I. For the Madam
Imagine this scene: a darkened lounge thoughtfully lit with small lamps at each table, burly men in suits, dainty women in tweed Chanel with matching quilted Chanel bags, tumblers grasped by white knuckles, fingers snapping, a jazz band in the center of the room, the leader bald and swinging, waiters in white gloves crossing the floor (it’s almost choreographed), the periodic clink of glasses behind the bar, dateless men on stools tapping cell phones and pulling at their ties, women in threes starting conversations with “I read an article in the Times…”, honey-yellow walls, nothing out of taste. This is Bemelmans Bar.
Because I find pleasure in good, absurd things, I do love celebrating absolutely nothing, and on some occasions I like going “all out” for no specific reason. Last year, a few weeks before Sandy battered the tri-state area, I had the pleasure of meeting a guy who had the very same idea. He asked if we could do drinks in my nabe on the Upper East Side. I said yes. He said he’d wanted a good martini, I jokingly mentioned Bemelmans Bar, but I hadn’t been. It was just a dream date place I’d always had on my list. I imagined I’d go there for a ten-year anniversary or something.
But he was game for going and making a night of it, even though it was a first date. I was totally game too. That day he made a reservation and I wore a day-to-night cocktail dress to work.
Bemelmans Bar, where do I begin? It’s a New York institution at the Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side. It’s known for being the only large scale display of Ludwig Bememlmans illustrations in existence, on the walls no less. It’s got an old school vibe, a jazz band, and white-gloved waiters.
I entered the door, sighed and thought to myself, “This is perfect.” The jazz band was banging out “Just the Way You Look Tonight” and my date was sitting in a booth, wearing a suit and tie. We shake hands and launch into good conversation. Our waiter comes.
“What can I get for you madam?” he asks. I was nearly 28 at the time, but loved being called madam.
The Bememlans martini was the standard.
“I’ll have the martini,” I said.
“What kind of gin?” the waiter asked.
“Well what’s the best?” I asked.
“Bombay Sapphire,” he said.
“Well I’ll have that then,” I say. My date gets the same. I do not know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a longstanding relationship with Bombay Sapphire. I would request it as the gin of choice forever after. At Bemelmans they also give you a glass of straight gin, so that you can adjust the potency and gin verses vermouth ratio. When I ran out of martini, I just kept pouring the straight gin into my glass, which my date laughed.
“You’re just doing straight shots, right now,” he said.
Around 9:30 pm the band gets ready for their actual set, the songs they’d been playing had been a warm up. The waiter warns us that it’s $25 a head to stay and listen. I raise my eyebrows at my date, who then dismisses me.
“I want the full experience,” he says, “I’ll pay for it.”
It turns out to be a magical night. I’ve never been more comfortable at a bar. A table of girls sits to my left and they tell the bandleader that one of the girls is celebrating her birthday.
“What would you like to hear?” he asks her. She makes her request and snaps her fingers to the beat of her song. In the middle of the dining room, an elderly woman starts dancing with her husband around the room.
I tell myself that I must come back.
I have yet to make the trip, but everytime I have a martini now, I laugh to myself.
When I scheduled a date with Malik in the spring, I was ambivalent. He hadn’t shown much of his personality in his profile, his pictures were few and hard to see. But he seemed insistent, which is much more than I can say for half the guys I approach. He tells me that we can go for drinks at the rooftop bar at Eataly. It had only been open only few weeks at the time.
I throw something on, barely make up my face and pace outside of Eataly like a gigantic clock is ticking over my head because I’m a skeptic from the start that the date will be a success. But then I hear a voice calling my name through the crowd and look up, its Malik, and he’s twenty-times more handsome than he is in pictures. I look down at myself, why didn’t I dress up, how could I have anticipated this!? But he thinks I’m pretty anyway.
There’s a lot of drinking, standing and talking going on. We go to the roof at Eataly for drinks and to talk. Then he suggests 230 Fifth Avenue for the rooftop bar, where we stand around sipping and talking. When I part with him in front of the Flatiron building, he points his finger to his cheek to suggest that I kiss it. Instead I just burst out laughing.
Malik works on Wall Street, but unlike most financiers he actually works on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). You know when you watch CNBC and see all the men in colored jackets yelling on the phone? That’s him. For our second date he texts me and offers perhaps the most outstandingly over the top date I’ve ever had – a private, after hours tour of the stock exchange floor.
“Goodness,” I want to say to him. “you’re making it really hard for any guy I ever date after you.”
I’ve rang the opening bell before (long story) but never had I ever seen the NYSE when it was totally empty. He tells me to meet him at the gate, and the security guys are already expecting me. He’s told all of them that he’s got a girl coming in for a date, and they smirk at each other as they take my picture and check my ID.
Malik opens the door to the floor for me. He’s dressed in a suit that would make Bret Easton Ellis either smirk or cry. The main lights are out on the floor, and we’re the only two people there. Every time I talk, my voice echoes through the space. It’s amazing. He takes me to his desk and shows me how orders are put through, and what all those guys in jackets are really yelling about all day. Then, the piece de résistance, he takes me to the balcony to look down on the entire exchange. Not many people get to do that.
We had a drink down the block for drinks at The W Hotel. In the vein of having had such a spectacular date, we decide champagne is necessary. I ask him about his life and it’s funny, he has one of the most unique and interesting jobs, makes ton of money, lives in a beautiful building, and yet, all he wants to do is be a DJ. “Someday, I’ll quit that place,” he says. We will all always be chasing something.
After our date Malik walked me to my train. Again, he poked comically at his cheek for a kiss on it.
“I’ll never forget this,” I say to him. Honestly, I’ll never forget it.