Last week I was in New York City. Ahhhh... I love New York. There is nowhere in the world like it. Walking down the street I feel like That Girl, ready to fly a kite or twirl a floral umbrella or wink at a mannequin. Or something.
Frank Sinatra was right -- when you're there (or not), you want to be a part of it, old New York. You can't help but think of all the books and movies and music and glamor and squalor and history. On Fifth Avenue, you think of Holly Golightly at dawn in last night's finery. In the Village you think of beatniks and jazz, baby. At the Met I think of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the lower East Side I think of The Alienist, and of course Midtown is Dorothy Parker and her Round Table compatriots or Deborah Kerr racing to meet Cary Grant atop the Empire State Building. Then there's Woody Allen and Seinfeld, When Harry Met Sally and Harriet the Spy, Paul Auster and Holden Caulfield, CBGB's and "21." (And Paul's Boutique by The Beastie Boys when in Brooklyn -- awwww, yeah!) The list goes on and on and on. It's the pulse of the world, the capital of dazzle and substance, the epicenter of excitement...
And it's super, super expensive. Like, crazy expensive.
I'm lucky -- I was there for work, so it all wasn't out of my own pocket. But I'm a good girl (or try to be), and I try not to take advantage of my company, eating as cheaply as possible. Which isn't all that easy to do -- it adds up, and fast. Even fast food restaurants are way more expensive in Manhattan, though "street meat" is cheap but let's face it, risky.
So last week when I had gotten in I had been starving and had grabbed a bite, using up my quota for the day. After resting a bit and attempting to brush my hair, I walked up to Times Square from my hotel (on 7th across from Madison Square Garden) to meet my old friend Suze. The city had blocked off Times Square to traffic, rerouting cars, and had set up lawn chairs in the street. It was thronging with tourists and sailors for Fleet Week, and the lights are so bright that even though it was 9 o'clock, it was like daylight. We sat on the red neon steps under the Coca Cola sign and took it all in.
our view from where we were sitting
While it was exciting, there is a fact about having that many people around: elbows and feet in your face. So we took some touristy pictures and decided to go find something to eat.
We poked around the Great White Way, sneaking into theaters to ooh and ahh over their intricate ceilings and loges, and marveling at all the star-studded Broadway productions that are going on right now. West Side Story, 9 to 5, and Blithe Spirit with Rupert Everett, Angela Lansbury and Christine Ebersole (she was THE BEST in Grey Gardens, the only show I've ever seen on Broadway proper). It's astonishing really, how many shows there are. (And remember -- expensive!)
We didn't know where to eat, but I was happy wandering aimlessly, turning onto W. 44th St. And there was the legendary Sardi's.
Sardi's is one of those New York institutions, the kind of place you dream about getting all snazzy and ordering filet mignon and Baked Alaska. Founded in 1927, it has always been thee restaurant for the theee-aaaa-tah crowd, attracting actors and audiences alike. The Tony Awards were founded there, and it still is thee spot for opening night parties and photo ops. Its trademark is the caricatures of all the stars, everyone from Helen Hayes to even Clay Aiken ("the Gayken"), framed and hung in the dining rooms and bar.
And it's even been a star in movies itself -- here it is in Please Don't Eat The Daisies with Doris Day and David Niven, 1960:
Fast forward to the 5:37 mark -- Sardi's!
"Oooh, Sardi's!" I breathed, like the tourist geek I am. "Can we go in and just have a drink? I've always wanted to..."
"Sure," Suzie shrugged. She lived in New York for years and is an actress -- she is far worldlier than I. She swung the door open and we went in, leaving behind the New York street sounds and stepping into hushed voices and clinking silver and glass, and quiet, jazzy music.
I felt a little thrill of excitement. I was going into the venerable Sardi's! I have always just dreamed of dining at Sardi's with the hoi polloi, while wearing a taffeta Dior dress with gloves and ankle strap heels, my laugh tinkling (not cackling), sharing witticisms and martinis with Cole Porter. (Okay, fine, my Sardi's fantasy is circa 1952, but STILL. All my fantasies are, if you haven't figured that out by now.) But instead of a taffeta Dior and ankle straps and opera length gloves... I was... I was... oh God...
...I was wearing a SWEATSHIRT.
A black hooded sweatshirt that I had put on that morning, covered in cat hair and Munchies crumbs and airplane germs. And jeans and Hush Puppies and messy hair. Now, I know that casual wear is de riguer now -- one doesn't even have to wear a tie to even "21" anymore (which I lament -- I wish there were more places that upheld outdated civility) -- but COME ON. A sweatshirt? Cole Porter was spinning in his grave, and Cecil Beaton and Lily Dache were giving me the ghostly stinkeye.
But the bartender was very nice, and laughed when I stammered that I wouldn't normally wear a sweatshirt to such an establishment. And the maitre d' let us sit in the dining room to sip our drinks, since the shows hadn't let out yet and it was virtually empty. We gawked at the caricatures ("Look, there's Lucy!" "Awww, there's Dom Deluise!"), craning our necks and twisting in our seats. All decorum and nonchalance was abandoned, and I felt like the two rube suburban girls in Catcher in the Rye, silly and guileless in the Big City. Such rubes, in fact, that the busboy took our picture.
"Let's look at a menu for fun," I said, and the waitress brought us the post-theater supper selection, and we perused the twenty dollar hamburgers and forty dollar steaks. But when I saw they had French Onion Soup for under ten dollars, I realized that this would be my Accomplishment, dining high end on a low budget. And I would actually eat at SARDI'S.
So I got the soup:
Suzie got french fries:
And ate lots of good French bread.
And this was our bill:
Probably the lowest bill they had all night. And NOTE: My work did NOT pay for this!
People started trickling in as the shows were letting out, and it started filling up. And Rupert Everett came in, dressed even worse than I was, and sat beneath his own picture. Talk about ego! And no, we didn't take his picture. We're tourists, but not that bad. Now, had he been, say... PATTY DUKE... that's another story. ahem.
And since we were paying customers, we felt entitled to poke around the closed upstairs dining room and bathrooms, where we took lots of photos:
Aren't these beautiful?
Just THINK of who used these booths, before the advent of cell phones...
Anita Loos, Shelley Winters
Sammy and Dick!
Myrna Loy, Farrah and Liz
And then I discovered that I'd actually been there before, in the guise of The Gooch:
Peggy Cass, aka Agnes Gooch
Uncanny, isn't it?
Except she is wearing pearls, NOT a sweatshirt.
So as Auntie Mame told Agnes Gooch, "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death," we ate -- CHEAP -- at that banquet. I highly recommend it.
French fries: $4
French Onion Soup: $9.75
French Bread: free
Dining at Sardi's for less than $20 and being able to say you ate there: priceless
Such a glamorous Accomplishment!
Thirty-two down, 65 to go.