Sunday, August 15, 2010


From Jan Whitaker's post "Building a tea room empire" on her blog Restaurant-ing Through History:

So, while “empire” may be a bit grandiose, it’s hard not be impressed by the tea rooms enterprise Ida Frese and her cousin, Ada Mae Luckey, built in New York City in the early 20th century.

When real luck does descend, I think it feels the way the word Luckey looks: both hokey and plump, as if real luck always has a e in between the k and the y--ignore the key.

The point is: Full-grown luck does not skimp on letters.

Ms. Luckey contributed to the rise of what--along with prune danishes, sour milk, lime rickeys (alcoholic and non-) and great takeout Chinese food--used to be easy enough to find on Manhattan Island.

I never ate at one of her tea rooms, but my first job was working the reception desk at a publishing house on lower Park Avenue. It published The Guinness Book of World Records. Several times a week I'd hear somebody surrounded by a small group of people say-shouting something like, "We're calling long distance from Georgia and we have the biggest tomato on Earth!" Then I would tell them how to go about validating their tomato.

Towards the end of that summer, I discovered Mary Elizabeth's tea room. I liked its tuna salad and its iced tea, which came with a mint sprig. I would sit at the counter and notice women who wore drip-dry polyester dresses and carried sensible pocketbooks. They reminded me a little of the grandmother of mine who wore hats (and hat pins) and dusted herself with talcum powder. She also abhorred refined sugar; with her it was honey or nothing.

To me, Mary Elizabeth's was a bustling, no-nonsense kind of vast meal-providing oasis, industrious and leisurely at the same time. Working nearby was the best fringe benefit of the job.

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