Paul heroically rode his bicycle from Penn Station to Montauk this past Saturday, despite the hurricane that was passing over Long Island at the time. I on the other hand hitched a ride (in a car) with the wife of one of the other ride participants. As the two of us had a bit of extra time on our hands once on the eastern end of the island, we stopped off in East Hampton to ogle beautiful houses (there were many worth ogling) and to walk along the beach before heading out to Montauk. I believe I saw more loafers, khakis and sweaters tied jauntily around shoulders that day than I have in all of my days leading up to that one combined. So perhaps that is why I felt compelled to head up to Madison Avenue, another locale with a high loafer/sweater/khakis concentration, on Sunday for a wander along my favorite stretch.
I tend to stay downtown for the most part, but I do often enjoy the civilized, well groomed atmosphere of the Upper East Side. And although Fifth Avenue affords a bucolic view of Central Park and Park Avenue, with orderly compounds of wealth and privilege lining either side of the street, provides an odd sense of comfort, I prefer the pedestrian traffic and retail options on Madison. Although it is not the sort of place that I tend to stumble across a wonderful new establishment with any regularity (especially now when there seems to be vacant storefront on every block), I always enjoy going back to my favorite spots over and over again.
I've decided that 92nd Street is the northern boundary on "my" retail district, since Blue Tree, a quirky household/clothing/shoe/children's toy/jewelry store sits just below it.
Owned by the actress Phoebe Cates, the store is one of those places that seems to specialize in no one thing, yet every piece of inventory is impossibly cool. And you also get the feeling that the items they carry are, if not one of a kind, at least will not be seen in every home or on every woman in the neighborhood. And for that reason it works perfectly as a go-to spot for gifts and as an excellent spot to browse when you're in need of a bit of inspiration.
Just south, on 85th Street, is Dean & Deluca.
Obviously Dean & Deluca is neither a hidden gem nor even a singular location. However, I have to admit that I love this particular location, and really only tolerate the others.
The flowers here are bountiful,
I come across various baking supplies that I can't find anywhere else (pearl sugar and golden maple sugar for instance), the produce is perfect, the baked goods and chocolate confections are plentiful, and I have the entire panoply of Mariage Freres tea at my fingertips.
I adore the Marco Polo variety and have an unnatural affection for Casablanca. As they have canisters of virtually each one there for the sniffing, you too can go in and determine your favorites.
After indulging my penchant for divine but overpriced tea I like to indulge my penchant for independent bookstores at Crawford Doyle Booksellers just south of 82nd Street.
I have no idea how long this store has been in existence, but I will say that it appears to harken back to a time when the money in this neighborhood was old and the pursuits of the rich tended more towards the intellectual rather than the frivolous.
The store is small and the inventory is thus in some manner limited, but it doesn't feel that way in the least. I come across more books that I have never heard of and yet yearn to read here than nearly anywhere else, and they stock a few choice design, fashion and photography books, all of which I covet intensely. If you are into early editions, the upper floor (or rather mezzanine I suppose, floor is a bit of a strong word for it) is full of them.
At this point I often need a bit of a refreshment, just a taste of something lovely. It can be hard work beating my way through the leisurely walkers and strollers lining the sidewalk you know. Thankfully, near 78th Street lies the inimitable La Maison du Chocolat.
I believe that my first taste of a truffle from this purveyor occurred at this very shop, and oh what a momentous day it was. The chocolates are dainty in size (the size of two small bites I would say, which in my book is perfection), the chocolate coating is thin enough to require no effort to shatter, and the centers taste intensely of pure cocoa, perfumed delicately with whatever flavoring the great chocolatiers have settled on. Although I don't consider their macarons to be my favorite in New York (Le Madeleine takes that crown), their chocolates are simply unparalelled (although Kee's comes in a close second).
If you are in need of something more serious than chocolate, pop into Bemelmans Bar, the watering hotel at the Carlyle Hotel on 76th Street.
I can't say that this would necessarily be my choice for a cocktail on a warm sunny day. After all the room is largely windowless, and with the low lighting and jazz pianist and, it's all a bit sultry for mid afternoon. For that reason I tend to find myself here at cocktail hour more often than during the day. However, the murals on the wall, painted by the illustrator of the wonderful Madeline books, Ludwig Bemelmans, are just whimsical enough to excuse any hard drinking during teatime. And as a plus, for the ladies out there who enjoy the charms of silver foxes, this is most certainly their version of a salt lick.
Fortified by either chocolate or booze, the Whitney Museum is often a welcome next stop.
While not everyone likes the Brutalist style in which this museum has been built, I welcome it, especially in the sea of architectural banality that is Madison Avenue (why this is I don't know, but there is not one attractive building, save possibly the Ralph Lauren store, on this stretch of the avenue). The museum exhibits American Art, generally relatively modern. One of the best exhibits in recent memory, Alexander Calder's wire sculpture, was hosted here, and their permanent collection is always something I enjoy. Plus which the size of the museum is quite manageable, so popping in for a half hour or so never feels like cheating.
And to sate my ongoing tea fixation, I like to stop by Ito En. You may recognize the name from those bottled unsweetened cold teas that you can find in sushi stores and some take out restaurants, but I assure you, the flagship store is much, much, more than that.
I am told that they carry more than 100 different varieties of tea, although I believe I have only tried about ten or so. But they are unlike any others I've had. They carry wonderful little spheres of white tea that unfurl in hot water, as well as unbelievably delicate, grassy green teas, and stronger, fortifying black teas. The store itself is gorgeous, as are the teapots and other paraphernalia that they stock. Expensive, but one of those indulgences that is unquestionably worth it.
Of course I can never pass up a little window shopping at Fred Leighton.
I tend to mourn the state of jewelry to anyone who will listen. Nothing is elegant anymore, everything is just tacky and diamond encrusted, where have all the wonderful designers gone (I exclude first rate establishments like Taffin from this rant)?!!
Fred Leighton succumbs to none of these pitfalls. The jewelry is as gorgeous as it comes. After more than three years I still remember with fondness a pair of emerald dangling earrings that I saw in the window display, about which I had recently read a story in the New Yorker...the baubles had apparently been rescued from a ship wreck of some sort...who knows, and really who cares. They were stunning regardless and had that slight patina of age that I find so exquisite when it comes to expensive jewelry.
And then, to complete my stroll, I always stop into Barney's.
I often stop by the fragrance counter on the basement level (although really, given that in my mind at least, it is one of their crowning jewel departments, I think it should be given higher billing) and lately have been indulging in samples of the great Byredo line. I have always adored Rose Noir and Pulp, but their latest, Blanche, is quickly becoming an obsession. I quite literally could not stop inhaling my inner wrist when I tried it.
And I absolutely always stop off on the fifth floor, where some of the more modern designers are housed.
The other day I found what is the perfect coat, designed by the Row.
The beige ones on the left...it may not look like anything special on the hangar, but once on the body, there is no equal. I was quite depressed to find that it is $2,500. Sigh. I'll have to start saving my pennies.
And I always derive considerable joy from the brilliant colors and prints in the Dries Van Noten section.
A wise friend recently told me that it is very important to fill your eyes with beauty. I couldn't agree more.