Monday, July 18, 2011


Back in the days when I had a New York publisher who thought I was going to be the next big thing, I was invited to the Big Apple and feted.  Dinners were given, parties were thrown, drinks were had.  I was delighted, and truly grateful for all this, and when my editor suggested I might like to go to a fancy, old school cocktail bar it was a choice between the Rainbow Room at the Rockefeller Center, and Windows on the World, in the World Trade Center.

For no particular reason, I chose the Rainbow Room.  It was just great, up on the 65th floor with a cinematic view of Manhattan, and as I recall, helicopters kept buzzing past the windows like giant insects.  I believe I may have ordered a Manhattan cocktail just to feel part of it all.

As we sauntered out, with a happy buzz on, we said, “That was great.  Next time we’ll go to Windows on the World.”  And then I started living in New York, and I still had every intention of going to Windows on the World, but there didn’t seem to be any rush.  I figured it would always be there.  And then there was no Windows on the World anymore, a very tiny part of a much bigger tragedy.

In fact I just discovered (though it happened a while ago) that there’s no Rainbow Room anymore either.  They closed it in 2009 in a welter of scandal about unreasonable rent increases, unpaid bills and tax evasion.  I suppose if I’d really been a regular there, I’d have been aware before now, but it was enough to know, or at least believe, the place was there.  I miss it, even though I only went once.

And frankly that’s how I feel about a lot of bars and restaurants.  We know that all is flux, and that the catering trade is more fluxable than most things.  But I remember feeling a terrible pang a few years back when I heard there was no longer an Eros restaurant in Cambridge.  It was a pretty rough Greek restaurant, mostly for students, but it was the first even vaguely grown up restaurant I ever went to without my parents.  I felt quite the sophisticate, though since I usually ordered moussaka and rhubarb crumble, this was obviously a delusion.

Likewise I thought there’d always be a Manzi’s fish restaurant in London.   That’s now been taken over by Fergus Henderson, though there are worse things that could have happened.  The image above shows one of Manzi's mirrors now on sale at an architectural salvage yard.

Marian’s in the East Village (above), which used to win all kinds of awards for best martini in New York, has gone.  The Sonoran CafĂ©, where novelist Steve Erickson took me to lunch on my first week in LA,  closed a couple of years back and the building’s just sitting there empty.  I regard both these closures as personal disappointments.  Meanwhile tons of the world’s mediocre restaurants, you can name them as well as I can, stay in business.

And last week I was walking down Vine Street in Hollywood, a street which is certainly undergoing many spasms of redevelopment and property speculation, and I saw that Molly’s Charbroiled Burger House had closed down.

Now this is a place I’d walked by maybe hundreds of times.  It looked a bit down at heel, just a shack really, but there was something appealing about it.  There were always people sitting on the stools outside and they seemed to be enjoying themselves.   I always thought it would be a great place to go if you wanted a greasy sandwich in the middle of the afternoon, and maybe it was, but I never went there and so I’ll never know.

Now, if I’m reading correctly Robert Lowell’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” he’s saying that you end up in pretty much the same place regardless of the route you take to get there, which I think is essentially true, but I’m willing to consider alternatives.  If the universe can be changed by the flapping of a butterfly’s wing, it can surely be changed by eating a good grilled cheese sandwich.

And just a final strange footnote to the Windows on the World saga.  Improbably, despite the destruction of the Twin Towers, a partial place setting of Windows on the World china survived: it had been taken to the restaurant owner's home for a private event.  I find the salad plate just heartbreakingly beautiful.  It looks like this:

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