Before we married, I used to visit my husband in the handsome East Village apartment that he had lovingly transformed into the quintessential bachelor pad, in a manly palette of brown, black and pony skin. I savored every aspect of what felt like a rare evening of grownup conversation away from my children and the responsibilities of real life.
He would welcome me at the top of the stairs saying, “Come into the bar darling, and let me get you a cocktail.” Even if I chose a simple glass of wine rather than a Mestizo, a cocktail he claims to have invented for me, he would collect the glasses and whatever else he needed with elaborate care from the enormous Art Deco bar in his dining room, then shepherd me into the kitchen with a flourish, like a maître d’ showing a favored diner to his most popular table.
I would climb up on one counter and perch there with my feet balanced on the other while he would pour and mix and fight with the ice trays in the sink and tell me about all the news he’d managed to generate since we last saw each other face to face. We would dine very late, and only go to restaurants where he had already discerned that we could be seated next to each other “as they do in Rio,” he insisted.
In the morning, before we parted for office and home, we would breakfast together. In spite of the fact that he had two different electric coffee makers (one with a thirty cup capacity) as well as a French press and a drip funnel with filters, we never lingered in the apartment, repairing instead to a tiny Japanese bakery downstairs.
Rush hour proceeded at the wild pace of any urban coffee purveyor, with orders proffered in Japanese and English. It had no seating, only two bar height tables crammed between the front window and the pastry case. The scalding cappuccinos were delicious and the fetching young women behind the counter fulfilled the NYC health department’s requirement for food handlers to cover their hair, by wearing only the most amusing bonnets, fluffy hats (one reportedly with bunny ears although I never witnessed it) and scarves tied in fanciful shapes with their shiny black braids and pony tails sticking out at rakish angles. Because we were regulars, our drinks were begun as soon as someone recognized us, and ready by the time we got to the front of the line.
Initially, I tasted almost all of the pastries, steamed buns and breads on offer. Eventually I settled on either a salmon teriyaki sandwich, which was made on their special white “milk bread” and wrapped into an elegant origami triangle of printed wax paper, or something they called French toast, which was baked of the same chewy bread with a thick crust of castor sugar.
We usually sat outside even in winter, at the café tables set up (illegally it turned out) on top of the basement doors in the sidewalk. We might discuss some logistical detail of our next meeting, but generally little else. I loved to survey the young girls flying by on their way to work or class at NYU, most of them wearing extremely hip combinations of clothing items that would never have seen the inside of an office even a few years before. I tried to imagine our teenage daughters soon joining their ranks. Before long we would brush the sugar off our faces and coats, exchange a chaste coffee-flavored kiss, and join the racing throng.
Married now for several years, we live together in the same rural-ish outpost that I used to so enjoy escaping from. The coffee (Café Holland) is carefully brewed cup by individual cup by my husband using a brilliant plastic pressure contraption called an Aero Press, and enjoyed while we read the papers.
Now in their twenties, our girls both live and work in the city, one close enough to our old haunt to enjoy the same morning routine if she wished, the other just a bit further west. Often one or the other is brought to mind by something I read in the paper, and I think of them striding purposefully off to work at their exciting new jobs. I wonder whether they have eaten something delicious for breakfast, or eaten anything at all. I mentally will them to dress for the weather and remember to bring something good to read on the train. And I hope that if someone is watching them as they rush past a bakery, it is with admiration and honorable intent.
Before I leap into action and my own day, I glance out the window to see if the wild turkeys discovered the corn we left them, or whether the cardinals are breakfasting together at the bird feeder, then I exchange a chaste coffee-flavored kiss with my husband, and get to it.
– written by Margot Dockrell