Obviously, the title of this blog pays tribute to the ever-popular HBO series Sex and the City. For those of us of a certain vintage, SATC was a glamorous reflection of female friendship with a side order of outrageous dating stories in the Big Apple. I recall seeing an interview with Sarah Jessica Parker, who played Carrie Bradshaw, explaining that New York was really the fifth star of the series, along with the four leading ladies. I’m biased, of course, but I thought the show did a great job of weaving NYC customs, locations, and high style into the plotlines. In addition to focusing on the latest new thing, there was a penchant (especially for Carrie and Mr. Big) to wax on about “Old New York” and the classic Carlyle Hotel is just the kind of place they hand in mind.
The other day, as I perused the DVD offerings of Netflix, I noticed a documentary “Always at The Carlyle.” (2018) As a fan of documentaries AND the Carlyle, I bumped it to the top of my queue. It was a light—but delightful—work describing the special place that the hotel has in our great city. The classic art deco bu8ilding was opened in 1930, right after the great stock market crash of 1929. After a bumpy start, it’s remained a fixture at Madison Avenue and 76th Street. The superb and discrete customer service has made this location a favorite home away from home for generations. In general, “What happens at the Carlyle, stays at the Carlyle.” In yesteryear, staff would keep the secrets of guests of U.S. Presidents and other luminaries. (JFK had an apartment in the residential section of the building for the last decade of his life.) Today’s famous and beloved guests include Jack Nicholson and George & Amal Clooney, among others, according to the film.
In addition to the hotel and residential spaces, it includes Café Carlyle and Bemelman’s Bar. Café Carlyle was the home of cabaret singer Bobby Short for so very many years and has boasted performers from Judy Collins to Woody Allen (on his clarinet), and Alan Cumming, among others. Bemelmans hosts old favorites and newer talents like Alexa Ray Joel. Bemelman’s bar, a charming spot, is named after the artist Ludwig Bemelman, of the classic Madeline children’s books.
Having worked on East 70th between Park and Madison Avenues for many years, I frequently stopped by Bemelmans, with friends after work. I have happy memories of meeting many delighted tourists, as well as neighborhood regulars, over the years. My biggest star encounter was chatting with the late Lou Rawls, about his work with the UNCF (United Negro College Fund). I’ve taken tea in the hotel with guests from Oklahoma and treated dates (good and bad) at Bemelman’s and Café Carlyle. I’m thankful for new memories that will be created there, for many years to come.