All Tomorrow's Parties
Tim and I enjoy a good German meal now and again.
Years ago, we'd hop on the IRT and hit Yorkville, having lunch at the Ideal on 86th Street. Sometimes, we've had late night dinners at Rolf's. But those days are over. The Ideal is long gone and Rolf's has gone from bad to wurst. We've been hitting Heidelberg these days, with mixed but mostly pleasing results. I could and have complained about the heterosexual-to-a-fault clientele and the staff that seems to have been cast from a roadshow production of Dracula's Daughter.
So it was with great joy that we remembered another neighborhood option. This particular restaurant is located on a popular Gramercy Park side street, across from one of Zagat's big boys and a myriad of boites that serve as gathering places for all those newly revived Sex And The City zombies.
Now, I've spent quite a bit of time in this part of the city. I worked on Park Avenue South for several years. I went to college just a few blocks away. One of my best chums lived in the Hotel Irving, now a smart condominium, then a Single Room Occupancy hovel directly overlooking the gated Park. To cheer his tiny space up, we painted it Kim Novak lavender, replaced the dim bulbs with orchid tinted spotlights and played the Velvet Underground non-stop. Why is it that the coolest people always come from Ohio or South Dakota? When not cutting classes to promenade down the Morton Street pier, we'd climb a bar stool at mid-period Max's Kansas City, which was on it's way from the Bad and the Beautiful to the Scrawny and the Strung-out. Our tenure there coincided with the Glitter and Glam days, and it was not surprising to open Rags or Interview and spot one or another of my classmates adorning a banquette in a Biba shirt and the latest maquillage for men.
William, my first boyfriend, moved to this neighborhood from Clinton Hill shortly after I left him in a most unceremonious manner. Broadway, in those days, was lined with printing and publishing establishments, and he relocated to those empty streets to be closer to work. His previous position had been a bit further down the avenue and I was heading there to meet him one Friday afternoon when the Broadway Central Hotel collapsed in a huge heap right in front of me. Though we were no longer together, we did remain friends, at least for a while. Now the Broadway side streets were peppered with photographer's studios. I spent many nights crashing on his sofa, staring out the window as flashbulbs exploded, momentarily illuminating the varied ateliers across the alley.
I've had a long and storied history with these blocks. The restaurant we were heading to has been in place for probably 18 or 20 years. I'd always noticed it in passing, but in those days it seemed a bit expensive. Today, that's less of a consideration. So we made our way there, entered, noting the lively yet low key scene at the bar, and were seated in the intimate dining room beyond that. The room had clearly seen better days. One could see ancient ghostly shadows where artwork had once adorned these walls. Those had been replaced by framed magazine ads, an intriguingly motley collection of cookbooks and an odd assortment of seemingly random bibelots scattered here and there. But it was dark enough not to matter, and the beer was excellent. As was the meal that followed.
Tim feasted on Oxenmaul and Schweinshaxen. I had herring and a rack of wild boar. We were extraordinarily happy with our choices. As the neighborhood crowd began to slowly vacate the premises, Tim and I shared strudel and coffee. Studying the room, I became aware of a dark lithe woman, who was in the process of pushing the vacated tables up against the walls, changing the linens and tidying up. As she worked her way around the room, I could hear the bar behind me beginning to fill up. She finally reach our table, and in a basso profundo whisper said:
"Hi, I'm Ina. We have a party here every Saturday night and you are both more than welcome to stay as our guests".
Thanking her, I looked around. The bar was now full and spilling over into the dining room, where we were being regarding with curiosity. We had much curiosity of our own, as the denizens were decked out in ways we had not seen in years.
There were huge Amazonian women in miniskirts with hands the size of dinner plates. One, in particular towered in the vicinity of seven feet, aided by platform shoes and a back combed wig. Her skirt was slit to reveal linebacker legs and her polyester lace blouse was torn at the seams from the strain of those powerful latissimus dorsi. There were women who looked like Donna Jordan, the eyebrow-less star of Andy Warhol's L'Amour. There were women who looked like Rose Kennedy and and women who looked like Sister Parrish. There were women in smart business suits and women in couture that could only have been purchased on E-bay. There were women who looked like Reba and women who looked like Tootsie. And there were just a few well dressed men scattered among them like Arctic explorers.
Tim and I glanced at each other, not quite knowing how we'd slipped from Teutonic to Tranny in such a short time.
When I got home that night I Googled the name of the restaurant and that of the hostess we'd met. I was amazed to learn that this was a rather long standing and famous party for gentlemen who enjoy the company of gentlemen who enjoy the company of gentlemen in dresses. It had been going on for at least seven years, and we had no clue, never knew of it's existence. But then, these are not circles we get to travel in frequently.
Of course, we've gone back since, to partake of the excellent cuisine and watch the beginnings of the evening take shape. We don't stay too long. I wouldn't dream of ruining the fun. We brought M. one evening, but he was severely traumatized when he entered the Men's Room and was confronted by a lovely lady with her skirt hiked up at the urinal.
For those so inclined, I've left enough clues here to lead even the living dead to this spot, if they were of a mind to attend.