Since Zany returned to reclaim her slot as my alpha food truck maven, I’ve had to become a bit creative in finding new ways to engage with the other voracious appetites in my life.
Take my college roommate Ford McKenzie, for example. As you’ll recall, he’s the well-dressed social gadfly who has taken us along on all manner of food orgies. We’ve gone dawging in Brooklyn and gorged ourselves on the annual gluttony of red meat at the manly Gowanus Beefsteak event. Ford was also the trendsetter that perfected the fine art – or mash up, if you will – of food truck lunches consumed in high-end hotel lobbies.
Now, Zany is a purist, and believes that street food should be consumed as close to the aroma of asphalt as possible. I know she and Ford will never agree on even basic food truck etiquette. Frankly, I’m not even sure they should ever meet, at least not without a major security contingent present.
So, I’ve needed to kick it up a notch to show Ford the love. He’s had a little time on his hands, so while the rich folk are out of town, living it up in the Hamptons, we’ve been channeling our inner Don Draper, and hitting the classic New York watering holes. We head out on the town for a variety of adventures on the last of the dog days of summer. We don’t smoke, and it’s too hot to wear Brooks Brothers suits, but we both favor brown spirits, and with that tall, dark and sophisticated thing he’s got going on, Ford does a pretty good impersonation of Don Draper – with fewer existential crises. I’m more likely to be mistaken for Pete Campbell.
Speaking of dog days, our first stop is the Old Town Bar Restaurant on East 18th Street. I’m a little skeptical. I haven’t patronized Old Town in about 20 years, and I fear that from the looks of the shabby chic neon sign, nothing has changed. Perhaps nothing has been cleaned either.
I am pleasantly surprised. Ford is at the bar, dressed in a crisp white button down and Rag & Bone jeans. Depending on your point of view, Old Town might be considered a “dive” but, look closer. It’s the epitome of Old New York, and first opened for business in 1892. It’s kind of dark inside, but if you squint, you can spot the frosted glass light fixtures, the mahogany bar with marble top, and the classy black-and-white tiled floor. Even the urinals are historic. The clientele has been “upgraded” since my last visit and it is now pure hipster. The beards and skinny jeans are a dead giveaway. There are also booths – and when do you ever get that with new construction? We grab a booth and order a round of Manhattan cocktails, complete with a totally artificial red maraschino cherry. They are smooth and stimulate the appetite, so we ask for a menu. The Manhattan is potent … well, the second Manhattan is even more potent. I’m not even sure what Ford orders. It’s either chipped beef on toast, or beef stroganoff. Or, maybe a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich? I have fond memories dining on hot dogs at Old Town in a past era, so I go for the tube steaks – and I make it a double platter with fries.
The dogs are so tasty, I order a third. And, these puppies even have a pedigree. The menu notes, “As seen on the Martha Stewart show.” Who can resist Martha-approved hot dogs? We leave Old Town Bar, awash in rye, vermouth and nitrates, and I take note of two stiletto heals, dramatically strewn on the pavement on Park Avenue South. There are a thousand stories in the naked city.
About a week later, we are looking for an appropriate venue to celebrate Ford’s birthday. The birthday venue is important when you’re closing in on your late-thirties. I come up with the perfect solution. The famed Four Seasons restaurant on 99 East 52nd Street has lost its lease and will soon be closing its doors. It’s a New York institution, it’s a bastion of male-hood and we simply must go. Don would insist. Parenthetically, when our gal Friday, “Peggy Olson” discovers that we’ve made the pilgrimage without her, she is reportedly in an awful snit. But, you know how it is. Sometimes guys need their space.
Here’s the backstory. I’ve only been to the Four Season’s once, and it was with Ford, back when we were callow fellows. We met at the bar for drinks and then talked our way into the “pool room” for dinner without reservations. That’s a full dining room with an Esther Williams-worthy swimming pool located at the center. I am horribly underdressed and have to borrow one of the Four Season’s all-purpose loaner blue blazers. Ford, who is always dressed correctly, is appalled. I mean, my blazer is borrowed! In fact, the only thing I remember about the dinner is the shimmering swimming pool and the fact that Ford, as usual, was critical of my sartorial skills.
Now let’s flash forward to the present day. I duck out of work at a reasonable hour and secure a place at the Four Seasons Bar. The place is almost empty. I’m wearing a blue blazer – which I own. Ford arrives shortly after, wearing a classier blue blazer (because “anything you can do, I can do better"), a pale blue herringbone button down and white slacks. He has nothing to say about my ensemble, which really doesn’t signal approval but only means I haven’t made any egregious fashion errors.
I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. The closure of the Four Seasons will be the end of an era, and judging by the décor, that era was the late 1960s. The Four Seasons is a cavernous architectural cathedral, celebrating winter, spring, summer and fall. Mr. Vivaldi would be mesmerized. There are shimmering, jewel-like, scalloped curtains that quiver with the movements of the air conditioning. Icicles descend from the ceiling, and the high-end booze is contained in a floral-shaped sculpture at the center of the bar.
More to the point, the Manhattan cocktails are supersized. I watch with a bizarre, fatalistic fascination as the bartender mixes our rye and vermouth in something resembling a large jug. How did Don and Roger do it?
The bar is occupied by a collection of regulars, and one guy who decided to wear a golf shirt, inviting Ford’s scorn. We figure most folks are frolicking in the Hamptons and we’re the only one’s left in the city. “It’s loser week,” says Ford, referring to those of us who have no housing on the East End.
The plus-sized Manhattan cocktails (yes, that’s plural) serve to put Ford in a festive, birthday mood, and we round out the menu with an order of pig in a blanket. What can I say? We’re classy guys.
We decide to skip dinner at the pool room and head downtown for the best fried chicken in New York.
Eventually, we end up at the Bibbi Wine Bar in the East Village enjoying the bartender David’s signature wine cocktail dubbed, “Where’s Pat.” It turns out, Pat is sitting next to us at the bar. The cocktail is a better version of Pat, than Pat.
Just before Labor Day, we embark on a dizzying elevator ride to another New York institution – SixtyFive, the new and improved cocktail lounge at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center. Due to corporate raiding, 30 Rock is now known as “The Comcast Building,” which is not nearly as romantic.
Ford arrives nattily dressed for the end of the summer season in a red and blue striped seersucker blazer, Rag & Bone jeans and his signature Gucci loafers. How do people keep those shoes clean in New York City?
We cue up in the lobby where the matron rejects the guy in front of us because he is wearing a t-shirt. There is a dress code after all.
We are whisked by elevator to the 65th floor, where the new lounge is a stunning study in silver, and the drinks are an exercise in economic development. Cocktails average about $25 dollars a glass, so you might consider refinancing your mortgage. Most of the staff, and clientele is as breathtaking as the sweeping views of the Big Apple.
Ford orders a Manhattan, which is a little skimpy compared to the swimming pool-style cocktails at the Four Seasons. I decide that the Rainbow Room just screams for a Champagne Cocktail. And, it’s cheaper than the Manhattan, too. Truthfully, I think my Champagne Cocktail is a better match for Ford’s seersucker blazer than his Manhattan.
Before heading downtown for a bowl of tasty and overpriced pasta, Ford and I stop to admire the view. (Note to future tourists: the view of Central is best observed from the men’s room, and SURPRISE! There is no washroom attendant!)
I’m inclined to want to take a moment to smell the roses and admire the view, but Ford – in classic A.D.D. fashion – takes a quick glance and is already heading for the elevator. New Yorkers are so jaded. I guess he’s already composing his next Coca-Cola jingle.
© 2015 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved