I love watching old movies that feature New York. This is lame but the first one that comes to mind is Bob Fosse’s semi-watchable film version of “Sweet Charity.” In this film you can see Shirley Maclaine get pushed into the Central Park lake from the famous footbridge. I like that scene because hey, it’s fun to see Shirley Maclaine get pushed into a lake, but also because I can totally put myself in that exact location today. The people who walk across that footbridge change year after year but the footbridge is still the same: that’s what I love about New York.
Cafe Sabarsky is like the Central Park footbridge. It’s a New York institution if there ever was one: hidden in an art gallery near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, people line up, day in, day out, for Austrian pastries and what’s been dubbed the city’s best coffee drinks.
I had to convince my parents to go there. I was desperate. When they were here last week they had a package at their hotel that included a free lunch. So I went up to their hotel and ate this free lunch with them and each bite made me more and more depressed. This was pretentious hotel food, the type of food served at what Calvin Trillin calls “Le Maison de la Casa House.” I had seared tuna bathed in BBQ sauce. Extra BBQ sauce came on the side.
“Let’s not have dessert here,” I declared. “Let’s go to this place that’s supposed to be great called Cafe Sabarsky.”
My parents weren’t immediately willing but the more I made the case for it the more they saw my side of the argument. Plus it was a beautiful day and walking up to Cafe Sabarsky would in and of itself be a treat.
So we made our way up and entered the Neue Gallery where Cafe Sabarsky is located. We were surprised to see posters and signs for the most expensive painting in the world, Klimt’s “Adele Bloch-Bauer I”:
We made a point to see it after our pastries and coffee. (And we were glad we did: the story of this painting is fascinating; if you don’t know it, you should look it up.)
The room at Cafe Sabarsky is quaint:
A piano player played old Cabaret music as we were led to our table. (I recognized a song by Satie because I had to do a presentation on Satie in grad school.)
Once at our table (a booth that overlooked 5th Ave.) we studied the menu. There were savory items to be had (a sausage salad stands out as the most memorable) but our eyes were on dessert and coffee. And what a selection!
Because it was a hot day, we all made the same decision: iced coffee with vanilla ice cream. How could you not order this on a hot day?
What was nice about this drink is that it wasn’t too sweet; the ice cream was just sweet enough. So it tasted like a mature version of an iced cream soda, minus the soda, sub coffee.
And then there were the pastries. If I could make an Austrian exclamation here I would. Instead, I’ll make one up: “Dashenvergenbooferstein!”
Our waitress gave us her favorites to help narrow our choices. We settled upon “Klimttorte: Chocolate and hazelnut cake” (although, now that I study the menu again online, I’m wondering if that’s what this is):
We also had a layered mousse cake with pistachio and chocolate mousse:
Needless to say, these were excellent. And the confluence of the piano playing, the quaint wooden room, the posters on the wall, the eccentric characters eating around us, the people walking past the window on 5th avenue, made this a memorable New York afternoon. It’s a perfect place to go, incidentally, if you spend the day at the Met and want a snack afterwards. Or just to go to be a part of New York culture. Either way, by the time you’re done, you’ll be out the door cheering: “”Dashenvergenbooferstein!”