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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Slice of Cheesecake

Part 1 - The Arrival

I knew nothing of the world and almost nothing about New York City. I had only visited twice on day trips. I had never spent one night away from home alone. There were no ATM machines and I had no bank account. Only some cash.

I had one suitcase and arrived at Port Authority bus terminal, never a beautiful or inviting place for the newcomer. I was excited and scared. This is where I had dreamed of living for some time, but now I was really here and it was big.

I was neither homeless nor on the road. It was 1969, I was 18 and had been accepted to New York University. I had chosen a dorm and was very disappointed that my first choice, Weinstein Hall (the most modern), had been rejected. I was to stay at the older Brittany Residence, a former hotel, under renovation and not quite completed. As an interim measure, for a few weeks, we were housed at the Penn Garden Hotel* on 7th Avenue at 31st Street. I was later to learn that the Brittany, with its prewar ambiance and much larger rooms, was actually highly preferable.

I entered my hotel room and met my roommates. I had never shared a room before either, having grown up with two sisters, so this was another adjustment to be made. We chatted a bit.
It was evening and I was hungry. I had never eaten out alone, had little money to spend on dinner, and I did not want to stray far from the hotel. I recall going to a place resembling a diner and eating at the counter.

Things were expensive here. I could not afford a real dinner, so I ordered cheesecake and a soda. Although a poor meal, on reflection, a slice of New York style cheesecake was quite befitting. My first day trips to the city involved more notable restaurants such as the Albert French Restaurant at 65 University Place, dating to 1868 and once a haven for writers including Thomas Wolfe, Nathan's at Times Square or Luchow's on 14th Street. This place, however, was of no import and as is often the case for a New Yorker, decided on the basis of proximity.

The identity of the restaurant where I first ate on that evening in 1969 shall remain unknown to me and assuredly it was not the "best cheesecake in New York City." But it was only my first night and there would be plenty of time to ferret out the good, the better and the bests in Gotham City. Street cred would come in time and for the newbie in New York, I could have done worse than a slice of cheesecake ...

*The Penn Garden Hotel has gone through numerous incarnations in the last 40 years. The thirty-two story structure was designed by the architects Murgatroyd & Ogden and built in 1929. It was originally called the Hotel Governor Clinton, named for George Clinton (1739-1812), the first governor of New York State. In 1967, the name was changed to the Penn Garden Hotel. In 1971, it became Southgate Tower and in 2004 the Affinia.


Mary P. said...

Welcome to our world, Brian. You have certainly made it your own!

René said...

The first thing I saw when I set foot in Manhattan some 30 years ago was a musketeer in full regalia (minus the rapier).

I followed him for a few blocks as he made his way up Fifth Avenue.

Anonymous said...

Always I find great stories your blog!

Droid Spy said...

You really have searched a lot for the Penn Garden Hotel. I never knew about this history of the hotel.

Shaji said...

Nice capture