NEW YORK CITY — Storybook-themed outings, particularly for young kids, abound in New York. Fans of "Eloise at the Plaza'' by Kay Thompson can book the Plaza Hotel's Eloise Suite, featuring a sparkly padded pink headboard and Eloise's name in neon lights. Stuart Little fans can float model boats on Central Park's Conservatory Water, recalling the scene when the mighty mouse commandeered the Wasp in E.B. White's novel. Children gather at the park's statue of Hans Christian Andersen, who wrote the "Ugly Duckling" and "Thumbelina," for story-telling sessions.
Once young readers morph into teen readers, there is another option: tracing the route of Holden Caulfield, the 17-year-old disenchanted protagonist of J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye." The novel, assigned annually to thousands of high school freshman in Connecticut, chronicles Holden's chain-smoking, cocktail-gulping odyssey in New York, where he ventured after getting kicked out of prep school, yet again. The fact the book takes place in the late 1940s and was published in 1951 doesn't lessen the connection local teens feel with Holden, who raged against "phonies," mourned the loss of his late little brother, and sought a connection to something real, permanent and pure. One need only view YouTube's multiple student film projects, which dramatize Holden wandering the streets of New York in a red hunting hat, to understand the character's perpetual popularity.
While independent-minded teens may balk at joining a highly-orchestrated, "teen sightseeing tour" offered by some New York outfits, they may find a self-guided, Holden-themed tour intriguing, especially as it includes shopping, dining and music. Besides visiting sites specifically named in the book, such as Broadway, Fifth Avenue and Central Park, an adventure might include stops inspired by Holden. Dining on Holden's favorite fare (Swiss cheese sandwich and malted milk) at an old-time luncheonette, listening to live jazz at a Greenwich Village club, and foraging for forties-style threads at an East Village thrift shop isn't only fun, it may help teens better understand Holden's New York, when smoking in public buildings was the norm, friends made plans via pay phones, and no one had ever heard of a Big Gulp.
There isn't an official Holden's Haunts map. But an adventure might begin at a hotel check-in desk. In Catcher, Holden checked himself into the seedy Edmont, which is fictional, and solicited the services of a hooker (he ended up simply chatting with her). The Algonquin, open since 1902 and New York's oldest operating hotel, is a far more appealing option, offering heritage without the heartache. The Gonk, as it is known, is near Holden's midtown haunts, has smallish, stylish, literary-inspired guestrooms with 37-inch flat-screen televisions, and a (somewhat loose) Salinger connection.
Let's Begin At the Gonk
In 1919, the Algonquin became the hangout of Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Harold Ross, and others in a witty gang known as the Round Table. Ross secured funding at the Gonk to launch the New Yorker magazine, which debuted in 1925. The magazine published thirteen of Salinger's stories between 1946 and 1965, but rejected Catcher in the Rye. These days, no one will stop you from devouring the novel (and bar snacks, such as Dorothy Parker Mini Burgers) in the Edwardian-style lobby-lounge, featuring framed New Yorker artwork, napkins printed with clever quips ("Repartee is what you wish you had said," Heywood Brown), and "swanky" (Holden's term) cocktails.
Salinger was famously elusive. So is the hotel's resident cat, Matilda, who occasionally appears by the check-in desk. The ragdoll-Siamese mix receives a steady stream of fan mail (email@example.com) and is the most recent in a line of resident felines that preserve a long-time tradition. In the 1930s, Algonquin owner Frank Case adopted a stray who wandered into the hotel, and the Gonk has hosted a house cat ever since.
From the Gonk, it's an easy walk to Grand Central Terminal, where Holden stored his bags in a strong box, a service discontinued for security reasons. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Beaux-Arts landmark in 1913, and public celebrations are planned all year. On a guided tour, you'll learn more about Grand Central's prized features, including the world's largest (fourteen feet in diameter) Tiffany clock, which Holden may have consulted during his adventure. To see trains that existed in Holden's day, attend the family-oriented Grand Centennial Parade of Trains, a vintage display including the 20th Century Limited, Pullman, and New York Central; (May 11 and 12; http://www.grandcentralterminal.org).
From Grand Central, follow Holden's route through midtown, where he purchased a record for his sister Phoebe. Colony Music, a potential point of purchase, closed last summer after a 64-year run (see the sidebar for where to find vinyl in the East Village). Holden also jockeyed with crowds on Broadway ("Broadway was mobbed and messy… Everybody was on their way to the movies…I couldn't stand looking at them"), ice skated with Sally Hayes (skating at the Rink at Rockefeller Center runs through April; http://www.therinkatrockcenter.com), and saw the Rockettes and a movie at Radio City Music Hall ("It was probably the worst thing I could've done, but it was near, and I couldn't think of anything else"). Those interested in the history of the world's largest indoor theater — which has welcomed 300 million visitors since 1932 and boasts a marquee spanning a city block —- can take a Radio City Stage Door Tour (fee; http://www.radiocity.com).
When Holden arrived at Central Park on a chilly December afternoon, he headed to the south end lagoon and lamented the dearth of ducks: "I walked all around the whole damn lake — I damn near fell in once, in fact — but I didn't see a single duck." Now that spring has sprung, duck sightings are the norm, and the Central Park Carousel is in full swing. In Catcher, Holden wistfully watches his sister Phoebe climb on a "big brown beat-up looking old horse….and all the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring." The present-day carousel, crafted in 1908 by Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein, was transported from Coney Island to the park in 1950. Previously, the park featured a mule-and-horse powered carousel (1871 to 1924), then two steam-powered models, both destroyed by fire. The current rate is $2 for a three-and-a-half minute ride; http://www.centralpark.com.
On To The MET
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Holden guides two young schoolboys to the "toons" — the Egypitian tombs and mummies, that is. Since 1874, the Met's Egyptian art collection has grown to become one of the most celebrated and influential in the world. Highlights include the 2,000-year-old Temple of Dendur that once stood by the Nile, the coffin of Khnumhotep containing a mummy, and intricate riverboat models found by the rock-cut tomb of Meketre.
But what will especially interest contemporary teens is the Met's contemporary exhibit, "Street'' (view through May 27, 2013), featuring a large-format, slow-motion video by British-born James Nares. The artist shot 16 hours of footage from a car with a high-definition camera and edited the results into one mesmerizing hour, scored with music from a twelve-string guitar composed and performed by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. One can nearly hear Holden gabbing about the watchful police officers, costumed Cookie Monster trolling Times Square, impatient commuters and handbag-wielding hipsters depicted in the video.
Other Holden-inspired experiences include giving a friend "a buzz" from an old-time phone booth, visiting a 1925-era luncheonette, and slipping into a basement club in the Village for a jazz jam. Holden did those very things, and teens who follow suit will forge an even deeper connection to the fictional character, who will forever be 17.
Consider These Tips
If you're creating a "Catcher-In-The-Rye"-themed tour, consider these tips:
>>Ditch the cell phone. Make a call from a 20th-century wooden phone booth, as did Holden Caulfield, the 17-year-old disenchanted protagonist of J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye". Find some old-timers near the first-floor elevators at the New York Public Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street; http://www.nypl.org.
>>Hear live jazz at Smalls. Holden headed to a fictional piano bar in Greenwich Village, Ernie's. Take your teen to Smalls, a 60-seat basement jazz club, for afternoon open jam sessions (no cover). 183 West 10th Street; http://www.smallsjazzclub.com.
>>Sample Holden's favorite fare. "I generally just eat a Swiss cheese sandwich and a malted milk," Holden said. "It isn't much, but you get quite a lot of vitamins in the malted milk." Sample the teen's cuisine at Lexington Candy Shop, a luncheonette serving Holden's staples, plus burgers, egg creams, and club sandwiches. Founded in 1925, the shop isn't referenced in the novel, but it's easy to imagine Holden and his sister Phoebe tucked into a wooden booth. 1226 Lexington Avenue; http://www.lexingtoncandyshop.net.
>>Visit the Strand. Founded in 1927, the Greenwich Village store famously features "eighteen miles of new, used and rare books." Find "Catcher in the Rye'' on the banned books table and a quote from Salinger: "I am a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy." 828 Broadway; http://www.strandbooks.com.
>>Pop some tags. No telling when you may discover a red hunting cap, high school varsity jackets, or forties-style dresses at No Relation, an East Village vintage thrift shop. 204 1st Ave; http://www.Ltrainvintage.com.
>>Hunt for vinyl. Holden bought his sister Phoebe an Estelle Fletcher record, which he subsequently dropped and broke. He could find a jazzy replacement at Academy Records in the East Village. 415 East 12th Street; http://www.academy-lps.com.
>>Crash at the Gonk. Open since 1902, New York's oldest operating hotel, the Algonquin (the Gonk) features small stylish rooms and premiere suites with 37-inch flat-screen TVs, a resident cat (Matilda), a swanky cocktail menu, and complimentary copies of The New Yorker, which published thirteen of Salinger's stories, but rejected "Catcher in the Rye''. 59 West 44th St; http://www.algonquinhotel.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun