Mike Ghadamian is a regular at Serafina, an Italian restaurant on Madison Avenue at 79th Street. Sitting at a candlelit table on a recent Friday evening, he took a sip of his complimentary drink and pointed to the table behind him.
“See that table?” he said in a raspy voice. “That’s table No. 50. That’s our table.” A waiter stopped to pat his back. “They know me very well here,” Mr. Ghadamian told a guest. He ordered “the usual,” penne alla vodka. “I haven’t changed my dish in months,” he said.
He smiled, revealing a mouth full of braces. Mike Ghadamian is 15. His complimentary drink: a Diet Coke.
Over the past two years, Serafina has served as a kind of dining club for the youth of the Upper East Side. On weekend nights between 7 and 10 p.m., the top floor of the bi-level restaurant–a pretty room with a brick floor, wicker chairs and a canvas roof that can be removed in the summer–fills up with pink-cheeked teenage Manhattanites chowing down on chicken paillard and $15 brick-oven pizzas as they make their plans for the latter part of the evening. Unlike their suburban counterparts, who make do with burgers and fries at McDonald’s, they aren’t fazed by Serafina’s $15 minimum food charge. “They all have mom and dad’s gold card,” said the restaurant’s general manager.
“It’s probably one of the more expensive places I go,” said Alison Goldfrank, a freshly scrubbed blond freshman at the Spence School. “But the food is amazing, so the prices are reasonable for food that great.”
“It’s a social place, and it’s nice,” said Jessica Haber, a freshman at Horace Mann School, who said she eats at Serafina almost every weekend. “It’s a bit pricey, but the food is really good,”
“The inside is cool and the food is awesome,” said Olivia Palermo, a freshman at St. Luke’s who used to go to Nightingale. “I go there maybe three times a month, and I usually see like five people I know.”
As he tucked into his penne, Mike Ghadamian looked happy. He’d had to go to a Shabbat family dinner at his grandmother’s house before he was released to go to his favorite restaurant.
At about 7:15 p.m., a redheaded 15-year-old boy, dressed in a baggy sweater and loose jeans, sat down with his older sister, a strawberry blonde wearing a gray shirt tucked into slim-fitting jeans. She looked at the menu while he talked on his cell phone. A few minutes later, two 16-year-old boys wearing baggy jeans and large sweatshirts arrived, high-fived the redheaded kid, then sat at their own table nearby. Three young women with long, straight hair came in and began self-consciously smoking cigarettes. By 8 p.m., two thirds of the room was filled with Upper East Side teens.
“Here’s how it works,” said one sophomore from Collegiate School. “We go with a big group of friends, everybody takes out their cell phones and puts them on the table, then we get a phone book and figure out where we’re going that night.”
“I always go with big groups,” said a blond, ponytailed freshman from the Dalton School. “And they yell at us because we all share plates and it’s really confusing.”
“You can always tell the high-schoolers because they travel in packs,” said Shalonda Harris, one of Serafina’s night managers. She said that nine times out of 10, she directs the teenagers to the top floor.
“I’m pretty sure they reserve the top floor for teens,” said Ms. Goldfrank, “because whenever I go with my dad, we sit on the first floor.”
The favorite menu item of most of the teens is Penne Alla Stolichnaya. Which brings up the question: If they like vodka in their pasta, are they getting away with ordering it in their drinks?
The general manager said the restaurant is strict about making sure that they only serve those with proper identification.
“They do ask for ID, but a lot of my friends have fake ones and they get served all the time,” claimed one freshman.
“Oh, they never serve us alcohol,” said Mr. Ghadamian.
“Of course not,” added his friend Steven Chase, a sophomore at the Horace Mann School.
The staff doesn’t seem to mind the teen explosion.
“So far they have never been a problem,” said Abul Waliullah, who has been waiting tables at Serafina for four years. “They’re really nice and they tip O.K.”
Mike Ghadamian finished his penne and wiped his mouth. “I get treated like a king here,” he said. “I didn’t even order these Cokes.”
N.Y.’s Face-Men Frenzy
Manhattan’s pampered young males are in a panic. They may have money, they may have love, but they have no Kiehl’s.
For several weeks now, well-scrubbed young men in New York City have been cursing the mysterious disappearance of Kiehl’s Ultimate Men’s After Shave Moisturizer, the cultishly popular yellow, odorless facial lotion made by the venerable cosmetics manufacturer (established 1851).
“Of course I know about it [the Kiehl’s shortage]!” said a 32-year-old Manhattan attorney who, after confessing to keeping an “arsenal” of Kiehl’s products, asked that his name not be used. “It kills me!”
A Kiehl’s spokesperson confirmed the after-shave shortage, describing it as national. “We’ve been out of stock for six weeks,” she said. “We have requests daily for it.”
The spokesperson said the shortage was the result of the demand for the after-shave outstripping its production. She estimated that it would be back on shelves in New York by March 1.
But that is small consolation for the legions of New York men who–following years of post-pubescent, Aqua Velva agony–had finally settled upon a lotion for life.
“I love it!” publicist Jake Spitz, 26, said of the after-shave, which retails at $13.50 for four ounces and $20.50 for eight ounces. “It’s the first product I put on my face that worked.”
Mr. Spitz said he had recently tried to pick up some Kiehl’s after-shave as a 26th-birthday gift for his friend, the restaurant-guide scion Ted Zagat, but couldn’t find it anywhere. (Kiehl’s rations out its products to its own shop on Third Avenue and 13th Street, and to department stores like Barneys, Saks and Nieman Marcus.) He was forced to settle for other Kiehlsphernalia.
But other Kiehl’s after-shave devotees refused to take no for an answer. “I heard rumors that there was some being held under the counter at Barneys–if you know the right people,” said Boykin Curry, a 35-year-old investor. Alas, a reporter who checked that story out the next day was told firmly that no, the store had no more Kiehl’s.
My girlfriend Rachel is one of those people who reads magazine listings, even though, to be honest, we hardly ever go anywhere. That explains how she found our photograph one night while flipping through the front pages of the Feb. 5 issue of The New Yorker .
We were on page 17. The photograph, by a man named Gus Powell, captured a crowded midday scene in front of the Amoco gas station at the busy northwest corner of Broadway and Houston Street. At the center was a lanky young black man surveying the intersection from his perch atop of a pair of pay telephones. Above him, on a billboard to his right, was a giant, shirtless, hairless Calvin Klein model.
I appeared in the foreground of the picture’s left side, looking upward with my left hand cupped over my eyes. Unshaven and wearing a hat advertising the then-hip, now-defunct Internet company Pseudo.com, I looked a tad haggard. Rachel, clad in overalls, was walking to my left, looking off in another direction.
“At first I just thought, ‘Hey, that blond woman looks a lot like me,'” Rachel said, “‘but she’s way too skinny.’ Then I thought, ‘That is me.’ A while later, I noticed you.”
“We’re famous,” I said.
“No,” Rachel replied. “We’re art.”
Everyone had their own take on the photograph. Rachel’s boss wanted to know what she was doing downtown at lunch. Rachel’s aunt, from Utah, had a practical take: “Wow–look at those gas prices!” she said. My dad e-mailed, comparing my physique unfavorably to the Calvin Klein model’s. (“Maybe the photographer was going for a
juxtaposition,” another person offered.)
These reconstructions were as good as ours: Try as we might, neither Rachel nor I could remember the moment at all.
When I met Gus Powell at the Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery in Soho, he understood our confusion immediately. “Kind of a Rashomon thing?” he said.
Mr. Powell was 6 feet 5 inches tall, lanky and 26, the same age as me. He looked like Milhouse van Houten from The Simpsons grown up: floppy hair, round glasses and a cashmere V-neck sweater-vest.
He grew up on East 58th Street and works as a freelance photo editor at The New Yorker (a -ha !). He said he takes most of his photographs while wandering around the city on his lunch break. (Hence the title of his series, “Lunch Pictures.”)
“You always find something that’s this ridiculous New York thing,” Mr. Powell explained. This time he was attracted to the man perched on the phone booths. Mr. Powell said he stood on the curb and began snapping pictures. “The thing that I always love is, some people check him out and some people don’t. Like, your girlfriend is checking him out.”
Mr. Powell continued: “For me the payoff is, when I’m walking and I see something remarkable, I don’t want to just nail the remarkable thing. I want to keep it in context … so then you become just as interesting. Because you help. You made the picture much better.”
I looked down at my shoes. “Well, thank you very much.”
On the way in, I had noticed that someone had already bought the photograph for $600. Apparently, that’s what being published in a major magazine can do.
This weekend, Rachel and I have a project: We’re cutting out page 17, framing it and hanging it in our bathroom.