The outpouring of sentiment over the closing of the Plaza Hotel is really starting to get on my nerves. If y’all are so hopelessly in love with the place, then just celebrate the fact that it is being turned into a big old apartment building-stop whining, buy a condo and live there forever.
I don’t deny that the Plaza is a special place. Yes, the Oak Room is pretty groovy, in a clubby, alcoholic sort of way. And yes, we all know this hotel is drenched in more cinematic majesty than most: Only a complete dolt would walk through the lobby without having a Cary Grant–in– North by Northwest moment, or, when contemplating the fountain, fail to think of Babs and Bob sitting on their emotions in The Way We Were. But now, out of the blue, comes this tidal wave of maudlin nostalgia buffs, people who haven’t visited or thought about the place since mocking it in the late 1980’s, when Ivana did her gaudy renovation, and they’re carrying on as if they’re going to slit their wrists. It’s all starting to feel a bit Princess Di–ish. Soon they’ll be calling it “The People’s Hotel.”
Even as I write, deranged Plaza groupies are frantically bidding on mementos at the six-week-long liquidation auction, and it’s not just Ivana’s couches and drapes that are up for sale. Shockingly, even the sheets and pillowcases are being snapped up. Haven’t these lunatics read all those horrid studies about the vast quantities of fecal matter that lurk on hotel-bed linens? Since when did nostalgia trump hygiene?
Talking of hygiene (or lack thereof), I find I am quite distraught about the imminent closing of the Howard Johnson’s restaurant on Times Square. Now there’s a landmark! I have many happy 80’s memories of staggering, along with a posse of fellow thrill seekers, into this very Ho-Jo at some ungodly hour after a night at the Gaiety. The Gaiety? Now there’s another, even more important landmark! For the uninitiated, the Gaiety was-it closed earlier this year-a male burlesque club, of which I was an occasional patron.
With its red velvet seats and tiny, bow-fronted stage, the Gaiety had a dusty charm all its own. The front two rows were always filled with the same shortsighted senior citizens, all of whom were dressed by Members Only. During the performance intervals, these aging funsters were encouraged to vacate their seats and adjourn to the adjacent “Fantasy Lounge.” There, they could enjoy free snacks and mingle with the bare-chested performers. I always got a huge chuckle watching these seniors stampeding toward the punch bowl and the mound of pretzels, often ignoring the lithe male performers completely. After a certain age, food trumps flesh.
The other noteworthy thing about the Gaiety was the astounding number of celebrity attendees. Forget about Liz and Dick at the Plaza! If I were to divulge the identities of the top-shelf luminaries from the world of entertainment, fashion and art that I have personally spotted lurking in those red velvet seats-or getting “teabagged” if they were lucky enough to oust one of the Members Only seniors from a front-row position-I would plunge myself into a seething cauldron of legal hot water. So I won’t.
Back to Howard Johnson’s. Here is my fondest memory: At some point in the early 1990’s, a couple of my colleagues at Barneys had the brilliant idea of staging a fashion show in this very establishment. Don’t ask why. It was very guerrilla, and it all made perfect sense at the time: There were seats. There were lights. All we had to do was rent a trailer full of models and stick it next to the side entrance. Who needs the Bryant Park tents? Right?
The plan was as follows: Once the models were painted and dressed, we would simply turn up the house Muzak and funnel them in through the side door. During the runway show, the grumpy staff would circulate amongst the assembled notables, serving up the traditional Ho-Jo fried clams followed by huge bowls of ice cream. We never intended that any one should eat the cholesterol-exploding fodder: It was supposed to be a high-low, Ho-Jo–ironic gesture. I eagerly anticipated watching all the elitist fashion insiders holding their noses and sucking in their cheeks when confronted by such common fare. How wrong I was.
As soon as the food hit the Formica, it was as if a starting pistol had been fired. Everyone, from Suzy Menkes to Polly Mellen and the late, great Amy Spindler, immediately tossed aside their notepads, along with any shred of dignity, and ignored the clothes completely. They tore into the vats of free grub like the urchins in Oliver Twist, proving that food trumps both flesh and fashion.