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Winold Reiss and the Congo Room— 1st Tiki Bar ? A Tiki Bar before they were called that

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The Alamac Hotel in Manhattan at 171 West 71st Street at Broadway home to the Congo Room circa 1923. The Alamac was sold at auction to a bank in 1938.

The Congo Room designed by Winold Reiss is a radical design for the era.

This is one of the great quality photographs of a holy grail in the library of congress collection. Photograph of a proof of concept Tiki bar in 1922-23.


Winold Reiss (1886–1953) arrived in New York in 1913, the year of the ground-breaking Armory Show. The exhibition shook the American art scene to its core and ushered in a radically new artistic sensibility, whilst Reiss’s exuberant, dynamic designs anticipated the American passion for this new European avant-garde art. Steeped in a German aesthetic, Reiss brought his unique brand of modernism to the United States, and established a reputation and material presence in New York’s cultural and commercial landscape.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a blockbuster. "The Congo Room is an unfortunate name from the research standpoint. ‘Clearly, it should be decorated with African art,’ the purist might posit and allow it to slip by unnoticed." It's clearly abundant by evidence, it was not Art of the African Continent here, but Polynesia of a sort.

It’s too early to be a Tiki bar, but it is. Don Beach is credited with creating the atmosphere genre, but… obviously this German architect and graphic artist immigrant flirted with the concept a decade earlier.

I wonder how Reiss (who is about 30 in 1923 and lives until 1953.) felt seeing his same concepts taken to the extreme, and blossom into knowing he is the (possible) originator of the style. We all hold so dear, and unheralded.

[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2022-11-03 12:37:35 ]

[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2023-03-22 10:58:53 ]


Lamp, hut, dining booths designs circa 1923 by Winold Reese.

So ten years after coming to America, he’s creating the AlaMac Hotel’s Congo Room. Honestly, in 1923, this IS A Tiki Bar. Just look at the sketches, and the small amount of documentation that has been uncovered. Pre-Tiki, yes. Called Tiki, no. But is it? Damn yes. And a far decade or so before Donn Beach.


The 1913 Armory show is mentioned in the first post. I need to read more about this and hope you will too. To be continued…

[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2022-09-27 18:24:33 ]

BB485E31-3E41-44F6-A0BB-05346F2D0BC9This is described as a lamp shade, but we know what it really is. Can anyone go to Washington DC and get us the better resolution pictures? Honestly, I know these blowups of a screenshot are bad quality. Sorry.)

Oh, anyway off of eBay is this 1923 postcard. It seems to be looking a different angle. It’s yellowed and faded. I’m sure it could be enhanced up. (I don’t have photoshop right now.) It shows there are a great many of the Reiss Marquesas styled chairs both black and white versions and 3 lamps.

I like the nickname of the ‘African Roof’ room but another hinder in searches.


Ok back to the Library of congress search for the Alamac Hotel. Many pictures in Public Domain but very small thumbnails on line



[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2022-09-30 21:34:06 ]


This photo of the entrance is quite whimsical in execution of the drawing.

Entrance and Music hut circa 1923



[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2022-09-30 21:42:30 ]


Menu…. Looks quite like a…


More Winold Reiss…

https://www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/the-art-of-winold-reiss-an-immigrant-modernist Ooh.

[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2022-09-20 12:03:20 ]

[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2022-09-27 17:15:39 ]

[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2022-09-27 17:15:48 ]




Staircase at Empire State Building by W. Reiss removed.

Oh, there is a daughter in law quoted in the article… Renate Reiss… married to W. Tjark Reiss. (A son who sadly passed in 2001.)

mailto:[email protected]


[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2022-11-19 14:16:21 ]


So much of the wall decorations you show seem to have been directly based on the set designs for The Ballet Russes by Léon Bakst, who worked from 1909 onward. The wild colours colours, primitive drawing style and exuberant "exoticism" became extremely influential for so many things from ceramics, women's clothing and interior decoration. Bakst's work, together with that of the concurrent Fauves painting movement with their wild brush work and strident colours, and their subject matter's high degree of simplification and abstraction, became a major source for European and American designers. Here is just one example of a Bakst background where the similarity to the work you show above is plainly evident. art_09_15

[ Edited by TIKIGIKI on 2022-09-27 20:05:01 ]

Thanks for the rabbit hole. Very interesting….

I think you bring up an interesting point that ties into the Armory show and the modern art being produced in Europe at that point. America is introduced to modern art here in mass, but German artist Winold Reiss would have probably been aware of cubism, primitive, etc. No doubt he’d find great interest in an exhibit like that…



Gauguin did exhibit at this event… Far right on the floor plan.

The Congo Room mural would be in similar tints one imagines. Reiss’s other mural work is quite vibrant.


[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2022-09-30 21:39:00 ]


Couch. Coat /hat check at the entrance at the Congo Room.

[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2022-09-30 21:58:19 ]



Smithsonian has a negative from 1924. From the Duncan P. Schiedt collection


Sadly cannot see it.

[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2023-04-01 14:49:26 ]

Have at it. There used to be u-mod function that you could suggest it moved to a different forum. I’d really like to see it moved to the Main forum!


[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2022-11-06 09:54:19 ]

Oh, I hadn’t seen this one before. I am quite frustrated by the quality of the thumbnails…


Described as Restaurant looking across dance floor with mural; head and idol lanterns at right

Excellent work and recap...Thanks!

6A858747-6A9D-4787-9B33-1015824C9207 Not from the Congo Room, but from


Noted as design for totem pole (1910)

Reese is enamored with Native American designs, so I was wondering how long before I found one in his work.

Mahalo OrGotRum.

I think it's marvelous that there is still stuff to be discovered. I (like you) own all the books. Hell, I even wrote one myself.

I was skeptical when I ran into this, but suppose it defied discovery due to the name of the place.

Any how, this is a challenge to all Tiki-centric... Photographs? Plates? Does someone somewhere own one of those marvelous chairs? Got stories? The persons who read this would enjoy your input!



[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2023-01-03 15:16:16 ]

Ooh… this DID NOT appear in Vanity Fair… Sold for $312.50


A HILARY KNIGHT WATERCOLOR OF "HORACE HENDERSON IN THE CONGO ROOM." An unpublished two-color drawing for Vanity Fair, pencil, red watercolor and wash, 320 x 260 mm.

A nostalgic glimpse of the Alamac Hotel's Art Deco rooftop restaurant designed by Winold Reiss (1886-1953) that opened in 1923 and closed in 1932. Legendary chanteuse, Josephine Baker, can be seen performing for the great African American jazz musician, Henderson. Intended for an unpublished article on lost café society that Hilary Knight proposed to the magazine as a visual "history of various fantastic places that don't exist anymore." Instead, Vanity Fair just used photographs of his friends Hildegarde and Julie Wilson, cabaret singers of the period.


[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2023-03-24 15:12:17 ]

A contingent of the Paul Specht orchestra playing the lounge at the Hotel Alamac in New York, while the full band handled the ballroom, The Georgians were a “band within a band” years before the term first appeared.


Looks like a room, I’d go to! IMG_1297

[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2023-06-06 11:25:10 ]


Good to see some actual history posted for a change. Thanks for sharing.


An article from the New Yorker Magazine… 1 AUG 1925

In her column “When Nights Are Bold,” Lois Long offered readers cool escapes from the summer heat at various themed entertainment venues:


[ Edited by Phillip Roberts on 2023-08-05 16:21:27 ]

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