Poor Man’s Manhattan Dining Guide, Recession of 1958

At the Greek deli on West 56th
in the shadow of Carnegie Hall
the owner greets me like a long-lost
relative. Every day around noon,
shaking off sleep, I walk in and sit
at the counter. He rushes up smiling,
pulls out his watch, proclaims me
two minutes early or five minutes late,
pours black coffee into a big ceramic
mug. I ask what the daily special is.
He tells me. I order it. He tosses in
a basket of hard rolls folded in a hot
towel, and a big ceramic bowl full
of butter. No charge for coffee, rolls
or butter. Today it’s a steaming heap
of spicy lamb stew, enough to feed
a family of three. I signal thumbs up.
Circling, arms overhead, he snaps
his fingers. Ballet dancers breeze in
on lunch break from rehearsal across
the street at New York City Center.
From the tops of their heads to their
knees they could be anyone. Below
their coats, they give themselves away.
Leg warmers, calloused heels. I’m full
and ready to take on the city. Tab: 15¢.
Recommendation: Five Stars

It’s Wednesday, so tonight I dine
at the buffet of the weekly cocktail
party of United Nations workers,
a group whose sole purpose is to let
off steam after watching diplomats
make fools of themselves under orders
from higher ups who don’t know logic
and common sense from gopher holes.
I started coming after I hit it off with
a UN worker from the UK at Thursday’s
cocktail party for midtown Manhattan
psychiatrists. She walks her black
Doberman in Central Park and one day
happened to meet two shrinks walking
their black Dobermans. The oysters
on the half shell and the jumbo shrimp
are reasons enough to show up. Free.
Recommendation: Five Stars

Someone should film a Thursday
gathering of midtown psychiatrists.
The two shrinks with the Dobermans
are short. They dye their hair black
and dress their Dobermans in black
leather with silver studs and chains
so they all match when they go places
together. Anna Freud holds court
like the Empress of the Universe,
waving a vodka martini in one hand
and a Havana-Havana in the other.
Her escort, whom she outsizes
by twice, keeps a low profile. He’s
in his mid-40s and working on his
Master’s degree in Esoteric Arts.
A Chinook salmon, flown in fresh
from the Northwest and served whole,
dominates the dining room table.
The Chardonnay is robust, full-bodied
and fruity, with an oak finish. Free.
Recommendation: Five Stars

I wandered into my first cocktail
party for The Four Colleges by chance.
Now it’s my regular Friday evening
meal. I can never remember the order,
I think it’s Vassar, Mount Holyoke,
Wellesley, and Smith. This Friday’s
host is Mount Holyoke. Imagine my
surprise that first time: I spot the buffet,
bound over unmolested, browse among
delicacies of every description, and
instead of getting tossed out on my ear,
find passing waiters eager to keep
my flute brimming with Champagne.
Occasionally I speak with someone
from the host school’s welcoming
committee who wants to make sure
my every need is being met, but when
I mumble a few words with food
in my mouth she goes away. Free.
Recommendation: Five Stars