4. There Used to Be a Tavern in the Basement
The first basement level of the Flatiron Building contains not only Sonny’s office but also many remnants from a previous era. The basement levels actually extend beyond the footprint of the building and go under the road itself. This first basement level was once the Tavern Louis, which was in operation when the building opened and was later a speakeasy. Sonny says that Irving Berlin even came here, and brought a notable jazz band from the Cotton Club in Harlem to perform.
Old photographs show a bustling space with glass mirrored columns and marble walls – and you can see the same pillars in the same place today, albeit with a more recent exterior, along with marble wall slabs next to the elevator and at the staircase. Sonny says 1,500 people used to come to the tavern to imbibe, eat, and be entertained, and they could access the restaurant and bar directly from a staircase on the street. On the floor, you can still see the brick outline of where that staircase ended. One of the originally wood-framed mirrors on the columns is actually in a closet within Sonny’s office tucked between a filing cabinet and shelving.
In the cleaning closet, you can see the remnants of the men’s bathroom with marble stalls and wooden water tanks. An elaborate doorknob, that Sonny believes dates to 1899 based on the patent, is still attached to the door of the closet.
You can hear the subway pass by just beyond the walls and you can see the concrete casing of the staircase that goes from the street down to the 23rd Street subway station, which was added when the subway line was built, narrowing Tavern Louis in this area. You can hear the steps, particularly high heels, of commuters heading down to the station.