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About Me

— a New York life

Andrew Kay

Part journal, part guide, Icons of New York is a window into some of the things that make this city unique. It is about architecture, books, art, theater, film, fashion, food and people. This Web log includes day-to-day encounters that could only happen here.

While I was attending college at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, I made a lifelong friend whose grandmother gave me a nickname: the New Yorker. I never thought that being from New York endowed me with distinction. I still don’t. However, it does afford natives with the ability to regard the city in a unique way. We see special things as ordinary and ordinary things as special. It’s what Icons of New York is about.

I was born in Leroy Hospital on East 63rd Street, next door to one of Manhattan’s smartest restaurants, The Colony. Family legend has it that my mother used to order her meals from The Colony when the hospital fare grew tiresome. Both the hospital and restaurant are long gone, but her concept of Take Out food was nothing if not iconic.

My parents thought of no better way to celebrate each New Year, than to take their young son to a Broadway hit. We dined at Top of the Sixes, my father in a black Hickey Freeman suit and my mother wearing an Oleg Cassini dress and theater coat. Cavernous taxicabs honked loudly as the traffic jammed on 46th Street. The Tower Suite and La Fonda del Sol were saved for birthdays, which often included reserved-seat movies at Radio City Music Hall, the Criterion or Loew’s State. I’ll never forget seeing West Side Story and Cleopatra at the Rivoli.

I also took in ball games with my grandfather at Yankee Stadium. He cursed the ump like a sailor. My maternal grandparents lived in the University Heights section of the Bronx. I remember the Hall of Fame for Great Americans on University Avenue, the elevated train station at Jerome Avenue and Alexander’s on Fordham Road. On the Grand Concourse, I lined up for first-run movies at Loew’s Paradise, the 4,000-seat “Showplace of The Bronx.” I ordered black-and-white ice cream sodas or Kitchen Sinks at Jahn’s on Kingsbridge Road.

The summer before college, I sold ties at De Pinna on Fifth Avenue. Jackie Onassis came into the store and purchased an onyx chess set. De Pinna went the way of Best & Co., B. Altman and Company and Bonwit Teller. I spied Greta Garbo in the men’s department at Bonwit’s—twice. I also saw ZsaZsa Gabor in the furniture department at Lord & Taylor. She was wearing a dress and coat of leopard fur. My mother had seen ZsaZsa having dinner at La Scala the previous night and remarked that the actress had been wearing the same ensemble.

My passions for advertising, fashion and real estate are not unusual preoccupations for a New Yorker. They led me to the jobs of my dreams. I was a young copywriter in the advertising department at Saks Fifth Avenue—a warren of dark cubicles located just below the employee’s cafeteria on the store’s top floor. I made good friends there, and every Friday from May to October, we’d take a cab down to 23rd Street and hop on a seaplane to our share house in Fire Island Pines. The plane cost about $25 each way. Today, that would just be the taxi fare. We waded ashore and eventually met up with our friends, who included the photographers and models we had worked with during the week. We partied with up-and-coming artists, writers, designers and performers who were shaping the city.

My next job was at Vogue. As a writer, part of my work was to attend fashion shows. The top editors had prime seats, and because mine was often in the second or third row, I got to observe both the runway action and the audience. Halston showed at the Olympic Tower, and Liza Minnelli was a regular. Calvin Klein’s collections were a favorite with me; we were neighbors in The Pines. Giorgio Sant Angelo and Stephen Burrows staged events filled with breathtaking color and clinging fabrics. I was awed by the society turnout for Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta. At one very crowded showing in Mary McFadden’s stifling loft, the heavy air was perfumed with Rigaud candles. Diana Vreeland announced that she felt faint. We assumed it was because the clothes were so breathtaking.

When I moved on to Harper’s Bazaar as Copy Director, the party continued. By then, that magazine was becoming more celebrity driven. I got to interview lots of famous people and lunch at 21 and Orsini’s. Jacqueline de Ribes poured tea at her suite in The Regency and Estée Lauder served strawberries with schlag in her private dining room in the General Motors Building. At night, my friends and I preferred to go downtown. We danced at The Loft, Paradise Garage and 12 West, or headed to Odeon, the round-the-clock haunt that is still going strong.

My interest in architecture took off when I became Associate Editor at Quest magazine, the publication that focuses on the activities of the city’s social set. Rather than chronicle parties, I chose to delve into metropolitan history. My monthly column, Open House,  focused on the city’s great residential buildings and the people who lived in them. I gained entry into some very special apartments at the Beresford, Ritz Tower and the Hotel des Artistes. I also wrote stories about legendary New Yorkers, including Cole Porter, who was born in Indiana.

When the stock market really took off and Manhattan real estates prices launched into the stratosphere, I found myself in the right place. For ten years, I wrote special advertising sections for The New York Times, focusing on new development in the city. I made valuable contacts within the real estate industry, including developers, architects and leading brokers. Relationships in Manhattan spilled over to the Hamptons, where I keep a cottage just outside the village in Bridgehampton. My contract at The Times opened many doors, literally and figuratively.

Each corner I’ve turned has brought new wonders. Icons of New York will throw a spotlight on some of them, but it is grounded in the present. As city dwellers know, magical things await the moment you step out your front door. Hopefully, my postings will inspire some iconic memories and sightings of your own. I look forward to hearing about them.

—ANDREW KAY

andrew@iconsofnewyork.com