Icon: Aristotle Onassis

Jun 04, 2014

A PIRATE'S PRIVATE LIAR

The first time Jackie Kennedy stepped aboard the Christina O, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis’s 325-foot yacht, she quoted Alexander the Great on his vanquished enemy, Darius: “So this, it seems, is what it is to be a king.” Infamous for his strong-arm business tactics and underworld connections, Onassis’s reputation had been on the upswing since 1954, when he purchased a retired Canadian Navy warship for $34,ooo (the price of its scrap) and spent $4 million turning her into the world’s most fabled pleasure boat. By the early ’6os, even America’s first lady—whom Ari would wed on the Christina O, in 1968—was willing to dine with him au deux. And people say yachts are a terrible investment.

In addition to her crew of 58, the Christina O traveled with a pair of Parisian hairdressers, three chefs, a Swedish masseuse, and a multipiece orchestra, for nightly serenades. Each of her nine staterooms, named for legendary Greek isles, came with a private maid and steward. There were eight varieties of caviar onboard, and all the vintage wines you could drink. And for passengers Onassis really wanted to impress, there was his lush inner sanctum—a nautically themed, perfectly appointed cocktail lounge called Ari’s Bar, just in case there was any doubt.

It’s where John F. Kennedy first met Winston Churchill in 1957. That sorta joint. The rakish young politico nursed a daiquiri while the elderly bulldog downed several brandies. Over the course of two decades, actors, politicians, and power brokers of all stripes would perch on the stools in Ari’s Bar, from Marilyn Monroe and Eva Peron to Frank Sinatra and the deposed King Farouk of Egypt. (The latter, who knew of what he spoke, said the Christina O was the “last word in opulence.”)

Situated at the foot of an onyx-and silver spiral staircase, the room’s circular bar was constructed out of timbers salvaged from a sunken Spanish galleon, and bound with heavy sailing rope. It had handholds and footrests fashioned out of ornately carved whale’s teeth, and stools upholstered in minke whale foreskin—an outré touch Onassis never tired of pointing out. Illustrated maps, antique harpoons, dragoon pistols, and other maritime artifacts adorned the wood-paneled walls. Underneath the glass-topped bar there was an illuminated relief map of the sea and a set of magnetized mini tanker ships that could be moved around in a Fleming-esque nod to the owner’s maritime empire. At Ari’s Bar, booze wasn’t the only intoxicant.

But like all great saloons, it had its day. Since Onassis’s death in 1975, the Christina O has changed hands several times and been completely refitted twice. The stools are covered over with leather now, and the price of admission to Ari’s Bar is steep—up to $625,ooo a week in the high season, to charter the full ship. Buccaneer spirit not included.

— Erik Rasmussen


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