As we were entering Serendipity 3, Olivia, a member of the Sideways team, revealed to me that when she was a little girl, she wanted her room to look exactly like the inside of Serendipity, with every inch of space covered with eclectic art and knick-knacks, and the walls lined with quirky mirrors, and garlands dripping from the rafters. Upon returning to Serendipity, after a gap of ten years or so, she was delighted to see that little had changed. The ceiling continues to teem with everything from street signs to priceless Tiffany lampshades, and an Andy Warhol doll wrapped in a pink boa hangs over one table, a nod to the pop art prince who named Serendipity one of his favorite New York restaurants. Even the menu remains how she remembered it – like a game of I Spy – can you spot the Hebrew eye chart hidden among the food offerings?
The colorful trip down the rabbit hole continues upstairs to what looks like a tea house ballroom. Dancing bears made of shrubbery and Christmas lights sparkle in the windows while antique mirrors make everything seem larger and dreamlike. A bedazzled parrot sits on the mantel, framed by floor-to-ceiling paintings.
Patch Carradine, Calvin Holt, and Stephen Bruce decided to create a “coffee house boutique,” the first of its kind, while all living together in Little Italy. The name came about when Patch, a crossword puzzle master, solved a clue with a word that struck a chord with him: “serendipity.” The founders called themselves the “Serendipity 3” and the name stuck. Stephen, the only one of the three still living, runs the place with the same whimsy and delightful eccentricity that defined it when it first began.
Olivia is not alone in her childhood love for Serendipity. The restaurant has called to young girls since it opened in 1954. One of my first clear memories of time spent in New York was when I was twelve and my mom took me to Serendipity after seeing the Broadway show 1776. Both of our adoration and nostalgia is not only due to the extraordinary decor, or the foot long hotdogs and challah French toast, but it is also due to their notorious desserts – especially, of course, the Frozen Hot Chocolate!