Friday, July 23, 2010

A Night at Fedora

Last night, Community Board 2 voted to move ahead with the new plan for Fedora. We still don't know for sure what the future holds. Will the people who love Fedora today be able to enjoy it tomorrow? Or will they be pushed out by the new crowd? You have just 3 more days to experience Fedora as it is. Here's the scene from a recent night:

It's 5:00, Fedora Dorato arrives from the grocery store on the arm of a young man who carries her bags of tomatoes, lettuce, and other essentials. After settling in, she sits down and quietly applies Scotch tape to her restaurant's frayed menus, wanting them to last, even though, as of July 25, they'll belong to the past.

Her first customer has arrived, a daily regular. He walks on the arm of his nurse, flashes a bright-eyed grin from beneath his Stonewall cap, and takes his seat for what must be his millionth meal in Fedora's pink-lit sanctuary. Steadying herself with a cane, the hostess gets up to greet him like the old friend that he is.

The room is hot and humid. It's nearly 7:00 now and the place is lively. With news of the upcoming closure, people have come to say goodbye. They take pictures and pose with Mrs. Dorato who, at 90, is still busing the tables. She walks up and down, her back bent, her arms loaded with liquor bottles, empty plates, loaves of bread in red plastic baskets that probably date back to the Eisenhower administration.

She steadies herself on the shoulders of men in their chairs. Her hand alights, here and there. You feel her coming before you see her, smiling in her white nimbus of hair. She puts her cool hand, smelling freshly minted of Ben-Gay, on my bare arm and asks, "Are you finished with that glass? May I take it away?"

I ask her what she will do after the place is closed. "I don't know," she says, "Every day, for 60 years, I baked and I cooked. Now what?"

George, the friendly and acerbic veteran waiter, rushes back and forth, frantic in the crowd. The place is usually sleepy and he's the only one on duty. When asked for a refill, he says, "Not right now. Give me 100 minutes!" He admonishes me to clean my plate, to eat the beets I've left behind, then says in sympathy, "I hate beets."

photo: compliments of Anne Bernstein

A trio of young women walk in, looking lost. Under trendy Sinatra-style fedoras worn at jaunty angles, their faces glow with a blue iPhone splash of light. They adjust the over-sized handbags on their shoulders and uneasily shift their feet. The gray-haired gay regulars give them a glance, then go back to their meals.

I think: These girls must have read about Fedora on the blogosphere, on Eater or Grub Street, and came to see what the fuss is all about.

Harried, George approaches them. He throws up his hands and makes a gesture of futility, as if to say, "I don't know where you're going to sit." There are some empty tables, but why bother? The place is busy enough. He hustles away to refill drinks. The girls, slightly stunned, wander back outside. It's not their place. Not yet.

More Fedora:
Fedora Returns
Fedora's Last Days
A Regular Remembers


Susan May Tell said...

This is so beautifully written.

Mark said...

Ask George about the other restaurants he's worked at, such as Casa di Pre and the Sazerac house, both of which drew the same crowd, both gone as well now.

Mark said...

I miss Sazerac House. Having brunch in that front room was wonderful. You could sit and just watch Hudson Street go by. Sorry for the off-topic comment, but Mark's made me think of how great that place was.