Passing Time At The Plaza
Caroline M. Cooper
Posted on August 22nd, 2016
In a secret life I will never live, I am a doyenne of the swanning set, fluttering here and there with Oysters Rockefeller in steady supply and a gaggle of the whiskery ones doting on my every need. Such a belle donna would take her lunch, naturally, at The Plaza Hotel. This is a secret life and therefore timeless. Happily, the New York Public Library has digitized the menus of my preferred eatery across the decades and I can peruse them at will, recalling all my favorites.
Join me, won’t you, on a gilded settee for our first Plaza lunch. It’s 1899 and Congress has just approved some strange new contraption called a “voting machine” for use in federal elections. While others fret about that bold female outlaw Pearl Hart who just robbed another stagecoach, this one 30 miles southeast of Globe, Arizona, we’ll be nibbling daintily, in the secret way of time-travelers, upon Clear Green Turtle au Champagne, Canapé of Caviar a la Russe, Broiled Spanish Mackerel, followed by a few Parisian Sweetbreads and a Salad Mexicane. Let’s finish, perhaps, this round-the-world gastric tour with something mysteriously called National Sorbet. Total bill? $3.50. What would Hart do?
I love my 1907 life, in which I am bedecked in the skirts and bonnet of the day and locate, perhaps, a rattan chair at the lunchtime table for the feast of Pate De Foie Gras with Truffles, A Fancy Roast, and a Selection of Oysters Broiled on Toast. I might dip a fork to the Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette, for courage, and discuss, over Broiled Woodcock, the first taxicabs that just started motoring around London, or the foibles of our own president Roosevelt. Darling, would you be so kind as to pick up the tab while I go freshen up? Oh, it’s $4.30, I see. Horrible the way these prices just keep going up and up!
In the fall of 1914 you meet me for lunch and we fret all about how World War is breaking out. But there is much to celebrate as well, such as the opening of the Panama Canal and I heard the New York Giants and the Chicago White Sox just played and exhibition game in Egypt—fabulous. Let’s order the Turban de Jambon Florentine, the Filet de Bar de Mer Doria, and a little Sorbet au Rhum. Must watch the bottom line, sweet one. I trust you have the $6 on you to cover this?
I’ve bobbed my hair and might even wear a cunning pair of slacks to meet you for our Plaza lunch in 1933. We will keep a low profile. The nation is convulsing with ongoing economic troubles and it’s all just terrible but we must preserve our strength, you see, if we are to go help out with the construction of this Golden Gate Bridge, now underway. I’ve heard great things about the Crab Flake Cocktail, the Jellied Madrilène Consommé, and of course the Patty of Frogs’ Legs with Mushrooms Newburg. The Roast Saddle of Baby Lamb with Succotash Virginia and Potatoes Caprice sounds prefect, it’s between that and something mysteriously called the Supreme Plaza. Oh let’s just get both and see. And I’m a modern woman of my day and have saved up from my stenographer’s job (can you believe I work!? It’s a scream.) So I’ve got this one, let’s see, it comes to $6.65, because I had to have some Pineapple Paradise too. Oops—there goes a whole month’s rent!
Oh goodie for us, we haven’t aged a day and here we are, invited to the Plaza’s 1954 Long Island Oyster Tasting with Appropriate White Wines, Beer, Stout, and Ale. While others trouble themselves with Eisenhower’s military aid to Vietnam or how the words “Under God” were just added to our Pledge of Allegiance, let’s gossip about Marilyn’s recent marriage to Joe while we slurp down these fine Seawanhakas and Greenports, described by our gracious hosts as “fat, heavy-shelled oysters with a sweet flavor.” More, please!
It’s 1987, and we’re the guests of honor at the Plaza Chinese New Year celebration. Let the others gab about the seeming rise of democracy in China or how the mainland’s first KFC just opened outside of Tiananmen Square, we’re too busy gnawing on these Five Spice Spareribs and ladling out portions of the Chicken with Black Bean Sauce. Wontons with Sweet and Sour Sauce crowd my plate while you extol the virtues of the Cold Spicy Noodles. Like much being served, our dessert is also an American invention: Fortune Cookies!
It’s 2016. I’ve put my bonnet and bobbed hair and petticoats and shoulder pads away and have modestly booked the Royal Suite. It clocks in at $20,000 per night but I’ve enjoyed the riches of the Plaza for over a century and figure the old horse deserves the oats. Stevenson, my personal white glove butler, leads me to my private elevator and I collapse in one of the three bedrooms while he presses and hangs my wardrobe, freshens the hydrangea arrangements, and inquires as to anything further I require. Facedown on the thousand-thread count pillows I gesture listlessly to the phone, thinking a quick nip of room service would be just the thing ahead of the 20-person dinner party I’ll later host in my suite’s private dining room. Right, then, Stevenson makes the call and, a glutton for choice, I go with the Lobster Cobb Salad, two ounces of The Plaza Private Reserve American Ossetra, the 14 Ounce Dry-Aged New York Strip, and a slice of the Lady M Cake. I miss you desperately, dear, won’t you come have a bite with me? And you won’t mind splitting this lunch tab of $670, will you?