Monday, February 27, 2017

Saying Farewell to an Old Friend

Saying Farewell to a Dear Old Friend...

The Waldorf Astoria...The Grand Dame of Park Avenue and an old family friend.  As a little girl I always heard stories of The Dornsteins, some relations of my maternal grandfather, and how they became the kosher caterers at the Waldorf.  My grandparents were caterers too so fine dining and food preparation were sort of woven into my DNA, thus my interest was always aroused whenever the Dornstein's were mentioned.  

As I grew older I became aware of how special an event at this hotel was. Every year my parents attended a business event in The Grand Ballroom.   My mother's excitement for this gala was only surpassed by her preparation for it! Hairdresser... manicure.. new chic outfit...a trip to the bank vault for my grandmother's jewelry and she was all set!  What a gorgeous couple they were as they set out for a gala evening at the Waldorf.  When they came home they described the beautiful hotel and the majesty of the grand ballroom.

My mother described the food served and the elegant presentation...the way that the tiers of balconies reminded her of an opera house ...and the attention to fine service.

When I was in my teens my Aunt Lucy took me to Peacock Alley for dinner.  It was as if I had entered a dream world.  We entered the lobby from Park Avenue and walked up the grand staircase and through the marble entryway into the beautiful lobby.
Park Avenue Entrance

I could barely catch my breath, so glorious were my surroundings!  Marble, what seemed like miles of it, polished and gleaming. An art deco inlay of marble graced the floor center. Railings of shining brass and soaring marble pillars were surrounded by lush green potted plants and beautifully arranged flowers sat in vases on the tables.
As we entered the lobby my young heart thought it would burst!  People bustled around while bellmen piled luggage on to gleaming brass carts. Beautifully upholstered furniture provided a comfortable place to wait to be checked in or out or just wait for a friend. The walls were paneled in polished wood and the floor was a magnificence of marble inlay.  The clock in the center was beautiful and intricate and I saw people waiting there and then suddenly smiling and going toward someone who had just entered.  I understood...this was a special meeting place...By The Clock in The Lobby of The Waldorf! 

We made our way over to Peacock Alley and I knew this was just the most special place I had ever been.  Chic ladies and well dressed gentlemen were seated around tables with sparkling glassware and crisp white tablecloths.  A shiver of excitement crept through me as we were ushered to our table.  Never had I seen such grandeur.  Glowing woods and inlaid marble, attentive waiters and delicious food.
Peacock Alley
And now my introduction was complete and I tucked this experience away and savored its memory, knowing that I would return again and again.

Some years later I became engaged.  My mother called Rae Dornstein and Rae said that of course, the wedding HAD to be at the Waldorf.  My heart sang!!! Off the three of us went to see the banquet manager.  When he heard who had come with us he leaped from his chair and came into the waiting room to greet us and escort us back to his office.  While the Dornsteins were no longer at the Waldorf (the hotel now brought in kosher foods from outside since the Dornsteins retired) they were obviously still held in high esteem and my mother, Rae and the banquet manager went to town.  Ideas flew...florists were recommended... musicians... photographers...menus discussed.  Now...which room?  We settled on the Sert Room (which now has another name and the paintings of Jose Maria Sert have been removed from the walls) for the ceremony and dinner dance  and across the lobby the Empire Room would host the reception following the ceremony.

It was everything we had hoped it would be.  The ceremony was glorious.  The Sert room was resplendant, with chandeliers gleaming, as we said our vows.

My husband and I say our vows
What a stunning event it was.  The bar was opened, the champagne flowed and food was superb... music was fabulous and we danced beneath those chandeliers with the joy of a new beginning.   This was the first day of the rest of our lives and the folks at the Waldorf wanted to make sure that we never forgot it...from the moment we entered the room as husband and wife
to the presentation of the fabulous cake that was a gift from the Dornsteins, it was an event that was Waldorf spectacular in every way.
  This was the stuff dreams were made of and we were now bona fide members of the Waldorf family. From the early tales about the Dornsteins to the sweet memories of my parents attending the galas in the Grand Ballroom, and my introduction to Peacock Alley all those many years before, I now had my very own wonderful piece of this grand place!
As time passed we had many occasions to visit the Waldorf. The years had been good ones...two sons and a daughter had blessed our lives.  We were established in our businesses, my husband in fine art supplies and I in interior design.  We had many reasons to celebrate...the children's college graduations, anniversaries, birthdays...There were dinners at Bull and Bear, events that I chaired as a vice president for NCJW, Afternoon Tea with friends and my sister's gift to us on our 25th anniversary of a night in a suite at the beautiful place where we had been married.  

When my daughter got engaged she said she would love to carry on a tradition and have her wedding at the Waldorf Astoria.  

With my years of experience planning events for NCJW coupled with my background in interior design I knew I could do this!  So, with the spirit of my mother and Rae Dornstein in my heart, my daughter and I met with the banquet manager!  As soon as my daughter saw The Starlight Roof she had he mind made up.  This amazing space was perfect.  We visited the florist, listened to many musicians, settled on a color scheme and listened to the wise counsel of the banquet manager, who soon practically became a member of our family.  We decided to have our guests greeted, as they got off the elevators, with champagne and strawberries...



the ceremoony would be on the raised end of the long, art deco room with a classical ensemble playing, out of sight, on the balcony above.  Candles would line the aisle and a simple bower of dogwood as the chuppa.  Toweriing centerpieces of white flowers and candles sat on tables covered in white silk-satin. Two captains kept things flowing at a perfect pace and a precision team of waiters kept food and drink flowing.



Once again the Waldorf outdid themselves in service and quality and another dream was made to come true for our family.

Two and a half years ago my husband and I celebrated our 50th anniversary!! (I know, I can't believe it either!) Our children surprised us with a weekend never to be forgotten.  Theater tickets and a suite in the Waldorf Towers!!  The hotel was contacted and made aware of our celebration and  complimantarychampagne, roses and candy were delivered to our room with an invitation to enjoy a complimentary meal. (If we had the original bill it would have all been free!)  The next morning all of our children, our seven grandchildren, my sister and a surprise visitor...a dear, dear friend from Texas gathered for brunch.

The Waldorf has been a dear friend and will be missed terribly.  Her new incarnation will never measure up to her old world elegance and majesty.  I prefer to remember her just as she was!  Farewell, old friend!

...and what recipe other than the classic Waldorf Salad could I put here?

1 1/2 cups diced apples 
juice od 1 lemon
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup raisins (you can use grapes sliced in half in lieu of raisins)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

1- Cover the apples with lemon juice immediately after dicing
2- Add other ingredients
3- Mix ingredients with mayonnaise

It can also be served as a meal by adding cubed chicken, shrimp or ham



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