Cheap New York & The Surrealists

March 20th, 2013 § 4 comments

The younger generation is disbelieving when HG mentions how cheap New York living used to be. In the 1950’s a quite liveable one room apartment in Greenwich Village or Chelsea rented for $35-45 a month. In the 40’s, a pastrami sandwich was 15 cents (later raised to 17 cents as wartime inflation took hold). The subway was a nickel and there were ferocious protests when the fare was raised to a dime. (Yes..everything is comparable and salaries were low then and inflation has risen…but still…New York was then an affordable, working and middle class city; now it is a city built for the rich with everyone else struggling to stay afloat). During the 1940’s HG’s beloved late sister Beulah Naomi would take young HG to lunch at Larre’s, a French restaurant on W.56th Street in order to give the young man a taste of European civilization. French was spoken at almost every table as wartime immigrants and high school French teachers paid homage to Francophone culture. This what you got for 50 cents: All the French bread you could eat, of course, plus a small, gratis salad. An hors d’oeuvre cart passed through carrying modest treats like lentils, shaved carrots, string beans. Soup (onion or consomme). A long simmered stew with a fancy French name (either beef or mature fowl). Dessert (usually custard described as “Creme Caramel”). Coffee. No, it was not Henri Soule caliber French food but it was okay. Beulah Naomi and HG didn’t know that during World War Two, Larre’s was the favorite restaurant of a group of artists. Robert Motherwell (then interested in surrealism) and other avant-garde visionaries would lunch at Larre’s twice a week with famed French surrealists displaced by the war — among them Marcel Duchamp and Andre Breton. After lunch, the group would stroll to Third Avenue, then filled with antique and second-hand furniture shops. They would browse these shops trying to determine which objects were “surrealistic.” Duchamp (who gave the world the first “ready-made” piece of art i.e. a hanging urinal) was the final arbiter.

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§ 4 Responses to Cheap New York & The Surrealists"

  • Lyle Reinhard says:

    Nice read! I ate at Larre’s over 45 years ago and have been telling a dear friend (named Larry….) about it. This has given me the opportunity to further qualify my experience!

    Many thanks,
    Lyle Reinhard
    Bucyrus, Ohio

  • Nina Renaud says:

    In 1968, MY French teacher brought my high school class from Linden, NJ to Manhattan (about a 40 minute train ride!) to eat lunch at Larre’s and see a French-language film. It made me feel extremely grown-up, and was an unforgettable experience.
    When, in my late 20’s, I worked nearby in the west 50’s, I lunched at Larre’s regularly. The rotating prix fixe lunch included some of my favorite dishes (Sole Meuniere, Boeuf Bourguingon, “Cuisse de Grenouille”/frogs legs, and “Civet de Lapin”/rabbit stew), and was always a deal. By then, I’d been to Paris several times, and knew the cuisine at Larre’s was not “haute”, just typical bistro/brasserie fare, but its closing was a loss to Manhattan dwellers and workers.

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