Day 3 – Midtown Mélange

After Day 2’s long march from Lower Manhattan to Midtown, we stay within less than 10 blocks of the Algonquin today and spend much of the time indoors, enjoying one of the best breakfasts in New York and visiting more legendary spots. Here’s the video.

Breakfast begins at Café Un Deux Trois, located at 123 W. 44th St., across from the Lambs Club. They make superb omelets and crepes, but today we will partake of their vanilla cornflake-crusted French toast.

After breakfast we head east on 44th Street to Fifth Avenue and then down to the main branch of the New York Public Library. Three years ago, when I spent a week in Manhattan researching my Fred Astaire biography, I loved my hours in the Rose Reading Room and other areas in this special place. It’s second only to the Library of Congress for its beauty and massive collections. Today we will simply absorb the atmosphere and browse in its lovely gift shop.

After a brief walk through Bryant Park, it’s back up Sixth Avenue to 46th Street in time for Noon Day Prayer and Eucharist at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. We’ll post more on this beautiful, historic church on Sunday, when the High Mass with plentiful incense demonstrates how it gained the nickname “Smokey Mary’s.” The Wednesday service is quiet and intimate, usually with just a half dozen participants.

Afterwards, we walk back to Fifth Avenue and head to the Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center and then visit the Concourse to browse in a few shops before heading to 52nd Street for two more treats: Lunch at the 21 Club and an afternoon at the Paley Center.

There are many reasons why we love the 21 Club: the jockey statues out front, the nearly 100-year-old history of this classic speakeasy, the diverse decorations that fill the Bar Room, and the even odder murals in the Men’s Room. But most of all, it’s the gracious service and the wonderful food. They make some of the best soups in New York, and the classic 21 Club Caesar Salad and the Steak Tartare are superb. The 21 Club inspires both the song for today’s video (Cole Porter’s “Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor” sung by Mable Mercer, which includes a reference to the club) and tonight’s movie (Sweet Smell of Success, starring Burt Lancaster, which has key scenes inside and outside of the 21 Club.)

After a lingering lunch, we head next door to the Paley Center for Media. We maintain an annual membership at what used to be known as the Museum of Television and Radio and visit here every year for several hours of viewing their collection of obscure old TV shows, things you can’t find on YouTube or MeTV. Several years ago, I spent two full days here, when the gracious curators gave me special access to tapes of a BBC Radio biography of Fred Astaire produced in 1975 that are available nowhere else in the world. When we first started visiting the Paley Center, 20 years ago, you searched a computer database for the shows you wanted to see and then went to a different floor and sat at special TV consoles in partitioned desks to watch the shows that were piped from a central control center. Today, with almost all of the archived shows digitized, you search the collection and watch the show on the same computer monitor, listening through private headphones.

After several hours of viewing old TV shows (this year we would have been looking for Fred Astaire in “The Imp on a Cobweb Leash” (1957) and Victor Moore from a 1949 episode of “The Ed Wynn Show,” as well as any other serendipitous search results from the collection), we head back to the Algonquin to enjoy scotches in the lobby before heading to dinner.

Tonight we will visit for the first time Wolfgang’s Steakhouse at 4 Park Ave. It is in the basement of the former Vanderbilt Hotel and features the tile work of Rafael Guastavino, an early 20th century building engineer, whose unique tile work can also be seen in the Grand Central Oyster Bar and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. In 1914, during the dance craze that swept Manhattan and the nation, the space was called the Della Robbia Room and featured a weekly club meeting where crowds performed the latest steps.

Today’s Dishes: 21 Club Caesar Salad and Wolfgang’s Steaks
Tonight’s Movie: Sweet Smell of Success

Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, 4 Park Ave.