Summer In The City
There was a time when I could care less about getting away on vacation during the summer. New York was the only place I wanted to be. Back in the late sixties and early seventies just going to Central Park on a Saturday afternoon was as much vacation as I needed.
In fact we often went down to the park on Friday nights. I say we because, while I would have no problem of negotiating Central Park and its hidden environs on a Saturday afternoon, Mrs Newell raised no stupid children who would go into the Park at night without a few of his well chosen friends. Of course on many a sultry Friday night it was not uncommon for a group of us to take the IRT Number 6 down to 59th Street and head over to our favorite liquor store on Sixth Avenue.
Sixth Avenue Liquors had the finest selection of imported and domestic wines which we summarily ignored. Fortunately for our well developed palates there was a varied selection of fine grape and strawberry wines. But nothing could compare with the finest of wines, The Nectar of The Gods, Bali Hai. Just saying the name brings me back to a particularly eventful Friday evening in July of 1971. Our Party of four, having bought our half pint bottles, made its way up Sixth Avenue towards the outskirts of Central Park when all of a sudden there was a sudden downpour. Proceeding to the Park was no longer an option and we were forced to ad lib on the fly and select a new destination. Fortunately the St Moritz hotel had a lovely sidewalk café with a protective awning.
As my comrades and I selected one of the many vacated tables we surmised that this location would only do for the briefest of interludes. While my friends and I could hoi polloi with the best of them, it would not take Management long to discover that we were imbibing beverages not included on their rather extensive wine list. They would, no doubt, see through our veil of refinement and boot us the hell out of there. Yet, it was not Management who encouraged our departure.
One of our group had been a wee bit too egalitarian and had invited a denizen of the Park, or some other outside abode, to join us in our Friday night soiree. This surely would attract attention so we made quick our departure but not before swilling our last drops of Bali Hai. Now where would we go?
Although it had stopped raining, the Park was no longer an attractive destination. The area that always proved an interesting hang out was not readily accessible and involved walking up hills and trekking through dales which would be under water this evening. Therefore, in defiance of Horace Greeley’s admonition, we headed east.
It was not long before we found ourselves under the Manhattan tower of the Queensboro, or if you prefer, the 59th Street Bridge. Whatever you call it, you would not believe what you would have seen there.
I was never at the corners of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco but, surely, where I was now was the east coast equivalent. There were bikers. There were hippies. There were freaks of every denomination and inclination. I was sure someone had slipped something into my Bali Hai. I got a good indication of where we were when I approached what looked like a sidewalk café but of somewhat less reputable standing than our previous bistro. They served nothing but fruit juice. This led me to believe that you could purchase a variety of intoxicants none of which contained alcohol or any other legal ingredients.
It would have been a terrific place to people-watch were it not for the fact that you really didn’t want to get caught looking at anyone lest they kill you. It may have been the era of Peace and Love but that was only a slogan for this crowd. Nevertheless, we stayed for quite a while and even went back on a few occasions later that summer. But on this night, having had enough of Woodstock without the mud, we made our way to our regular late night haunt, Child’s for breakfast before our subway back to the Bronx. We had our eggs and coffee and set off to the 59th Street subway station and boarded our waiting number six IRT.