This week, we welcomed Fiona Davis to the circle at The Modern Bee. In case you missed the conversation (which you can check out here), Fiona is a bestselling author whose historical fiction novels are based in New York City. What makes them especially unique is the fact that they feature an iconic landmark as the backdrop and the intertwining of complex female characters living at different periods in history in the city.
Whenever I have finished one of her novels, I have a tradition where I have taken myself on a “date” to the landmark, curiously gawking at it, imagining the characters coming and going, living their plot lines. And then I’ll take myself out to lunch or for a coffee nearby. I thought it might be fun to share a sort of local itinerary inspired by the novels. Something to keep in your back pocket for when New York City opens again or if you’re from out of town, the day you visit. Enjoy!
The Barbizon as featured in The DollHouse. Now a residential building, this designated city landmark on the Upper East Side of Manhattan has a storied history as a female-only residential hotel. Back in the day, when it wasn’t considered appropriate for a “respectable” woman to live alone, hotels like this were de rigueur for women who had flocked to big cities in search of professional opportunities. The rules for conduct were strict: no men beyond the ground floor; dress code; the works. The list of famous women who once called the Barbizon home is a long one — Grace Kelly, Edith Bouvier Beale, Joan Didion, Lauren Bacall, Nancy Reagan…
My suggestions for places to eat and check out nearby:
Eat Here Now – 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue. A no frills diner with a solid enough tuna melt. If you’re looking for a dose of nostalgia or a sampling of where the Barbizon women might have ventured out for a milkshake to catch up on residential gossip, this is the spot.
Lexington Candy Shop – 83rd Street and Lexington Avenue. While we’re talking about old-school establishments…this luncheonette/candy shop has been a must since 1925. I hope you’re wearing your walking shoes, because it’s about a mile north of Eat Here Now. You can’t visit a New York institution like this without an egg cream, which will power you through to our next spot.
The Frick – 5th Avenue btw 70th and 71st Streets. Fiona’s pick for a fantastic, lesser known NYC landmark and I wholeheartedly agree. Once home to the industrialist, Henry Clay Frick, the building is now an art museum. While the art collection is wonderful itself, I personally go to daydream in the garden (especially the Garden Court with the fountain, which used to be the Frick family’s driveway) and imagine life in the Gilded Age. I just discovered that they are doing a series called “Cocktails with a Curator” on Friday afternoons (with both a cocktail and a mocktail recipe to enjoy along with the livestream!) which I definitely hope to check out.
Grand Central Terminal as featured in The Masterpiece. The landmark train terminal (FYI, it’s called a terminal and not a station because it’s the end of the line–the terminus–of several lines of the Metro North Railroad). I am a regular here as I come in and out of the city regularly and have gotten to know it well. I always try to make sure I’m early so I can explore a new pocket and people watch. Fun fact — the legendary, turquoise, constellation specked ceiling was once blackened with smoke from the decades when smoking in the terminal was a thing; it was finally cleaned and shined up in the 1990s. A spot of what the ceiling looked like when it was a smokey mess was intentionally left for eagle-eyed people who appreciate little factoids like this. Look for the crab’s craw, squint and you’ll see it.
My suggestions for places to eat and check out nearby:
Pescatore Seafood Co. – located in the Grand Central Terminal Market. I love the market and generally bypass the food hall downstairs for it. I rarely get on a train without grabbing a couple of their cold, seafood rolls. How to describe them? They’re similar to a Vietnamese summer roll and filled with a different choice of seafood — I like the Thai shrimp one and the poached salmon one. Two or three make for a solid lunch. If seafood isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other to go options for a train snack. I also sometimes stop by the Taste NY kiosk for a roadie of Wölffer No. 139 dry rosé cider to go.
The Monkey Bar – 54th Street between Park and Madison Avenues. While we are on the subject of legendary New York City landmarks, this place cannot go unmentioned. About a 10 minute walk north from Grand Central, The Monkey Bar is classic Old New York and has been in operation since the Great Depression. It’s fancy to be sure, and you can either grab a drink (and an order of their epic fries at the bar) or suit up for dinner in their dining room, surrounded by their famous murals.
Sutton Place – 53rd to 59th Streets and bordered by First Avenue and the East River. I’m always surprised more people don’t know about Sutton Place. Maybe that’s a good thing? It’s also got that Old New York, well-heeled feel and I like to stroll its quiet enclaves to admire the stunning old architecture and take in the view of the East River. It’s quieter and more peaceful than other neighborhoods and you feel like you’ve stepped into the past. A hidden gem, for sure.
Next week, we will head over to the west side to for a literary inspired tour of some more landmarks. Have a wonderful long (or regular) weekend. – Michaela