Eleven Madison Park: What to Know Before You Go

I have a pretty average palate.

But I enjoy almost every type of meal, from caviar to Taco Bell. The only food that makes me really angry is unripe (and always prevalent) honeydew and cantaloupe—these should never be the main ingredients in a “fruit salad.” My husband, on the other hand, is more of a foodie and can appreciate the skill that goes into making a great dish or cocktail.

So for his birthday, I saved up some money and made a reservation at three-Michelin-starred restaurant Eleven Madison Park in New York City. It was voted the No. 1 Restaurant in the World in 2017 and was recently featured on Netflix series, “7 Days Out.” They’ve also printed several cookbooks,  recently renovated their kitchen, and have a team of “Dreamweavers”—people who overhear your conversations and try to surprise you with a small personalized gift.

Our review? Worth it—for people who love food, enjoy a long dining experience, and cherish excellent service. I appreciated every minute of sitting in this historic Art Deco building, sipping on cocktails, talking with staff, and spending time with my favorite foodie. I was positioned in the exact middle of the restaurant, facing the rest of the dining room. Waiters whooshed by with colorful plates. A champagne and wine cart clinked over to a nearby table. The Maître D' sat a family of six to my right, and a strange choreography of the server leading and the patron following bled into a memorable performance.  

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Note: It’s damn expensive to eat here, so if tasting menus aren’t your thing, check out the bar—or visit one of NYC’s many other amazing restaurants. I invested in a meal at Eleven Madison Park because I was seeking a birthday experience for a food-loving guy. (And it’s actually not the most expensive chef’s menu in this crazy city we call home; currently that odd superlative goes to Per Se or Masa).

If you’re interested in dining at Eleven Madison Park, or just want to see some fun photos, keep on scrolling to see how the whole experience works. I’ve also sprinkled in some tips for getting the most out of your meal.

Reservations

Online reservations open on the 1st of every month at 9 am EST for the following month. This means all of February’s reservations become available on January 1. They tend to book up quite quickly.

Payment

When you make a reservation, you also pre-pay for your dinner. I actually loved this because when we got the bill after our meal, I only had to pay for the cocktails we’d enjoyed that evening. And because I’d already been paying off my credit card, it made the experience seem less costly.

Tipping

You cannot tip. Don’t even try—they will not accept your cash! Gratuity is built into the pre-paid bill. And even if you order drinks the night of, the same rules apply. There will be no line on your check for tipping.  

Phones

The restaurant gives you the option of putting your phone in a box at the beginning of the meal so you can be in the moment. I obviously did not partake (I needed a photo of my duck!), but my husband went phone-free. However, if you do a kitchen tour—more on that below—they will retrieve your phone for you. Had I’d known this, I may have relinquished my mobile. Maybe.

Eleven Madison Park - duck - new york city

Time

We were at Eleven Madison Park for approximately four hours. Most patrons on Yelp said their experience lasted between three and four hours for the chef’s tasting menu. They will also bring out a bottle of brandy with the bill. You’re encouraged to enjoy as much of it as you would like—this probably added 20 extra minutes onto our meal. I wasn’t ready to go!

Dress Code

There is no dress code; you won’t be turned away for wearing a tee shirt. But the majority of people in the restaurant will be in business attire. The night we visited, most men had on jackets.

eleven madison park kitchen new york city

Kitchen Tour

A few days before your reservation, one of the Maître D’s will email you and see if you have any questions, special requests, etc. I explained we were celebrating my husband’s birthday and asked if they still offered behind-the-scenes tours of their kitchen. She said that the staff would try to meet the request—and they did! Based on our experience and on a few other blogs I read prior to booking, it seems that if you ask several days in advance, there’s a good chance you’ll receive a tour.

Kitchen Tour (cont.)

If you tour the kitchen, they will have some little treat waiting for you in the back. When we visited, they were testing a few spices with fizzy apple-based drinks. We played a game: could we match the right spice to the three sample shots? (I would just like to say, I won—my average palate and I were elated!)

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Food

Some of the courses will have two options—I highly recommend you and your partner order different dishes so you can sample the full menu. Our favorite dishes were the duck, the halibut, the mushroom presentation, and the cheese course. Our full menu on the night of January 10th was as follows:

  1. Dosa with black truffle and parmesan, potato salad with black truffle and black truffle tea (which was actually some sort of amazing broth)

  2. Caviar and soufflé with clam, leek, and potato

  3. Foie gras seared with beet and horseradish OR scallop cured with kohlrabi (similar to cabbage), sea urchin, and apple

  4. Halibut roasted with black shallot and shiitake mushroom OR lobster, butter-poached with a celery root and apple tart

  5. Golden oyster mushroom roasted with pine and coriander—wheeled to the table on a carving cart, like a steak

  6. Duck, honey and lavender glazed with Napa cabbage and pear OR a steak of some sort. We both went with their signature duck dish.

  7. Leeks with cheddar and parsley and winter squash with brown butter and thyme

  8. Harbison in a washed rind cheese fondue with mustard and pear

  9. Chocolate mousse and dark chocolate sorbet with chai and gingerbread OR pumpkin cake with butternut squash and sarsaparilla

  10. Chocolate-covered pretzel—which actually tasted a lot like chocolate-covered cookie dough ;)

Service

The staff are very warm here; it’s a fine dining restaurant without the stiffness of some other places we’ve eaten. Take the time to hear what they have to say about each dish and ask questions. For us, this rapport was what really made the experience stand out. Also, they were truly listening to us—for dessert, candles were placed on Ryan’s plate. And a T. rex cardboard cutout was served with our chocolate-covered pretzel display because I’d told a member of the staff that I work at the Natural History Museum! All the personal touches are what made our evening so memorable.

My gift from the Dreamweavers!

My gift from the Dreamweavers!


Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.
— Anthony Bourdain

A Midsummer Night's Nostalgia

I am running. 

We’re in a field and the sunlight sprinkles my auburn hair, lighting it on fire. The neighbor’s unkempt flowers are crushed beneath our feet and dust gets kicked up from your bike. We’re about to go—I don’t remember where—but it doesn’t matter because going anywhere is enough and the thought of it all makes me giddy. 

I am climbing. 

Up the electrical box, over the old bowling alley’s wall, and onto the roof where our small view of our small town is all we could know or want. And it’s perfect when it begins to rain. The humid mist makes the empty parking lot look like a scene from a movie. We all scream in delight as water rushes over our dirty feet. But getting off the roof is hard. I fall from the sky to the ground and it hurts. You try to catch me, which is kind. (You always try to catch me.) Maybe we’re not invincible—but then again, that theory still needs testing. 

I am dancing. 

We’re in a backyard somewhere near the beach—the air tastes salty, like the sweat dripping off of all of us. There is music, and laughter, and a late, loud night that leads to a quiet sunrise. You hold my hand for longer than you should, but I don’t mind. We always love the people that will leap with us—to where, it doesn’t matter because, as I’ve already told you, anywhere is enough. 

I am walking. 

I love meandering through the East Village, and you don’t mind because it makes me smile. We get an egg cream from the old bodega on St. Marks and eat oysters for dinner. It’s humid and the apartment doesn’t have AC but you sit with me anyways because it feels nice to be still with somebody. I stare at your eyelashes while you take a nap, and I smile at the little golden strands that catch the light. 

I am crying. 

It’s early in the season but too warm, so my hair is pulled into a ponytail. I walk on 7th Street, unaware of what is lurking. The darkness suddenly grabs at my cotton dress and I scream over and over again. Police lights come twelve minutes later, and then I see the cold face that felt nothing. You comfort me as I sip on a soda at 3 am, and I hold your pinky finger while the detective asks questions about that walk home. It seems we are not invincible, after all. 

I am smiling.

I am walking toward you; you’re the one that I adore. It smells like roses, and there’s a line of mud on the hem of my dress. The air is heavy with Virginia's humidity. My spirit leaves my body for a moment and dances in the summer air, like a lightning bug in June. I am jealous of my own joy; I want to keep the moment in my pocket and pull it out to watch it again, and again, and again. But the sun sets, and we must move forward, forever altered. Where we go, it’s unknown, but going anywhere is enough.

I am summer. 

There’s a shade of pink only New York summers know. The color illuminates the countless brick buildings of our city, turning even a dingy facade into something briefly ethereal. Rose-tinted hues reflect off of thousands of glass windows in a display of blinding brilliance, right at the cusp of darkness. But even the light is not invincible to the night that swallows it. Still, each morning, she persists.

I am old. 

I don’t know if I’m alone—or maybe I’m with you? The end feels very much like the beginning, so I’m told. Ah, but it’s all the little bits in between... the dirty feet, the lightning bugs, the anywhere we went—the anywhere we’re going. 

And that vibrant shade of pink. 

summer new york britney fitzgerald

And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The Coats We Wear

I walk through the bone-chilling cold with a gray scarf tied around my neck and two layers of sweaters under a green, puffy coat that comes down nearly to the knees. My feet are wrapped in Merino wool socks, but they never seem to retain the right amount of heat during the morning commute. A faux-fur hood covers my hair, and the only thing truly left to the elements are my madly blinking eyes.

Circa 2014

Circa 2014

These eyes have grown accustomed to New York City’s frigid months. But not all winters are created equal: some years it rarely dips below 25F during the day; other seasons the wind chill is documented in Central Park at a numbing -11F.

The last time I remember the weather being so unbearable for long stretches of time was in 2014. I’d just met the boy I was going to marry. We were planning romantic dates throughout the city—walks on the Highline, cocktails at fancy bars, first kisses in smoky, old lounges. The whole bit. But much to my dismay, the temperature hovered around 5 degrees for portions of that January. So I was stuck in my shapeless, fluffy parka. Bits of feathers would fall out of the sleeves if I sat down too quickly.

Like I said, romantic.

This year is proving to be another cold winter. I loosen my scarf as I approach the museum, and swipe a key card. My office is through the chilly Grand Gallery, where a massive canoe and a large amethyst geode greet me every morning. As does a security guard, who over the last few days has given up on decorum and dons full winter gear. “Hello, there,” he says while rubbing together his hands.

I walk up a large set of stairs and turn into one of the cultural halls that focuses on the people of Mexico and Central America. I’m the only person in the gallery, and my heels click loudly on the stone floor.

Throughout the museum, hidden doors and subtle staircases house secret passages to the hundreds of employees working on a spectrum of tasks, from discovering new species, to vacuuming the dust off of specimen. On the staff-only fifth floor, there’s a hallway said to be six city blocks long. It’s filled with artifacts in wooden cabinets, bones in large lockers, classrooms, and laboratories. It makes me think back to every New York institution I’ve visited—where does the MOMA keep their artwork? What hidden room does the MET use to refurbish its collection of Colonial furniture?

There is one downside to working in an architecturally fascinating building from the 1800s: That brisk winter wind loves seeping in through invisible means. I’m lucky to be in a turret office, surrounded by massive windows that fill the room with natural sunlight. Because of this, complaining is not an option (but it should be noted that “drafty” is a common adjective from visitors to my work space).  

I wrap a shawl around my shoulders, and keep the gray scarf on for most of the day as heavy winds beat into my glass tower. Later that afternoon, I glance out the window and see a girl lose her knit cap to the wind as she crosses Columbus.

She looks so cold as she chases after it, hands outstretched and gloveless.  

This visual takes me back to another winter. In 2011, I was working as an unpaid intern at Martha Stewart Living magazine. Her offices were off 11th Avenue, and just about as close as you could get to the Hudson River without jumping in. I remember the icy wind that would smack me in the face as I ran by the just-opened art galleries of Chelsea, and the old warehouses with their mysterious stories. It was my first winter in New York, and I was still learning how to layer. My face was often red for at least 30 minutes after I’d arrived to work, and small blood vessels had popped on my cheeks.

It was a hungry and lonely season. My grad school friends and I were trying to figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up—which, was supposed to be happening soon. We would be magazine writers, and journalists, and book editors… and literary agents? And…

And we did just fine. I’m not sure we actually grew up—but we’re all at least pretending to know what the next season will bring. Ivy is working as a digital editor at everyone’s favorite bridal magazine, and Clare has consistently worked up the ranks of one of the largest publishing companies in the world.

And me? I’ve worked in e-books, magazines, advertising, and now at a museum. My words are still my meal ticket, and there is something humbling about that.

So, I’ll cozy up in my drafty old office, and look out the big windows to the New York City that I adore. I get the honor of waking up every day, and observing people from hundreds of countries exploring our town. They come in droves, seeking the best hotdog, the best cocktail—the “best” and most authentic anything! It’s true that many of them never know which way is uptown or downtown on the subway, and that groups of tourists often cause pileups on the sidewalk—but most arrive with stars in their eyes. I admire this vulnerable traveler.

It reminds me of myself, from a New York past.

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London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it.
— Dorothy Parker

New York Tip #6: Know Your (Good) Neighbors

"Where are you looking next?" 

My husband, our neighbor, and a friend who lives down the road are all perched on a corner of our apartment's roof sipping wine and whiskey. It's a clear night, but a storm front is making its way through NYC. We have about 30 minutes left before the rain will interrupt our evening. 

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City dwellers have several types of neighbors. And in New York, since we live right on top of each other, these strangers intrinsically become a part of our lives—whether we like it, or not.

In Astoria, I had both pesky and enjoyable neighbors. Sabina and I shared a kitchen wall on the top floor of a three-story walkup. She lived next to me for a solid year before we developed any sort of relationship beyond, "Hi, how are you." By the time she gave birth to her first child, I was close enough to be invited to the baby shower. Our relationship was pleasant; we weren't in each other's business, but we liked to gab in the hallway about rent hikes and the delayed N train. 

One apartment building over was my slightly terrifying neighbor. Meet Payasito, a Latin American clown with a motorcycle and a painted van, complete with several circus-themed mannequins that sat in the passenger seat. This odd man walked around in a wife-beater with half a painted face on Saturdays, yelling at his yappy, little poodle while he loaded props into his decked-out vehicles. 

Payasito installed cameras all over the outside of his home, most likely because local teens messed with his clown paraphernalia. He also had the annoying habit of trying to flirt with anything in a skirt, so I avoided conversation when possible. His redeeming trait? One night my roommate and I had captured a giant cockroach about the size of my pointer finger with a folder and a glass cup. The bug hissed and whirled about, popping up its wings as if to say, "I dare you to try and flush me!" So we took it outside. Good ol' Payasito heard the commotion, swiftly picked up the glass, flipped over the folder, and repeatedly smashed the ill-fated insect to pieces. Turns out clowns with probable anger issues are good for something. 

In the East Village, I didn't know many of my immediate neighbors. The apartment complex was more transient and nearly triple the size of my place in Queens. But 7th Street was far from lonely. I had playmates scattered throughout the entire neighborhood, and my roomy was an old family friend. 

Our Super, Igor, greeted us every morning in his Ukrainian accent and tossed out gems like, "Don't work too hard!" or "Where are you going? Work? Ehh." On 2nd Avenue an old Polish immigrant sat outside of his bakery, rain or shine. If he was in a good mood, he'd nod in your direction. And in the little park by the F train was a man who collected compost for some NYC program. He would say "good morning" to commuters whether they had eggshells or not. I loved this strange community of familiar faces. 

Brooklyn has been my home for a little over a year. Just now am I starting to recognize my neighbors on the street—but I know their movements and preferences quite well. Our current apartment isn't insulated, so every sound is prevalent. For example, I know my upstairs neighbor watches "Game of Thrones" and plays video games after dinner. 

A few of our close friends live two blocks over, and another collection of our community lives one subway stop away. In New York, it's rare and yet so important to know people nearby. Want to go brunch? No Uber needed. Running some errands? Maybe your friends will, too. Nightcap on a Tuesday? Sure, why not. It's like college living, without the homework. 

"Where are we looking next? Mostly nearby in Brooklyn," my husband answers. I'm jolted back to our conversation on the roof. A few raindrops are making their presence known. 

Ryan and I will most likely have to move apartments in Spring. Our building has been sold and will either be torn down or converted into pricey condos we can't afford.

Wherever we end up next, I hope I get to know my neighbors.
And I hope my current community is nearby.
And I hope my friends in Queens will still come visit. 

New York City is a much more enjoyable town when you can share your sometimes strange and difficult urban world with other humans who understand it. So have a glass of whiskey with a stranger on a roof, and work to live near those you adore. 

The view from our Brooklyn rooftop. 

The view from our Brooklyn rooftop. 

I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What Was Your Biggest Culture Shock Visiting New York City?

Note: I was originally asked this question by someone on Quora, a Q&A website.  

I came to NYC seven years ago and never left. But I moved here from the South, which is a very different part of the United States—so, believe me, I was shocked 100x over. Here are some of the basics that threw me for a loop.

1. You don't ever hang out in Times Square. You see it in movies, pictures, and read about this iconic neighborhood in books. But in reality, unless you work there or frequent Broadway once a week, you will not spend anytime in this (very crowded) area. I don't know why, but I just assumed Times Square was the social hub of NYC. Wrong. When you're visiting, go downtown!

2. There's a reason no one smiles on the subway. I used to think, "These people look miserable. Why don't they ever smile?" It took me about 2 months to get the vibe. In the South, we greet everyone. You wave at neighbors when you drive by, or make conversation at the grocery store. But here? There's just too much. Too many signs, messages, noises—if you interact with every person you come across, you become overwhelmed. Mentally exhausted. This isn't an excuse to be rude, but it explains the blank stares and headphones on the subway. Everyone just needs a minute to themselves.

3. Bodega is not a word in Virginia. I never heard it until I moved here. Now, it is a life source.

4. Mom and pop shops/restaurants still reign supreme. This may be true for many cities, but if you're a child of the suburbs? This is news to you! When I go home now, I get panicky when we roll into Applebee's. That said, occasionally your errands can take forever in the city. To the Polish bakery, to the laundromat, to the organic juice guy, to Urban Outfitters, to the hardware store. There are not very many malls or "one stop shops."

5. Some buildings need a revamp. The grittiness of the city has never bothered me. I suppose I just expected it. But I'm always shocked at how outdated Port Authority and Penn Station are—WTF? 1970s NYC is alive and well!

6. There are many homeless and mentally ill people sleeping on the streets. Old men, families, and a slew of teens. It's totally heartbreaking and becomes such a common sight that you forget it's actually a huge problem.

7. This city moves fast. Everyone is going somewhere, everyone is fighting to be here, and everyone is walking 100 miles an hour, especially during the commute. I also walk an average of 5 miles a day—so if you're visiting, be prepared. Bring good walking shoes! (I’ve worn these tennis shoes, these nice boots, and these rain boots for years.)

8. You still need green space. This one surprised me, but my love for nature has actually increased while living in the city. Take an afternoon to go to Central Park or Prospect Park. Enjoy a booze cruise on the water. And, most importantly, you need to leave the city at least once a month. You'll come back refreshed, and in better shape to take over the world. Promise.

Local's guide to New york city - nyc culture shock

Have a question about living in or visiting NYC? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

What Are Some Underrated NYC Attractions?

When people visit NYC, they want to experience "the real deal"—not just the Empire State Building. So here's a pretty specific, localized list of underrated attractions in the East Village of Manhattan. Skip the hop-on, hop-off bus and do you own weird walking tour! 

  1. Get some of the best coffee in the city at Abraco on 7th street and if you're hungry, sample their olive oil cakes. Then walk down 7th and pop your head into thrift stores like punk-themed Trash and Vaudeville, or AuH20.
  2. Keep heading east on 7th, and walk around Tompkins Square Park. There's a lot of history here, including riots in both the 1870s and 1980s. But now visitors stroll through and people watch, listen to music, or check out the dog park on the far side of Tompkins.
  3. If you're hungry, I would recommend Tompkins Square Bagels for the real hand-rolled, water-boiled experience. Or, stop in to Crif Dogs for a tasty hotdog with all the fixings. Note: There's a telephone both at the front of this restaurant, and a speakeasy rests on the other side of the wall. Please don't tell...
  4. Head back west on St. Marks. The Museum of the American Gangster is usually open from 1-6pm, and is a fun little tour.

Other Things to See in the East Village

  • Nuyorican Poets Cafe
  • Community Gardens (my favorite is on 6th between Avenue B and C)
  • The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space
  • Sidewalk Cafe, a hub for the Antifolk music scene
  • STOMP's Off-Broadway show

Places to Eat and Drink

  • McSorley's (the oldest "Irish" tavern in New York City)
  • Ace bar (with arcade games)
  • The Wayland (best garden margarita, tasty brunch)
  • International Bar (total dive with outdoor space)
  • ABC Beer (outdoor space, craft beer)
  • Lois Wine Bar (good snacks, wine on tap)
  • Ten Degrees (good happy hour)
  • Mudspot on 9th (yummy brunch)
  • The Smith (brunch spot that takes reservations)
  • Death and Co. ("speakeasy" that's easier to get into before 8pm)
  • The Mermaid Inn (more expensive, but amazing seafood)
  • Van Leeuwen Ice Cream
  • Big Gay Ice Cream

Walkable Attractions + Neighborhoods

  • Union Square
  • The Strand Book Store
  • Soho and Lower East Side
  • Washington Square Park

Have a question about other underrated attractions? Leave a note in the comments section below! 

Family brunch at Mudspot.

Family brunch at Mudspot.

What is the Climate in NYC by Season?

So you want to visit NYC, but you don't know the best time of year to schedule your visit. Here are some facts to consider: The Big Apple has all four seasons (though our spring is quite fickle!). This image from Weather.com is a helpful visual of our average temperatures by month. Note that July is typically the warmest, and January is the coldest.  

average new york city temperatures by month

Other Considerations

  • In the summer (June - mid September) NYC has some major humidity, like much of the East Coast. We don't have “dry heat” like you might experience in Arizona or parts of California. So you need to stay hydrated because you’re going to sweat—quite a bit! Also, please wear deodorant, especially if you are taking public transportation. 
  • Many large department stores and restaurants blast the AC in the summertime, so if you’re one of those people who gets cold indoors easily, pack a light sweater in your backpack for the day. 
  • In winter, wear layers! I repeat, wear lots of layers. I invested in a knee-length down coat as soon as I moved to NYC, and it was probably one of my best purchases. I wear fleece-lined tights in winter. When it’s really unbearable outside, I also wear tights under my jeans. While New York is not the coldest city in America, it's important to remember walking is one of our main forms of transposition. Be prepared for snow if you’re visiting in December - February.
  • In my opinion, New York was made for fall. Summer is my favorite time of year, but I think autumn is a lovely time to visit. You can see the leaves changing in Central Park, wear a light jacket, and worry less about rain than in the springtime. But honestly, every season has its perks :)
Me and my #1 Dude in Brooklyn during fall. 

Me and my #1 Dude in Brooklyn during fall. 

Have a question about a certain season in NYC? Leave your thoughts below in the comments section!


Double Decker Bus Tour of Downtown Manhattan

Double Decker Bus Tour of Downtown Manhattan

See the best sights in lower Manhattan with a pass valid for 24 hours. This New York tour includes stops to Greenwich Village, Times Square, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, SoHo, Chinatown, Little Italy and more!


The Full Circle Black Dress

I slip on a black dress. 

This particular type of garment always reminds me of Bloomingdale's. The dress code for a salesgirl was black from head to toe. My shoes, dresses, headbands, and even my tights were a vibrant black. Washing your clothes led to fading, which, in turn led to being called out by management. So we all washed our laundry in cold water and talked about the benefits of air drying.  

The department store that I worked for was, and is still, located on Broadway in the fashionable Soho neighborhood of New York. At one point during the 1980s, this stretch of street was a graffiti-covered eyesore complete with squatters and dingy bars. Now, Michael Kors, Longchamp, and Apple are just a few of the profitable high-end retail shops that call Soho home. I always struggle to decide if pre- or post-gentrification is truly better for the middle class residents of New York City—but the Soho I know is the second one, and from here on out that is how we shall picture it: tenements converted into luxury lofts, with retail shops on the first floor and cafés or national banks on the corners. 

Bloomingdales' building was six floors with a basement or three. At the very top was the employee lounge, complete with couches, lockers, and a kitchen. I spent several lunches up there attempting to finish homework for grad school while eating a PB&J and a bag of chips. But for me, the worst part about working at Bloomingdale's was the exceedingly long amount of time I was expected to stay indoors under fluorescent lights. Therefore, most of my breaks consisted of 20 to 30 minute walks and a stop for food somewhere along the way. As long as I could see the people of New York moving about like buzzing bees, and feel the warmth of the sun burning my scalp, I was at peace. Sometimes Kelley Rippa would walk past me toward her Crosby Street home, and I’d smile and think, “Hey, you’re really doing this.”

Me, circa 2010, working at Bloomingdales Soho.  

Me, circa 2010, working at Bloomingdales Soho.  

(I’m now zipping up my black dress, reflecting on past versions of myself.)

The bottom basement of Bloomingdale's housed the managers’ offices, some stock rooms, and a massive amount of Brown Bags. These were important marketing tools for Bloomies and came in “big,” “medium,” or “small.” Every item of clothing a customer purchased was wrapped in white tissue paper, and then placed in these iconic shopping bags—which, also reeked of mold when left in a damp NYC basement for too long. The stench made me depressed because I hated rounding up these moist containers from a basement that never saw the sunlight, but joyful because ungodly humans with grotesque bratty children valued them and trotted around the city boasting of their newly purchased treasures in a bag that was already rotting from the inside out.  

A strange pang of rage shoots up my neck as I look at myself in the floor-length mirror attached to my bathroom door. Until this moment, I hadn’t realized my anger at certain types of customers still lingered deep below the surface. But maybe I should have guessed. To this day, there is a small collection of acquaintances that I can’t stand accompanying to a shop or restaurant. Their blatant ambivalence—or worse, neediness—of the salesgirls and wait staff is so uncomfortable, I find myself acting overly smiley and apologetic to the person being mistreated by the entitled patron in my presence. No “please,” no “thank you,” and an authoritative tone make me want to shake whoever I’m with and scream, “you’re nothing special!”

The customer is not always right. But then again, neither is the employee. 

“Excuse me, where’s the restroom?” a woman with a fanny pack asked the sales associate closest to me. This particular member of the staff held the record for number of dresses sold, and had worked on the third floor since the opening of the Soho location. But when she didn’t sniff out a sale, she often acted like a cavewoman, complete with monosyllabic grunts and hand gestures. Today was no exception: She didn’t even look up as she pointed a thumb over her shoulder, indicating the direction of the toilets.  

This was the worst type of person to work with: aggressive about getting her number of sales, and completely useless for anything else. Counting the money? Straightening the racks at night? The cavewoman would halfheartedly do a little of this, or a little of that. But the second a sophisticated guest walked in, her posture changed and her vocabulary grew to include phrases like, “This is a completely new Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress, created for the spring line—it’s only been here a few days and selling out fast. I’m happy to leave one in the back for you, my dear.”

And now, seven years later, here I am working at an advertising agency, and wearing my own DVF dress. Vibrant black. Patton leather heels. A manicure.

But look closely…

There’s a chip in the nail polish on my left thumb. I’ve never been able to completely kill my nail biting habit.

And the attire? All of my name brand clothing is secondhand, including the Jimmy Choos on my feet. I’d rescued those poor stilettos from a dumpster while I was interning at a magazine in midtown. Like Cinderella and her glass slipper, they fit just right and they’ve been mine ever since.

And my job? Well, I didn’t know it yet—but I was about to lose it.
To be continued...


The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.
— Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild