Sweet Serendipity

Photo by Srerendipity 3 NY
Tiffany glass abounds at Serendipity 3
Tiffany glass abounds at Serendipity 3

Those that know me are horrified to find that I am neither a chocolate freak nor do I have a raving, uncontrollable sweet tooth.   I admit this at my own peril, as if this little factoid ever got out, it could get me drummed out of the sisterhood of the female gender.   Well…OK…I lied.  A little.   Aside from redeeming myself with my girlfriends with my penchant for anything French fried, heaping bowls of homemade pasta, junk food and all things spud, I am a shortbread guzzling, pecan pie-loving, butter-toffee gorging, carbo-freak.  There.  I said it.  But there is one thing that resonates with me like nothing else.  Whipped cream.  Yup.  I love whipped cream. 

So there I am with my friends in the Big Apple, at the charmingly schitzo-ambianced restaurant Serendipity 3.  

Founder Stephen Bruce (Photo by: Serendipity 3 NY) Founder Stephen Bruce
They order Frrrozen Hot Chocolate.  I’m dubious.  "Chocolate…eh….."  Imagine my joy when not only does it taste like a liquid Fudgesicle—I do like Fudgesicles, but it has the Himalayas of whipped cream on top.  Bliss. 

Was it kismet or serendipity?  Maybe a little of both.  With the advent of the iconic NY restaurant’s sister location, soon to open in Georgetown, the brand’s founder, Stephen Bruce, was recently in town meeting and greeting, visiting the upcoming location and demonstrating his legendary ‘Frrrozen Hot Chocolate” on Channel 9.   You’ll be happy to know I held myself back from squirting the contents of the dispenser directly into my mouth for the sake of propriety.  Yes, in case you were wondering, discretion is the better part of valor.  I waited until I got in the car.

For those of you not familiar with Serendipity 3, the original New York location has been around since 1954.  That’s quite some time in the restaurant biz.  You do the math.  It was the time of the post WW II Baby Boom, and in New York, a trio of starving aspiring actors in a cold water flat needed to earn money for their classes at The Actors’ Studio, and to make a living until they hit the Great White Way.  And so it was that Stephen Bruce, Patch Carradine and Calvin Holt embarked on a career that would take them from the stage to the kitchen.  It was Carradine who, while doing a NY Times crossword puzzle came upon the name Serendipity--the art of finding the pleasantly unexpected by chance or sagacity. Invented by eighteenth century wordsmith Sir Horace Walpole, it conveyed the ancient Persian legend of the three princes of the island no longer known as Serendip, who sought unusual treasure from around the world and often made discoveries by chance. 

Bruce, the front-of-the-house host and interior designer of the group, and the only surviving member of the team of three, recounts how the restaurant began as a nightspot serving only desserts.  The thespians were not without business savvy.  They opened their little café in the midst of three of the hottest restaurants in New York at the time, and caught all of their overflow.  Soon there were lines to theirs around the corner, followed by a parade of celebrities that still flock to this eatery.  Add to that that, much like the local Mansion on O, merchandising was key.   Everything from the diverse selection of 

Frrrozen Hot Chocolate has mounds of whipped cream (Photo by: Serendipity 3 NY) Frrrozen Hot Chocolate has mounds of whipped cream
Tiffany Lamps to the tiles on the floor were for sale.  “Even the servers were for sale,” Bruce jokes.  Today, aside from the décor, guests can purchase everything from Frrrozen Hot Chocolate kits to t-shirts to novelties to toys to nic-nacs .  Jackie O bought sets of Muumuus in a myriad of colors; Streisand whipped out her checkbook to purchase one foot of the floor; Cher reproduced their catalog cover for her home.  All of them and more from Andy Warhol to Paulette Goddard have autographed the restaurant’s walls. 

To this day, the restaurant remains at its current location on East 60th Street where it moved four years after its opening with Stephen Bruce still welcoming its visitors as they enter.  Its threshold is crossed by tourists, families, business people, socialites and of course the almost ever-present celebrities.  The hours have lengthened from lunch hour opening to closing early in the late-night morning, dining options from sandwiches to salads to sides have rounded out its menu, but its charm, its whimsy and its diversity of dessert yummies have remained, along with the Tiffany lamps, eclectic objects de art and most importantly, the amazing desserts.    Hey, I wonder if that whipped cream dispenser is for sale?  It probably is.  In fact, I think I might have left it in my car.

Serendipity 3 is on line to open a Georgetown-version of their New York block buster.  There’s been some delays and rumors about the restaurant pulling out, but owner-operator Britt Swan says they’re moving ahead, "We're not concerned about rumors in Georgetown. None of those rumors have had an ounce of truth."