One of the best parts of popping into Bemelmans is dressing for it. I’d never stroll in wearing jeans and a tank top, I don’t care if the Dukes of Hazzard are at the bar. For me patronizing a hotel watering hole is still an event, one that I hope continues in its lofty ritual.
Actually I’m in good sartorial company at the moment. It’s a Sunday so there seems to be a Waspy church crowd in attendance. St. James Episcopal is right down the street so its flock must have flown right from the altar to the bar.
I so want to snap a few pictures to add to this but one, it’s too dark and two they’d probably sue me for at least the price of their cocktails. To be honest, it would be worth it.
The idle rich will forever fascinate me. Reminds me of a Dorothy Parker quote:
“If you want to know what God thinks about money, just look at the people He gives it to.”
The two geriatrics seated across from me look as if they’re right out of an Edith Wharton novel. The woman is sewn into her dress that covers every part of her body with a hairdo that appears epoxied to her head. It’s called, I get my hair done on Saturday and it stays that way till I say otherwise. Her husband, who’s as thin as she’s rotund, is quite natty in blue pinstripes with a watch fob suspended from his vintage vest pocket.
He smiles at me, she does not.
No surprise there. Women of any age don’t cotton well to the lone one seated sedately in the corner. Now if he were here alone he’d be asking the bartender if I’d like anything. It doesn’t matter that he’s at least 85.
Some things in a man do not expire until he does.
Another couple just came in who are Gatsbyesque decked out in Polo from head to toe. I actually love how they look; 30ish, lean – she has on a pair of Ralph’s off white sailor pants with a blue and white button down, slightly open, for a peak at what looks like a racy, lacy La Perla black brassiere (the Cartier of Lingerie); sleeves rolled, a navy blazer thrown over her arm. Her beau looks practically identical (no bra) in loafers without socks, she in navy kitten heels…
I bet they work at Polo on 72nd and Madison stopping in on their lunch break. Or perhaps they’re merely parched from a morning of carefree window shopping. I could write a whole novella on the four of them just by losing myself in what they’re wearing. The elders are a little staid but blend beautifully with the hotel’s history (named after Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle opening its doors in 1929).
There’s something about Bemelmans that piques ones imagination no matter who’s there. Could be the famous Madeline mural gracing one wall. Ludwig Bemelman in exchange for accommodations, painted whimsical drawings of Central Park devoting one panel to his heroine Madeline. It’s not unusual to watch mothers drag in their little ones to see his renowned artwork.
I’ve ordered another Cabernet, which is unusual, but I’m just not ready to leave as yet. I haven’t seen enough, besides I’m relieved to be in the company of the nicely dressed for a change. I say it every month, I long for the reissuing of a proper dress code, or at least a compromise. No shorts, flip-flops or sloppy T-shirts. They could post a sign…
Trailing Sand On Route To Bar Is Prohibited.
While I gaze covertly at both couples sharing the peace of the room, it brings me back to a classier time, one that I truly miss or missed rather since it was way before my time gracing the premises.
As I slip into a 60s dream I can almost see Jackie Kennedy in that black and white day dress she wears in the photograph hanging in the Madison Avenue entranceway, white gloves fastened at her wrists.
Do you hear that?
Those are her pumps clicking on the freshly waxed foyer floor.
Fifty years later Mrs. Kennedy can still stop traffic, even from a picture.
Written September 1, 2012