Bruce Boyer’s knowledge and insight into the world of style and custom clothing is unparalleled. He spent his career in magazines and teaching, has written six books on everything from Rebel Style to Fred Astaire, and most recently was the subject of a podcast series, Unbuttoned.
This illustrious career took him across the world commissioning bespoke clothing on Savile Row, in Milan, Florence, Naples and further afield. Fortunately, he’s gotten to know New York City pretty well too and has been a part of it as it’s changed over the decades.
Bruce’s career in journalism began in 1972 working for Town & Country. “At the time it was a highly trusted resource, they commissioned experts rather than have a staff of generalists, so it felt to the readers like it was a small club.” Back then, the magazine’s office was on the southeast corner of 5th Ave and 56th Street. Then as today, Bruce knew all the best places to eat.
“There were all sorts of places you could get a good lunch on the cheap,” he says. “My two favourites were The Women’s Exchange and Madame Romaine de Lyon. The Women’s Exchange was a shop and restaurant on the east side of Madison Ave in the mid-50s. The shop was a place where wealthy Upper East Side women could bring their knickknacks to re-sell and it was a great place to pick up bargains – anything from paintings to tea cups.”
“The back of the shop was a small, fairly unadorned restaurant where you could get a good meal for an incredibly reasonable price (they were justly famous for their codfish balls) and relax in the gentle hubbub. It was frequented by many socialites still wearing white gloves and flowered dresses. I often saw Jackie Kennedy Onassis there as well as her sister Lee Radziwill.”
“Madame Romaine de Lyon was in an old brownstone off Madison in the mid-60s. The wallpaper hadn’t been changed since the 1930s, but the checkered tablecloths were immaculately clean and the waitresses were all French. There was a wonderful omelette menu where you could choose – I’m not exaggerating, here – from over a hundred options. With a salad, bread and a glass of house wine the bill was still only a few bucks.”
“I miss both of these places more than I can say. They were authentic and unpretentious. They knew the food was good and they let you eat it in peace. There wasn’t a hint of chrome or plastic, and nothing was garnished with fennel pollen.”
— Bruce Boyer
Still, there are multitude of places in which you may see Bruce today. His approach to life remains considered but not overly precious, and you’ll find a bit of Bruce in each of his recommendations.
At the beginning of my gig as a writer it was exorbitantly expensive for me to eat at The 21 Club, so whenever a PR person wanted to take me to lunch or dinner I always said 21. Everything about it, from the unique decor and heritage, to the maitre and food have always been special.
It was the only place I’ve known that was imposing and yet completely welcoming at the same time, chockablock with history and stories and yet unprepossessing. It’s always been a good place for celebrity-watching if that’s your thing, everyone from John O’Hara and Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall to politicians of every stripe have made it their favourite watering hole.
Pastisand Balthazarare the French bistro-type places where you can get a nice, easy meal or even just a glass of wine when you need a break from the anxieties of the day.
Because I’m in the fashion business The Museum at F.I.T. is a shrine for me. They have over 50,000 garments in their collection, an unparalleled treasure trove of a resource for students and scholars. The staff are knowledgeable and helpful beyond the call of duty and pay scale.
The two other museums I find interesting in Manhattan are The Frick, now moved up Madison Ave while its home is being renovated and enlarged. It’s interesting to see what a single mind (and money) have accumulated, what Frick’s taste was and how he wanted his pictures displayed, sometimes with a juxtaposition so strange it makes you wonder about the rich.
The other, newer museum, is The Neue Gallery, in the William Star Miller mansion at 86th and Fifth Ave. This wonderfully do-able museum was conceived and founded by Serge Sabarsky and Ronald Lauder (of cosmetics fame and fortune) in 2001 to house collections of early 20th century German and Austrian expressionist art and decor. It houses what is reputed to be the world’s most expensive painting, the famous Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. For me, the more you look around the Neue, the more you understand where the Modern came from.
The Armoury is my favourite men’s shop in the world. They’re so international in their outlook, the quality is so high, and the service impeccable. I also like those little places that specialize in something and know a great deal about it.