as told to adrienne gaffney | March 6, 2014 | People
Fashion designer Minnie Mortimer finds a new appreciation for the Upper East Side.
Minnie Mortimer says motherhood has given her favorite spots new meaning.
When Minnie Mortimer returns to the Upper East Side, all is as it once was. While the fashion designer and her husband, screenwriter and director Stephen Gaghan now spend the majority of their time on the West Coast, New York is where Mortimer was born and raised, and it’s where she now returns to share pieces of her history with her 5-year-old daughter, Tuesday. Mortimer’s youth was spent on 79th Street and Park Avenue, mere steps from where her father, the financier John Jay Mortimer, was raised in a home that now occupies the Acquavella Galleries. The family’s history in New York stretches back to her ancestor John Jay, who became the state’s second governor in 1795. Mortimer says she now cherishes the slice of the Upper East Side that was her childhood neighborhood for its unchanging, family-oriented nature.
The Frick Collection was a favorite childhood destination.
“The Upper East Side is an area that’s very much in my blood. There are certain New York places that bring back times from your childhood you think you’ve forgotten. You relive them with your child and you realize how close to the surface memories can be. They’re right there—ready to be accessed.
Walking around the neighborhood today, I like seeing the kids in their uniforms. I went to Convent of the Sacred Heart for middle school and spent a lot of time wearing their red checkerboard pinafores. You don’t love uniforms when you’re in school, but now when I see Sacred Heart kids, they look adorable. When I was in school, everyone wandered around the Upper East Side after classes. My friends and I would go to Mimi’s Pizza or Jackson Hole on 91st Street for burgers, and we would hang out.
Minnie Mortimer with husband Stephen Gaghan.
I started going to The Frick with my father and older brother when I was 5 or 6 years old. They would talk about everything and I would tag along and listen. Then I became interested in the museum myself. The Frick shows how people lived with their artwork, as opposed to a regular museum where the only purpose is to show the art, in isolation. You see the decorative arts at the Frick, too—the moldings, the details of its interior architecture, and how each art piece works in a room, which pieces can hold a room. I enjoyed having that glimpse back in time, being able to walk through someone’s house. It’s such a rare opportunity, especially in New York. My father loved the bronzes, and there’s a supposedly fake Rembrandt, The Polish Rider. I remember that was always pointed out to me when I was younger.
I like Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, how dark and how moody it is. It feels completely timeless, that you could be in the 1920s or 2014. You have the sense that people have been doing the same thing here for a long time. And the bartenders’ red jacket uniforms—that hasn’t changed in years. I also love the way the bottles are stocked behind the bar. You sense they have a specific system for making drinks that’s been honed over time.
Via Quadronno became a favorite place when I was older. It’s a neighborhood spot where you see the same regulars, not an attraction. It doesn’t feel like Grand Central Station with different people constantly coming in and out. They serve the best vegetable purée soup in winter. I can’t live without it.
William Greenberg cakepops.
I’m so sad that Gino’s is gone. It was a New York institution. They had an iconic Scalamandré wallpaper with zebras that people liked to copy. [Editor’s note: The wallpaper was designed especially for the shoe-box-size restaurant based on original artwork by Flora Scalamandré.] I went there constantly with my family when I was a kid—not because it had really good Italian food. It was just a local spot. William Poll, which is still around, is that kind of place. If someone’s sick, I always pick up William Poll sandwiches for them. That’s something my family always does, if you have the flu or are housebound with work. Poll makes these tea sandwiches that are cut into thirds, so they’re great little bites. There’s also Greenberg’s, a bakery where we got all our birthday cakes and cookies. They have a chocolate cake that’s really rich and delicious. I always recommend them.
The Upper East Side is very much a small town within New York City. It’s very sweet and quiet. Some of the most wonderful parts of New York are so bustling and busy. I love that, but to come to this quiet part of New York is a really nice change.”
Photography by Kelly Stuart for Hearst Digital Media (mortimer); Galen Lee at the frick collection (The Frick); CHANCE YEH/PatrickMcMullan.com (Mortimer); Courtesy of William Green berg Desserts (cakepops); Courtesy of The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (bemelmans bar)