The Haughty Sisters Go Shopping
In these tight economic times, we’re all looking for ways to save money, and as summer approaches this applies to vacation plans as well. About this time of year Americans start to dream of vacations to faraway places, respite from the daily grind and a little sun and relaxation. Conventional wisdom says that in recessions we lean towards travel options light on the wallet, heading to locales closer to home, such as a national park
or an American destination city
Now, considering that an average New York City hotel room today can run around $300 a night, you wouldn’t have to do much to hit that amount. But let’s get facts straight: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
, $500 in 1977 would be the equivalent of $1,788 today.
Now we’re talking a little spending money.
Our guidebook reads like a “Who’s Who" of opulent hotels, restaurants, clubs, stores and beauty service providers likely to be of use for visitors who happen to be listed in the Social Register or the Forbes list.
Beyond being a mere list of purveyors of luxury, the guidebook’s added value comes from the quirky, tongue-in-cheek descriptions of each business. Some of the jewels of wisdom they impart to the well-heeled pilgrim include their secrets on snagging a coveted table at the “It” restaurants, and the actual names of the owners, maître’d’s and reservations personnel at hotels and restaurants alike.
The Palm Room at the Waldorf-AstoriaReviewing New York hotels, the authors treat historical favorites such as the Plaza Hotel (“if you happen to thrive on chaos…you may want to stay at the Plaza”), lesser-known venues such as Mayfair House (“you may run into Christopher Plummer or Claudette Colbert in the elevator”), and a trite observation about the Waldorf-Astoria, (“what a nice way to bring exclusivity to the masses").
As to restaurants: Lutèce, Café des Artistes, Le Cirque, the 21 Club, the Russian Tea Room—they’re all there. And so are smaller places you may not have heard of, such as Mr. & Mrs. Foster’s Place, Moon’s and La Petite Ferme. One should take warning: do not read this section when you are hungry!
The restaurant reviews are a veritable harvest of name-dropping—including both the merely wealthy and other denizens of the beau monde—so I am now privy to the fact that Salvador Dali, Mick and Bianca Jagger, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor frequented La Grenouille, where the lobster bisque was divine! And really, they had me at “Château Lafite Rothschild, Maryland soft-shell crabs ‘oozing with caviar butter,’ baby pheasant grilled with currant jelly, and saffron and rose ice creams.”
Suddenly, my lunchtime egg salad sandwich just doesn’t seem adequate.
Other gems of the book include the section on stores, for example on Bergdorf’s “There are certain things you won’t find at Bergdorf-Goodman’s—bargains, for example,” and at the Buccellati jewelry store,
"When a customer came in to purchase the $10,500 gold-and-diamond cuff bracelet that the store advertised, only to find that it had been picked up by another New Yorker, her disappointment was severe. There simply wasn’t another copy available—the mold was broken as soon as that first casting was completed.”
The book’s beauty section includes master stylists and personal trainers by name, and the sporting goods section has the peculiar inclusion of Abercrombie & Fitch—who knew they used to sell pith helmets and tennis rackets? Not to mention booking Kenyan safaris!
One of the authors of this delightful guidebook, Ferne Kadish, also wrote high-end guidebooks on Los Angeles, London and Paris. Her updates to the New York edition, New York on $1000 a Day* (*Before Lunch), were published in 1981 and 1990 (today, that $1000 would be equal to $2,384 and $1,658, respectively). There’s also a 1994 version by a different title, Only in New York.
Now as a librarian, I’m not really the book’s target audience, but I still would argue we need an update! Beyond serving their primary purpose as a travel guide, and their secondary purpose as entertainment for window shoppers such as myself, these guides also serve a tertiary purpose of documenting a particular place and social class at a moment in time. While it may seem to some that a book listing luxury businesses would only be useful while their doors remain open, researchers of the future will crave this evidence of an opulence long gone.
In the meantime, I’m off to go sample the lemon icebox pie at Serendipity!
New York (N.Y.) – Guidebooks
Department stores -- New York (State) -- New York.
Restaurants -- New York (State) -- New York.
Restaurants -- New York (State) -- New York – Guidebooks