Charles Kaiser (right) and his husband Joe Stouter. Photo: Rick Whitaker
I love the New York places that never change, like John’s Pizza on Bleecker or Joe Allen’s on West 46th Street or Julius’s on West 10th Street — the spots that can still connect you to the New York of Mad Men, which also happens to be the New York where my Manhattan memories began. The first place like this I ever went to in the ‘60s was Donohue’s, which was the hamburger joint for “The Making of the President” author Teddy White, my first author-mentor. It was just around the corner from Teddy’s town house, it’s still there at Lexington and 64th Street, I still go there with Teddy’s children — and if you go in for lunch today, you can still chat Maureen up about Teddy and his two wives (Maureen’s grandfather opened the place in 1950).
Up here around Duke Ellington Boulevard, The Abbey has been my Donohue’s for fifty years. I’ve been there every year since I was a Columbia freshman. This is where we went in 1969 if we didn’t want to go to the West End or the Gold Rail — or Tom’s; or Duke’s, if it was after 2 a.m.
I have been there every year since. Last week the awful news finally arrived — the wood-paneled room with indoor stained-glass windows and faux Tiffany lamps was finally going the way of all flesh.
On its penultimate night we sat at the corner table with our pal Rick Whitaker, his son David and David’s pal Aleks Korves, next to the kitchen, because that’s all that was left; I hadn’t been in that corner since I came home from Paris for Christmas in 2002. (We never sat there because it’s not a booth, and we only sat in a booth.)
This is where I had always gathered my consiglieres after every neighborhood book reading, at Book Culture or Barnes & Noble. I ordered the last of many hundreds of medium-rare Blue Cheese Burgers, which had once mysteriously disappeared from the menu for a couple of months, until a wave of protest restored them, and a Corona, because all the draft beers were gone except for Bud. The bartender was one of our old waitresses; our waitress was new, but eager and friendly. I felt the same way when Bill Carey walked out from behind the bar at Julius for the last time, or when John — the master of the Old Fashioned — left as the bartender at The Ginger Man across from Lincoln Center. These places are the unreplaceable arteries of New York. So this was a night I’d been dreading for decades. I gave thanks that it was always there, two blocks away, for so very many years, until tonight.
As I walked toward the front door, I leaned over the bar one last time:
“I need a kiss!” I shouted to the bartender.
She was happy to oblige.
Charles Kaiser has lived on the Upper West Side since 1968. His first book, “1968 in America,” is republished this month in a 30th anniversary edition.