June 17, 2016
“Can you talk to me about tablecloths?” a reporter asked last week.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“I’m writing the history of tablecloths, and I thought you’d be able to address trends in restaurants.”
Sorry; wrong woman. Tablecloths, it turns out, are one of my blindspots. I must have written about them, but no tablecloth ever left a lasting impression on me.
Still, thinking about the once ubiquitous white tablecloth (or the occasional red checked one) left me considering how much restaurant design has changed in recent years. A leisurely leaf through this Manhattan Menus Guide (published in 1980, edited by Marjorie Cohen, Carol Stanis, and Jane Warwick), was a reminder of many old favorites. The menus are fairly predictable (think rosemary chicken, steak bordelaise) ……
….but the pictures of all those empty dining rooms was something of a shock. How different our restaurants once looked!
Here’s The Algonquin; I was twelve by the time I got there, and the Round Table crowd was long gone. What I remember best is that the waiter served amaretti with my parents’ coffee, and then dramatically set the wrapper on fire and tossed it into the air. It flamed furiously, fizzled quickly, and simply vanished into the aether. I was charmed.
The stark simplicity of Tamura, across from The World Trade Center. (I never had the pleasure).
Lutèce. My mother always longed to go there, and it was one of the first places I took her when I finally had the money. I can almost picture the lovely Andre Soltner standing at our table, discussing the menu in his endlessly gracious manner.
Tavern on the Green: Another favorite of mom’s. (She could never resist a circus, and in the hands of Warner Le Roy that’s exactly what it was.)
And finally, the pool room of the Four Seasons in the Seagram Building, one of the most famous dining rooms of all time. The Four Seasons is still open, but if you want to check out that superb space this may be your last chance. The restaurant changes hands in five weeks.
Categorised in: restaurants