the City”), pop singer Madonna was photographed drinking a pretty-in-pink Cosmopolitan at the Rainbow Room. "Dale brought back the classic cocktail to the American palate,” Don Mell, an Associated Press photo supervisor (and Rainbow Room regular) told Punch. "Joe and Charles Baum and the other partners realized they had something special there. They were setting a trend.”