“What should we do for our anniversary?” I asked SE.
The truth was, we had already thought of a fantastic idea to celebrate one year since our first date, an idea that was “us”—staying at the Waldorf Astoria before it closed last month. We had fallen in love with the hotel on my birthday, and as soon as we left we wanted to go back. But we dragged our feet and the opportunity passed us by.
But surely there had to be something else that would be just as good an option?
There were. And we ended up coming up with not just one idea, but five. Sort of.
The first idea wasn’t ours and, technically, it wasn’t even “really” part of our anniversary celebration. J & R invited us to see Rocky Horror Picture Show in Chelsea and only when we sat down in the theatre did SE realize that this was the most “us” thing we could have been doing—beyond the Waldorf, beyond all the other things we had planned that day. Sitting in a theatre yelling obscenities with the rest of the crowd at Richard O’Brien’s 1975 cult classic (because, if you’ve never been, that’s what you do), while a group of college students acted out Brad and Janet and, of course, Dr. Frank-n-Furter in front of the screen, doing the Time Warp, and listening to first-time Rocky viewers (“virgins”) make faux-orgasm noises to an audience of people they’ve never met.
SE has before spoken of another couple we’re friends with. “You know how they’re kind of sweet and cute and 1950s?”
“Yeah,” he says. “We’re not that.”
And I happily agree. I feel like our regular state of mind is less in a 1950s living room and more backstage at an ‘80s comedy club. But without all the coke.
Both of us had gone to Rocky Horror in high school. Which, it seemed, was also the case this evening as young goth kids waited in line behind us to get in, swapping fake IDs to see who looked most like the picture on the card. They wore corsets and white pancake makeup and combat boots, and there we were, already or nearly 30, sensible sweaters under sensible coats, noshing on popcorn, very possibly the oldest people there. I’m happy the children continue to find out about Rocky Horror; in some ways, I think it draws the people who need to see it, to know they’re not freaks in a world where being weird isn’t cool yet (read: high school). Maybe in a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania” they can find part of themselves.
Neither of us were goth kids at our respective high schools, but I wouldn’t say we also fit perfectly into any categories—I was an overachiever and aspiring punk, he a lacrosse player who also sang in an emo band—but I know for me at least it helped to learn there were other cool, weird kids out there who became cool, weird adults and maybe found other cool, weird adults to spend time with and, if they were lucky, even love.
But don’t get me wrong, the rest of our day was amazing, too.
We started with pastrami salmon sandwiches at Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side. All of the synagogue services were getting out at the same time, but luckily we beat the rush to this legendary, hundred-year old appetizing spot (“appetizing” the noun, not the adjective—it’s a store in the Jewish tradition where fish and dairy products are sold. Learn more here!), to which neither of us had actually been before. We were seated by a table near the fish counter, to which pregnant moms wobbling with toddlers in tow sidled up and ordered whitefish salad to go. Our waiter, maybe in his late forties with graying hair and chunky metal bracelets on his wrists, was decked out in a head-to-toe white uniform and hustled our orders out of us with an old-school New York accent (“What can I get for ya? Orange juice, coffee, just water? Open face sandwich or closed? Onions, tomato, capers?”), then ambled across the linoleum floor to retrieve them. We dove into fluffy but not dense bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese, and I added a little crunch of red onion later on for some extra spice.
Then we made our way to Levain Bakery for their renowned chocolate chip walnuts cookies. The place, open over 20 years, has become an institution for their cookies. They’ve been written up in almost every major publication and somehow neither of us had never been there, either. We expected to wait in line, but given what I had heard about how long it usually takes and how the line can extend down the block, I was expecting much worse than the maybe 15 minute wait that we actually encountered. And praise RuPaul and all that is holy, was it worth it. We got two cookies and headed to Central Park before sitting down to eat them on some rocks near a lake, breaking open the still-warm gooey cookies with our hands. It was so rich, a little crunchy on the outside and mushy on the inside, absolutely perfect. And I don’t even usually go for cookies with nuts in them, but these were the business.
Later on that night, we went to another iconic New York spot, Minetta Tavern. The restaurant opened in the ‘30s and used to be a hangout for writers like Ezra Pound and Dylan Thomas, but it was bought and renovated by chef Keith McNally in 2009. It has since become known for its Black Label Burger, a patty blended of three different cuts of beef (prime ribeye, skirt steak, and brisket) then topped with clarified butter and onions. Your arteries may be screaming after reading such a thing, but until you’ve tried it (and maybe you did or did not stop talking immediately after eating it, felt a weight in your heart when you realized half of it was gone, and can still taste it in your mouth) keep an open mind. We went there explicitly for the burgers and ended up also ordering the famed roasted bone marrow appetizer, and…I have to say I have never known such decadence in my life. I had never eaten bone marrow before but I didn’t know its texture was basically fat that melts in your mouth, to be utterly cliche about it. And then when the burgers arrived we took our first bites and it was just as mouth-melty and wonderful, the juicy yet somehow creamy and still totally cooked???? meat of the burger in my mouth, pressing against the thick brioche bun that prevented all of this lusciousness from rushing down my chin. AND THEN we put some leftover bone marrow on them and I thought my brain was going to fall out. WHAT IS HAPPENING I DON’T UNDERSTAND. Such decadence! And from a burger, no less! My brain was melting along with the bone marrow. It was our anniversary but while we were eating we barely spoke, this experience freaking out our mouths in the best way possible.
“Oh my god,” we said in turns in the back of a cab, minds still reeling from these burgers, as we headed to the Waldorf for cocktails. The next weekend would be the last weekend of its existence for a while and we wanted to take it all in and say goodbye. We clinked our glasses and sipped on some liquid artistry, looking around at the glass and wood and leather that made up this place we had known for such a short time but had only begun to adore. I almost didn’t want to leave as we finished our cocktails and took pictures in the lobby. “How can a place we’ve only been a few times mean so much?” SE said to me. With any luck, after its renovation it will be just as wonderful as we remember, and maybe for another anniversary in the future we’ll be able to go back.