The Art of the Host and History in the Making

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Alex Hitz and Randy Jones Ready to rumble.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020. It was 50 degrees yesterday here in New York at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. You couldn’t not like it; Ole Man Winter’s gone south on us. It was also a holiday for many, like springtime in Carl Schurz Park on the Promenade along the East River. 

Meanwhile back in little ole New York. Last Thursday night Connie and Randy Jones hosted a reception at their East 57th Street aerie for Alex Hitz and his new book “The Art of the Host; Recipes and Rules for Flawless Entertaining” (Rizzoli, publishers). The Joneses have the perfect venue for the author’s book – a spectacular apartment where you could imagine the dinner party would be as temptingly specuratar and inviting as Alex would have it. 

The author at work.

I’m not a cookbook or entertainment book reader. Because the author is a friend I thought I’d better really give it a read; once-over. It turned out to be not that quick a once-over because it caught my curiosity almost instantly with the recipes and presentations therein. I’m not a cook, per se, although I can roast a chicken, boil some pasta and steam some vegetables for a decent meal. But Alex gives you something else with his recipes, and that is: you want it anytime. 

You get to see where the Art and the talent came from – way back when. When he was a kid; the spirits were working. Influence came down through generations. The Art of the Host is firstly the quality of the menu and its presentation — what the guest sees when she or he sits down at the table. There’s pleasure just in the visual and it also inspires a good time. 

The table and the menu are just part of the script. The point is to make a special occasion out of it for the guest. Alex reminds that all guests have a part in it, too. He advises the details like responding to an invitation time-wise, and always, no matter what, with a thank you. 

However, guests, parties atmosphere aside, I found myself looking at the photos of various dishes and then the recipes and wondering if I could actually reproduce that delicio for myself (and maybe somebody else, but even if not).

It also reminds what we often forget even if we know, which is the pleasure, the great luxury of a beautifully prepared (cooked) meal which foremost is delicious!! Plus!! This book is like a good luck charm. Besides a great guide to some wonderful dishes (and he doesn’t spare a thing), you can only think: “Wouldn’t it be great to have that for dinner!!

(or lunch!!).

The host, always ready to serve. Click to order The Art of the Host: Recipes And Rules For Flawless Entertaining.
The author greeting guests.

This what I came away with. The party itself was enhanced by the guestlist (of a lot of people who knew or were friends with a lot of people in the room). Among others who weren’t in the Patrick McMullan photos: Legendary Carmen dell’Orefice, Barbara and Donald Tober, Yanna Avis, Marc Rosen, Toni and Jamie Goodale, Ed Rollins, Diahn and Tom McGrath, Laura Richards and Jim Naughton, Michael Gross and Barbara Hodes, Denise DeLuca, Karen Burke, Eva Mohr, Patrick Guadagno, Caroline Waxler, and Jeanne Lawrence.

L. to r.: Connie Jones and Christopher Mason; Gale Hayman and Bettina Zilkha.
Brian Stewart,  Stephanie Kreiger, and Randy Jones.
L. to r.: Connie Jones and Marjorie Reed Gordon; Tim Ryan and Jack Rich.
Susan Gutfreund, CeCe Cord, and Jean Doumanian.
L. to r.: Mark Burk and Laurin Sydney; Isabell Marino and RJ.
Laura and Brooks Klimley, with Ann Gobel.
Patrick McMullan and Keith Langham.

On Presidents’ Day weekend, our friend and contributor Jill Lynne took a quick trip down to the original capital city, Philadelphia, to take in the Museum of The American Revolution and take a walk down memory lane. In her words (and photos):

I’ve often though that if I did not live in my beloved West Greenwich Village, I’d live in Philadelphia’s Center City. As a history buff and as someone who holds an appreciation of our rich American history, I am always inspired by the deep and complex and colorful history of Philadelphia.

Here in the West Village, I am surrounded by the history of the 1800s — we live in a 1861 Brownstone — but in Philadelphia I am illuminated by the architecture and artifacts of the 1700s, even the 1600s. Being there can be a charming and an immersive educational experience.

Entrance to a friend’s “Trinity” on Society Hill, Philadelphia.
“Trinities” are native to Philadelphia, so named for their three stories and extremely narrow structure.  Originally they were built as row houses for workers, but now have been plushly gentrified.

A decade ago on an Easter morn, I attended services in a wonderful old church. It was happenstance that I happened to be there as I just couldn’t resist walking in when I passed by. Upon entering, I noticed two alters on either end and circular pews, with the congregation facing each other. For years, I searched again for this church. And on this occasion when strolling in Society Hill I heard in the distance the sounds of beautiful bells. I quickly followed their sound, and voila, I again found myself at that very special church — St. Peter’s Episcopal Church — first opened for worship on September 4, 1761.

The semi-circular pews.
St Peter’s Historical Gravesite (note the early colonial American Flags).
Cemetery signage notes efforts to bring together Native Americans.

On this trip, I stayed at the historic Bellevue Hotel. Tracing its roots back to 1881, when its founder, George C Boldt (who is called “The Father of the Modern American Hotel), pioneered a social club ambiance where locals & society from afar gathered — with delicious food and impeccable service.

His reputation was such that in 1890 William Waldorf Astor invited Boldt to become the proprietor of the new Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

The entrance to Bellevue Hotel.
The Grand Staircase to the Main Ballroom.

The historic crystal chandeliers in the Grand Ballroom, which seated 1,000 on Gold-Leafed Chairs. Many of the lighting fixtures, which were designed by Thomas Alva Edison, still remain. Many of the top socialites celebrated here where debutante balls were the norm. Designed as a venue where “wealthy women would feel comfortable,” it has also played host to celebrities, VIPs, and 15 United States Presidents including Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

The walls of the beautiful Bellevue are decorated with memorable vintage materials. Here the costume sketches for a production of The Chinese Cup, featuring Anna May Wong.

I was excited to visit the new Museum of The American Revolution; It had received rave reviews and in our exceedingly divisive country I was looking for some bonding commonality.

I walked past the Historic Mall, where our forefathers gathered to sign the Declaration of Independence, and I mused on the hopeful beginnings of America.

At the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts we gaze upon the large luminous mosaic, THE DREAM GARDEN, designed by Maxwell Parish in 1914 and constructed by Tiffany Studios of tiny colored iridescent pieces of favrile glass.

The Museum of The American Revolution was everything I had hoped for — fascinating, well organized, easily educational and accessible. I appreciate its recognition of the important roles both Native Americans and women played in the Revolution with specific exhibitions, and its occasional touch of whimsy …

Exquisitely detailed mannequins portray members of different supportive tribes.

 The Oneida Nation and The American Revolution …

Abigail Adams. In the small case is a wooden busk (1782). These would be inserted within women’s stays — the undergarment that supported the bust. Covered with Revolutionary image, it rested near the wearer’s heart. The surrounding chain reads “We are ONE!”

The back is carved with “Hallifax Prison ship, June the 16 day 1782” and was probably carved by an American prisoner of war.

Abigail Adams.

Mumbet: A Slave Woman …

Deborah Simpson by Joseph Stone, 1797.

Deborah did not want to serve in the army in a traditional feminine manner.  Instead, dressed as a man, she joined the 4th Massachusetts Regiment and saw combat in New York’s Hudson Valley. When wounded by a musket ball in the thigh, she dug it out herself, not wanting to be discovered. She received an Honorary Discharge in 1783, published  a memoir of her experiences and toured the countryside with a promotional book tour.

Deborah Simpson, 1797.

A signature Museum visitor experience is the mixed media presentation in a special dedicated 100 seat amphitheater, featuring the hardships our troops endured during the Revolutionary war.  Frequently wearing tattered clothes reduced to rags, boots worn so thin they were actually walking on snow and living in tents.

Our beloved George Washington was no exception. Humble and never demanding “privilege” for six years he conducted his leadership housed under only tents.

At the conclusion of the show, the multi-layered scrims part to reveal the GW’s actual War tent — a breathless & tearful moment …

Washington’s war tent — General George Washington’s wartime headquarters.

To conclude with humor was “Boys-will-be-boys,” a life-size vignette showcasing a young George jumping into a group of feuding fellows to break up a teenage fight.

With over 3000 artifacts, impressive displays, and the compelling manner in which the stories are told — perhaps inspired by the groundbreaking documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns — I am so looking forward to exploring more on what will undoubtedly be many future visits.

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