A place famous from the movies, famous for the decor, famous for the desserts and for the time you wait before getting a seat. Serendipity is indeed a breathtaking place taking you into the world of Alice in Wonderland.
It was 1954. The world was suffering from unrequited love, a big post-war baby boom and an insatiable craving for sweet solace.
In the heart of Little Italy, sharing a cold water flat with creepies, crawlies and things that go bump in the night lived Serendipity 3. Princes under their frog suits, they waited, lips pursed, for the kiss that would reveal their true selves. But it took a magic word to open the palace door. Days, they hounded producers’ offices. Nights they built skyscrapers of ice cream at Howard Johnson’s. One of them became a lead dancer in “Catch a Star,” and Jose Limon said he might have reached Nijinskian heights, had destiny not called him to the kitchen.
He was Calvin Holt of the sassy ass and incorrigible ways. Fresh from the cornfields of Arkansas. Full of beans and Aunt Buba’s sand tarts. Uninhibited by grey flannel rules. Lit up with crazy electricity that outshone Broadway.
Fast as his heels came Stephen Bruce. Two black, slanty, Slavic eyes in league with the devil. Sly and shy, saucy and sweet talking. A wittily mustached enigma, he could be a son of a B or Pola Negri’s love child. Mixing fantasy and innuendo, he dressed windows at Macy’s and dreamed of draping the stars.
It was Patch Carradine who found The Word that would turn their fortunes. Composing salacious song lyrics and comedy routines for tiny Village boites. Tossing around a vocabulary that wandered from obscure to obscene. Able to do the whole Times crossword puzzle weekly, the London Times on off days. One day he uncrossed a word that rang a bell. A word that you couldn’t find in the dictionary of common usage back in ’54.
The Word was Serendipity. The art of finding the pleasantly unexpected by chance or sagacity. Invented by eighteenth century wordsmith Sir Horace Walpole, it evoked the ancient legend of the three princes of the island no longer known as Serendip. “ Hey,” said the boys, “that’s a good name for a place of our own.” The rest reads like A Thousand and One Nights. The Serendipity 3 pooled their entire fortunes of three hundred dollars and staked a claim to a tiny principality in the basement of a tenement on East Fifty-Eighth Street.
It was New York’s first coffee house boutique. The first Tiffany lampshaded meeting place since the days of Diamond Jim Brady. Serendipity had come into the world four tables, sixteen chairs and a towering espresso machine strong. In no time, [patrons out numbered the facilities. Nightly the line formed, stretching around the block and under the old Third Avenue El.
Before he was anyone, Andy Warhol declared it his favorite sweet shop, and paid his chits in drawings. Photographers discovered the charms of Tiffany glass set against whitewashed walls. New York’s avant-garde caught on that nineteenth century junk was suddenly twentieth century chic.
The Serendipty 3 lost no time learning how to cook, design, whip and turn on the frozen hots. They rolled in the loot and rolled around the corner to the cozy brownstone on Serendipity Street. The entire Silk Stocking community squeezed into its tightest jeans and queued up.
The kitchen buzzed to all hours producing never-before extravaganzas. The general store and boutique grew trendier with every passing Hebrew Eyechart dishtowel and Little Red Riding Hood’s jigsaw puzzle (365 pieces all of them red). Swivel-hipped waiters balanced trays overflowing with calories. Everything was for sale, including the waiters. Frozen Hot Chocoholics were nurtured and Apricot Smushniks were sated. Palates pampered with caviar developed a list for Hard Times fare like Lemon Ice Box Pie and Texas Chili.
Serendipity is a door down a sidewalk, the black door of a shop, a normal place you don't feel like entering but wait until the door opens... Wonderland!
Serendipity is a small shop, a corridor with a dozen tables, a low ceiling and wait until you've walked till the end of the place. A room of wonders of glitter, mirrors and fun, colors and shine, globes of magic and lights. My heart was beating quicker...
The menu is huge, the biggest I've seen so far, four pages of tight black letters describing some real American dishes, the ones made famous by The Cheese Cake Factory.
Back to the place, I couldn't stop. The big clocks ticking, the half rounded mirrors, the Tiffany lanterns, the thousand colors, the white wooden sculptures and large mirrors. We were seated on a round marble table.
And we ordered:
- Frozen hot chocolate
- Carry cake
- Banana split, the coward's portion
American style fattiness and sweetness. It's not anything with finesse and style, but a cocktail of sugar and fat. Let’s eat:
- The banana split was a huge portion despite our ordering the small one. A banana sliced in half with ice cream scoops and chocolate sauce, dark heavy chocolate sauce. Over sweet, but a must try.
- Brownie Sundae: Man that's good! That's simply awesome. A moist, tender cake with a molten heart topped with a Himalaya of whipped cream and vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce flowing from all sides like a volcano. This same chocolate sauce combined with the sweet ice cream and chocolate cake creates one of this place's best creations. Awesome!
- Frozen Hot Chocolate: Uffff... Recommended. Crispy bits of ice in a huge bowl of chocolate topped with whipped cream. A kind of hot chocolate but in this case it's cold. A bathtub of chocolate juices with their unique signature whipped cream that feels fresh and melting around like synthetic snow.
- Carrot cake: Deceiving! Too sticky, a bit too sweet, too creamy, a small portion. For carrot cake, Magnolia Bakery is still the king.
That's what I call an experience. A must try before you die. That's a place one should not miss if visiting New York. Serendipity is this kind of place that would make you believe in the American dream.