I’ll be the first to admit that I have a terrible memory — most everything is lost to me moments or hours after it happens. But for the most part I’ve done a good job of hanging on to my happier childhood memories, especially those involving food. Imagine my surprise when an anecdote by the incomparable New Yorker writer A.J. Liebling forced the memory of the restaurant Rumplemeyer’s to surface from the turbid depths of my brain.
In his delightful piece, Liebling describes being left alone for a few minutes in the Paris Rumplemeyer’s, an upscale ice cream parlor on the Rue de Rivoli, after having been taken there by his serious German nanny, just before the outbreak of WWI.
Sixty years later, the New York Rumplemeyer’s was part of the St. Moritz Hotel: it was a restaurant that seemed to be specifically created for the amusement, and feeding, of children (it would be years before Chuck E. Cheese irretrievably damaged, no, destroyed, this sacred concept). Back in the 1970s the big R sat implacably on Central Park South, sharing the same rarified air which sustained the Plaza Hotel and Trader Vic’s, and the ducks in the pond in the Park, just a stone’s throw from the pleasure palace that was FAO Schwartz.
How does a restaurant-loving child even begin to process the idea of an eatery seemingly designed for her pleasure alone? The effect was an intoxicating swirl of all the character dances from The Nutcracker, the gleam of pastel vinyl booths, the smells of sugar and ice cream, and the soft mounds of stuffed animals that lined the backs of the booths and crowded the glass shelves of the shop in the front. Of course I now understand the marketing genius, the kick-’em-when-they’re-down sadism of piling stuffed toys on top of sugar-addled under-10 types, but back then it just felt like someone had answered my prayers.
Alas, such paradises are doomed to perish, and I can’t say I even noticed the passing of Rumplemeyer’s NYC, having moved on to the greener pastures of Serendipity and its frozen hot chocolates. But next time I visit Paris, I’ll check the phone book, just in case.