“Dishy with a side of wry” is how Oprah.com described “Another Side of Paradise,” local author Sally Koslow’s new historical novel about the love affair between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham, the gossip columnist with secrets of her own. The book will be launched on Wednesday, June 6th, at 7 p.m., at Book Culture on Columbus Avenue, between 81st and 82nd Streets.
“I’m thrilled that Book Culture will be hosting me,” Koslow wrote to WSR, “not just because it’s a terrific indie bookstore, but also because for most of my adult life, I’ve lived nearby.” She went on to describe the evolution of the neighborhood, and her own life, over the past nearly half a century.
By Sally Koslow
At risk of sounding like the Ancient Mariner, I remember how Book Culture’s block looked when I moved to New York City in 1970 to take a job at Mademoiselle Magazine. (How did a girl from Fargo, North Dakota, land a job at such a fancy place, some people ask? I was naïve enough to simply apply. Had I grown up in or near NYC, I’d have been far too intimidated.) Book Culture’s space was once part of the notorious Endicott Hotel, home to junkies, exactly the sort of degenerate who mugged my boyfriend and me as we entered my first apartment at 3 West 83rd St. It was payday and I earned so little at Conde Nast that I peeled off just a few bucks for the mugger. “Give him your wallet, dammit,” my boyfriend yelled. “The guy has a knife in my back!”
My college friends shared apartments mostly on the Upper East Side in doorman buildings on which their parents insisted. A few Mademoiselle colleagues lived at the Barbizon. Some people I knew were afraid to visit my boyfriend and me—we started to live together—on West 83rd, but in moving here from Fargo, I was clueless, as were my parents, and we didn’t realize that I’d rented in a dangerous neighborhood. I took the apartment because it was cheap. No doorman and spooky dark streets. Plenty of cockroaches. The Alden Hotel around the corner on Central Park West was a hangout for pimps, and their cars parked along the street added a festive touch.
Back then, it was no big deal to find rentals, because most buildings hadn’t converted to co-ops. You bought the New York Times Real Estate section on Friday night at the Times’ offices, and visited potential rentals over the weekend. Within days, you signed a lease.
About a year after I settled in on the Upper West Side, I married my boyfriend, and we moved to a spacious one-bedroom in The Normandy at 86th and Riverside Drive. Our rent was $300. The building had a milk machine and doormen who never bothered to buzz up and announce our guests. Five years later, when we learned we were having a baby, we moved to a bigger place on Central Park West and 83rd, and stayed for 17 years. My sons’ bedroom looked into the park at a giant granite outcropping we referred to as Snuffleupagus Mountain. We became members of a local babysitting co-op—I’m still friendly with some of those people–and the kids learned to climb stairs at the Natural History Museum. We sent our boys to the nursery school at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, which we joined. Both children loved the youth group at the synagogue, spent a lot of time there, and have maintained friendships with those kids.
Starting in the mid-70s, a gradual gentrification of the neighborhood started. The beginning might have been the opening of The Museum Café, where Shake Shack is now, though our favorite restaurant was a hole-in-the-wall on Columbus called Russgay’s, that served only one entrée each evening. The tables had mirrored tops, a look I copied at home on our Parson’s table. There were many Irish bars, Spanish-Chinese restaurants, and loads of coffee shops like Trio’s, on 83rd and Columbus, which served outstanding milkshakes. The Endicott Hotel was renovated and brighter streetlights were installed on side streets. They made a big difference.
My favorite shop at the “new” Endicott was a vast food store owned by Dino Di Laurentis. Shoppers gawked at breads shaped like teddy bears and fancy pates and cheese, and then actually bought food at Zabar’s or Fairway, so the shop didn’t survive. I loved the Charavari boutiques, cinnamon-raisin babka from Lichtmann’s Bakery on 86th and Amsterdam and, for birthdays, ordering praline ice cream cakes from Grossinger’s Bakery—there were two. We liked a restaurant called Oenophilia’s on Columbus and Marvin’s, on Broadway. Some establishments have survived—Zingone’s grocery store on Columbus near 83rd is now run by a succeeding generation, and of course, Barney Greengrass and Murray’s, the Sturgeon King, where my husband’s grandmother used to shop. Did I mention that both of my husband’s parents were raised on the Upper West Side? His mom grew up at 110 Riverside along with Babe Ruth and his dad at 825 West End.
Overall, the Upper West Side is prettier now—though still as littered–with about 500 more places to buy a cup of coffee or a cell phone, get a manicure, bank, eat, or buy roses that will die tomorrow. The playgrounds are more numerous and appealing. Every Wednesday I care for my 2-year-old granddaughter from Brooklyn, so it’s the nannies and me hanging out here and there. I still live on the West Side, though higher up, in a neighborhood I wouldn’t have considered 25 years ago.
Go to www.sallykoslow.com to learn more about “Another Side of Paradise” and Koslow’s other novels, two of which are set on the Upper West Side.