Hotels (Part One)

September 27th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

During HG’s many trips throughout the United States, Europe, Africa (the Moroccan cities of Tangier, Casablanca, Fez and Marrakech); South America (Cartagena, Buenos Aires and much of Brazil); Japan (Tokyo and Kyoto), HG (and BSK) have stayed in luxury hotels, businessperson hotels, chain highway motels, “tourist courts”, etc. There were some memorable experiences. HG had two New York favorites The Algonquin on W. 44th and The Carlyle on the upper east side. When owned by the late Ben Bodne, the lobby of The Algonquin had the air of a fading, aristocratic lounging space in a distinguished English country great house. Gently faded carpet, comfortable sofas and chairs upholstered in gently worn fabric. Mahogany tables and chests that showed their age. Gentle, flattering light. There was no better place for conversation while sipping a cocktail. Despite its literary reputation and hosting of many eccentric and unruly poets and artists, Algonquin customers were very resistant to change. When carpet, upholstery or furniture had to be replaced, Bodne made sure that it was carefully aged so that no change was evident. Dining at the Algonquin was a delight. Oak Room for lunch and Rose Room after theater. The Oak had very good roast beef (plus sweetbreads on Virginia ham; seafood salad; coconut ice cream ball for dessert). The Rose had a joyously flamboyant maitre d’ and served creamy chicken curry. HG/BSK spent two nights in an Algonquin suite some 30 years ago. Arrived in a snowstorm. As expected, the suite was warm, comfortable and timeless. Loved it. The Carlyle had a modest lobby but it was always adorned by beautiful, fashionable women and an occasional movie star. The late Bobby Short was a fixture in the Cafe. The Bemelmans Room was an intimate cocktail lounge decorated with New York and Paris murals (yes, “Madeline” is on the wall) by the late, inimitable artist/writer, Ludwig Bemelmans. HG enjoyed many an expensive, perfectly crafted martini there when business brought HG uptown. HG must (for sentimental reasons) mention plain spoken Motel City on far W. 42nd Street as a fave. HG resided there after a life change. The motel owners owed HG considerable money for publicity services so rent was charged against the debt. And, that was the time when HG met the love of his life, BSK, lucky HG’s wife, partner, companion for 55 years.

Spud Heaven

March 31st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

The best potato dish ever devised by humankind is pommes souflee. These airy, crisp bits of spud heaven are a testament to culinary creativity. The method of preparation is a double frying of potatoes and requires efficient temperature control and deft hands. As mentioned in a previous post, HG always enjoyed them at the old Oak Room in New York’s Plaza Hotel. In London, HG consumed them accompanying a toothsome mixed grill in the restaurant of the Connaught Hotel ( In its heyday, despite its English location, it was hailed as the best French restaurant in the world). However, the best pommes souflee were found at the long closed, aptly named Charles a la Pommes Souflee on New York’s E. 55th Street. Second helpings were encouraged. HG took advantage. Sadly, pommes souflee have virtually disappeared from New York, Paris and London menus. There is one place to taste them in all their glory. This means a voyage to Paris and a visit to Au Boeuf Couronne, a venerable steak house in Paris 19e. Order a saignant (rare) steak topped with either sauce bearnaise or beef marrow. A big side of the lush taters. Clog your arteries with pleasure.



February 22nd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Celery is a modest vegetable. More a character actor than a main star. Essential base ingredient for making all sorts of stocks and sauce; deeply reliable for adding texture and subtle flavors to salads (green, tuna, chicken, etc.). Otherwise invisible. This was not always the case. In HG’s youth, celery stalks and olives were always served at formal dinners as part of a crudité and often were a giveaway at good restaurants. Best celery dish ever was braised celery with bone marrow, a specialty at the Oak Room in New York’s Plaza Hotel. (Last time HG ate this was at lunch with the late Ron Ziegler, Nixon’s press secretary. Ziegler scarfed down one order of this luscious dish and quickly ordered another which he also managed to finish) and promptly hired HG for a lucrative PR assignment. Nothing to do with Nixon, HG adds ). Celery made a bit of a comeback when Buffalo chicken wings became fashionable. The favored accompaniment for those peppery hot morsels was celery stalks with blue cheese dressing. Celery has an affinity for blue veined cheese. The English often serve lush Stilton with celery. HG likes celery stuffed with good Maytag Blue or Stilton and a glass of port. Give it a try. The imperative is to get rid of the stringy exterior of celery stalks with a vegetable peeler. There is one place where celery–both cooked and raw–is consumed with gusto: Tuscany. Tuscans have even invented a pasta called sedanini, which translates as “small celery pieces.” There are two basic Tuscan pasta recipes that utilize celery: Sedanini al Sedano (celery is boiled until fully cooked but still firm and then mixed with garlic that has been sizzled in olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and some of the water the celery has been boiled in) and Sedanini alla Crudaiola (a warm weather dish where the celery is mixed with peeled and marinated ripe tomatoes; garlic, basil, parsley, olive oil and red pepper flakes). Giuliano Bugialli, the Italian pasta authority, says the key to both dishes is to cut the celery into pieces that are the same shape and size as the “sedanini” pasta. Sounds good. Time for celery to make a comeback.


The End Of New York Romance?

January 26th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

HG was dismayed to learn that New York Mayor Bill De Blasio wants to get rid of Central Park’s horse-drawn carriages. Claims the horses are being mistreated. Okay, maybe the horses need some supervision and their health should be protected. But, please, please don’t end those romantic carriage rides. HG has joyous memories of carriage rides through the park with young BSK. The happiest ride HG/BSK had was one crisp New York autumn night. HG/BSK finished a sumptuous dinner at the Oak Room in the Plaza Hotel. HG/BSK strolled to Central Park where the carriages were stationed near Fifth Avenue. Spoke to a carriage driver. After a jaunt in Central Park the carriage ride continued to the Central Park West park entrance at West 81st Street and from there to HG/BSK’s rent controlled, spacious paradise on 79th and Riverside Drive. Big tip for the driver. HG/BSK poured some wine. Looked out at the Hudson River and the “SPRY for Frying. SPRY for Baking” sign atop the New Jersey Palisades (SPRY was a CRISCO competitor). No, this wasn’t a scene from a Woody Allen movie. It was real, romantic life in Noo Yawk of yesteryear.


Christmas Restaurant Nostalgia Part 2: The Oak Room

December 12th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The Oak Room of New York’s Plaza Hotel was a wonderful place for winter holiday dining. A dignified room with, of course, dark oak paneling and chandeliers that cast a flattering light. Discreet Christmas decorations. Very attractive, elegantly attired clientele. (The debonair movie star Cary Grant was once at a table adjoining HG/BSK’s. Happily, he looked and sounded just like Cary Grant). HG/BSK always had one meal. A super-dry Martini for HG and a white wine spritzer for BSK. Smoked salmon with lightly toasted, thin slices of rye bread, capers, lemon, olive oil, black ground pepper. This was followed by tournedos of beef with souffle potatoes and braised celery topped with beef marrow. Chocolate pots de creme for dessert. Cognac and coffee. Thus fortified, it was off into the crisp night to behold the magic of the light-and-icicle festooned Plaza fountain. New York at its best.fountain-plaza-hotel

Speaking About the Unspeakable

March 30th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Natural functions being what they are, the bathroom (also known as the sanitary facility, the toilette, the Head, the W.C or the stately “Gentlemen’s Lounge”) is a necessary adjunct to dining, movie going and other pleasurable activity. In HG’s experience, the vilest bathrooms can be found in New York’s Chinatown. The smallest are in coffee bars in Italy. The most inconvenient are in Paris bistros where they are often tucked away in a subterranean alcove. The most luxurious can be found in the best London hotels like the Connaught, Savoy and Dorchester. The Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel in New York had a splendid bathroom supervised by a deft and distinguished attendant (The Plaza has undergone vast changes and HG hasn’t visited the Oak Room for decades so this may no longer be true). HG had a memorable experience in that bathroom. The super debonair actor Cary Grant (a frequent Oak Room diner) entered the bathroom with HG. Unlike HG, he did not remove his jacket. Instead, Grant unbuttoned the buttons on the jacket’s sleeves, did a quick fold and washed his hands. HG was dazzled, having long believed that sleeve buttons were merely decorative. From that time on, HG went to the extra expense of having his suit jackets tailored with operable buttons. The most architecturally distinguished bathroom HG ever encountered was the art deco masterpiece in New York’s Radio City Music Hall. In HG’s recollection, its walls had a mural extolling smoking and tobacco cultivation. It was also the first bathroom with a warm air blower for drying hands. Little HG found this innovation as exciting as any movie and spent far too much time drying and re-drying his hands. Bathroom attendants were usually anonymous personalities, obsequious gents who trolled for tips while handing out towels — but not the old guy at the Polo Grounds, the rickety old uptown New York stadium that once housed the baseball and football NY Giants. He regaled his customers with this bit of doggerel: “No matter how you shake and dance, the last drop always falls in your pants.” And he was not shy about promoting tips, singing out “After you’ve had your little pee, don’t forget to remember me — old Sam.”

Going, Going, Gone.

October 9th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Bobby Short and Mabel Mercer are in the Great Golden Cabaret In Heaven. Two New York perennial cabaret venues — Oak Room at the Algonquin and Feinstein’s at the Regency — are closed or about to close. That leaves only the Cafe Carlyle as the last of the sophisticated New York supper clubs. These supper clubs were where the voices and songs of Mabel Mercer, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Harold Arlen and Noel Coward were idolized and celebrated. Where once hip folks of all ages went to those uptown Supper Clubs, the patrons now are increasingly ROF’s (Rich Old Fogeys) — obviously, a diminishing market. According to reports, the supper club scene in New York has shifted downtown with an emphasis on irreverence, drag and transgender performers. In this age of pornographic saturation, the old fashioned, bittersweet, romantic lyric seems a bit old fashioned. During the 50’s and 60’s there were scores of supper clubs in mid-Manhattan. Nelly Lutcher sang earthy tunes. Ted Straeter exemplified world weary sophistication. Spivy (a one name performer like “Hildegarde” and “Liberace”) and Dwight Fiske were queen and king of the double entendre (very tame stuff compared to much of today’s music and stand-up comedy ). HG’s favorite was Laurie Brewis who held forth at the Hotel Earle on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village.

During the 50’s, a date night for HG often consisted of martinis at Jack Delaney’s bar, big platters of seafood paella and a pitcher of sangria at one of the Village’s many good Spanish restaurants, a European movie at the Art movie theater — and then on to Brewis and Earle at midnight. The New Yorker Magazine described Laurie Brewis as “a fey bistro version of Noel Coward,” “The London Edition of the Show Business Encyclopedia” and a “bouncing Englishman playing his London portfolio and bringing back the tunes that everyone but he has forgotten” Laurie Brewis and his Piano. HG, his snifter of cognac, his Marlboro cigarette, his shapely female companion of the evening. Pleasant memories. Needless to say, HG always wore a shirt, tie, well pressed suit and shined shoes during these revels. One dressed to dine and date. Jeans were apparel for plumbers and cowhands.

The Oak Room: R.I.P.

May 10th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

The Oak Room in New York’s venerable Plaza Hotel was, in HG’s opinion, the most history-drenched and comfortable restaurant in New York. Alas, HG just learned, the beautiful room has closed. HG has written before about happy times there and merry martini sipping in the adjacent Oak Bar. Memories: Tournedos with Bearnaise Sauce and Souffle Potatoes. Braised Celery with Beef Marrow. Cary Grant (looking and behaving like Cary Grant) at an adjoining table. HG had a charge account at the Oak Room and a tendency to run up large bills. HG, during that cycle in HG’s professional life, did not pay bills promptly. HG relished the good manners and courtesy of the gentle letter he received from the Oak Room management when HG was six months in arrears: “It appears that due to the many pressures and obligations of your career, you may have overlooked etc., etc.,etc.”

HG always paid…Eventually.

Living Well Is The Best Revenge

May 4th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

In the early years of their marriage, HG and BSK often suffered from the money shorts. This did not prevent the Young Marrieds (and recent parents) from living very well. Indeed, when wallets were empty, HG and BSK went to the sumptuous Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel where HG had a charge account. The Oak Room radiated chic and old fashioned glamour. HG and BSK once dined at a table next to one occupied by Cary Grant and a merry party. It was a fitting setting for that most debonair of movie stars.

And what was on the menu for impecunious but happy HG and BSK? Beverages: Icy vodka martinis (for HG), carafes of the very good house Chablis and house burgundy (for BSK and HG) . First course: Thinly sliced Scottish smoked salmon with capers, lemon and olive oil. Buttered brown bread. Main: Tournedos (rare chunks of the center of beef tenderloin) in a fragrant wine sauce. Sides: Souffle potatoes wrapped in a linen napkin and served in a silver dish. Braised celery topped with beef marrow. Dessert: Chocolate pots de creme. Truly luxe dining. And, the Plaza never murmured when it took HG six months to pay the bill.

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