Last night my friend Kristen invited me to join her and her California friends for a burger at Burger Joint in the Parker Meridien Hotel. I accepted, and imagined a sleek looking place, like a futuristic McDonald’s, where the employees would wear funny-looking red caps and crisp white aprons.
I stepped into the bright mirrored and marbled lobby of the posh hotel and criss crossed it once or twice until I saw it: a glowing neon hamburger off to one side of the reception desk. Like Super Mario in a Nintendo game, I went for it. Just like that, I was transported into a “warp zone” – as I entered a small, busy room with dim lighting, cheap oak paneling, outdated movie posters, maroon leather booths, and writing all over the walls. People zig-zagged back and forth from the register to their tables, as the sizzle of burgers on the grill was accompanied by an obscure 90’s pop song from above. I felt like I had stepped into another dimension, or a movie set.
At first it was unsettling. One minute, I was out of my element and slightly uncomfortable in the lobby of a world-class hotel, and the next minute, I am instantly back in my kind of world, in a dive-bar/greasy spoon looking place. Very surreal.
I nabbed the only available booth and waited for the others. The writing all over the walls helped me relax a little and gave the place a devil-may-care feel. Once I settled in, the place began to remind me of Dive 75, the bar that Elizabeth used to take me to for cheap drinks, but more so, the Cedar Tavern on 11th and University, my favorite after-work place a few years back, which has since been decimated to make way for a luxury condo.
Kristen’s brother Billy showed up and I waved him over. He suggested we order beers, which I thought was a great idea. I looked over and saw a guy drinking a slightly frothy plastic cup of lager and thought “perfect,” but then I found out the price, so we got cokes instead. Sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to pay for a $5.00 beer dressed-up as a $2.00 beer.
The girls showed up and Kristen and I went to order for everyone. (PS- the employees were wearing their own, normal-looking clothes). I got a hamburger, medium-well, with the works ($7.00) and split an order of fries with K ($3.00). While we waited, I decided to go to the bathroom, which sent me into reverse-shock because I had to go back to the “other dimension” and ask for a card key from the concierge, which in turn admitted me into the equally marbled and mirrored bathroom off the lobby.
Back at the joint, our food was ready. The burgers were nice and sloppy, and good. The fries were okay, maybe a notch above a McDonald’s or Wendy’s. The highlight for me, and the reason I would come back, was my sip of Kristen’s chocolate shake. It was rich without being too thick and had that distinct flavor that comes from the chocolate syrup used to make milkshakes, but you could tell they used good chocolate. But be prepared to pay $5.00 for that shake…and, no, Uma Thurman will not be there to share it with you 😦
One of the California girls noticed a sign on the wall that said something like “we don’t spit in your food, so don’t write on our walls,” which perplexed me because there was writing all over the walls. On closer inspection, we started noticing names like “Whitney,” Patti LaBelle,” and “Danity Kane.” Then there were more obscure ones that had to add a subtitle, like “SNL, class of ’06,” or “NFL alumni.” It was beginning to sound a lot like the yearbook and I was beginning to feel like I was back at the dork table in the middle school lunch room. Why couldn’t I write on the wall?
I left feeling a bit put-off, and a bit hungry. But I’d already spent $10.50 on my snack so it was time to go home.
On the way, I wondered; Maybe someday, that luxury condo on University Place will be torn down to make way for an even more luxurious hotel. And maybe they will gut the basement of that hotel and construct an inch-for-inch replica of the Cedar Tavern, in which the guests of the hotel can go for an authentically gritty time – a respite from aerodynamic sofas and Ghery-inspired glass buildings – complete with jukebox, wood paneling galore, and creaky bar stools. And when it comes time to take a leak, you can opt for the card key, or you can wait in line to use the authentic, hold-down-the-handle-30-seconds, stinky, flickering-light bulb bathroom…where you are free to write on the walls.
118 West 57th Street, between 6th and 7th Ave
The Cedar Tavern in its beatnik heyday.