I knew I was in trouble when I had to walk through a taupe brocade curtain. The walls were freshly painted and textured, there was abstract art on the wall, a flat screen tv was showing a tennis match and there was a chaise lounge next to the hostess station. I was in the Kiev Diner?
Ironically, I had just purchased the book, Blink, which is all about how we process our first impressions and gut reactions. Well, my gut reaction was to leave, but I opted to stay and see where this ride would take me.
The bartender (oh yes, there’s a snazzy bar setup)asked me if I wanted to sit at a table but I decided to get a better view of the goings on at the bar.
“Wow, what a transformation this place has had. When did they do all this?” I asked the bartender as he handed me the menu.
“Last February. I guess they decided to clean up the place.”
“Too bad. I liked the way it was. It was an institution.”
He looked me up and down as if “institution” was the operative word. His demeanor reminded me of the recorded mid-western sounding voice we hear on the subway cars–completely out of place for the environment. I thought, this wannabe soap opera actor shouldn’t work at my precious Kiev Diner, but then I realized as I looked around at all the adult-like patrons, maybe I was the one who didn’t belong here.
Back in the day — I love that expression because it implies that I should be referencing something significant–the Kiev was where I and thousands of others went after drinking and drugging at Max’s Kansas City and The Mudd Club. There was nothing better than scrambled eggs, home fried potatoes sprinkled with paprika to absorb all the substances consumed throughout the night. And the best part of all were the slices of buttered challah bread served on a paper plate by a surly Russian waitress who didn’t intend her look to be punk. She really thought her French’s mustard colored hair with orange roots looked natural.
Years ago, the tables were close together but privacy wasn’t a factor because at 3am, you really weren’t talking much. And if you did eat there during the day, most patrons sat reading their papers. The Kiev is where I introduced my Texas boyfriend to lox and I never, ever would have brought my mother there for brunch.
I ordered the French Toast only after Mr. One Life to Live assured me that it was still made with Challah bread. He even charmed me into ordering it with slices of apple.
As I munched away, a woman who looked to be in her fifties sat two seats down from me. She also looked a bit shell-shocked by the place. After he handed her a menu, the bartender asked if she wanted a cocktail.
“No,” she said politely. “I just want to look over the menu for another moment or two.”
Even though we were the only two people at the bar, he became impatient.
“Do you want water?” he asked.
“Um…sure.” She responded in an attempt to shoo him away while she made up her mind. Feeling pressured, she recovered. “No, I don’t want water.”
“Do you want a cup of air?”
I wanted her to throw the menu at him but since she is a nicer person than me, she just responded, “Do you still have matzoh ball soup?”
“Yes, today we do because it’s one of the specials.”
At this point, I finished my $8.00 french toast and coffee and paid the check.
I held my book, blinked, hard and realized we’re not in the East Village anymore.