The Best Restaurant in New York Is: FAO Schwarz
Rich: I can't believe we woke up at 6:30 in the morning to experience a live commercial for FAO Schwarz.
Caity: I can't believe all the toys weren't alive, seeing as the toy store was not yet open.
Rich: I don't think I've ever woken up so early for anything Gawker-related and I hope I never do again.
Caity: I was wearing a pajama top. Do you think the other people on our tour could tell?
The best restaurant in New York is
Breakfast with a Toy Soldier at FAO Schwarz
$80 for admission for two
Rich: I don't think those people cared for much other than themselves. It IS Christmastime, after all.
Caity: While there is no dress code for FAO Schwarz's Breakfast with a Toy Soldier Tour, there is one firm rule: The tour begins PROMPTLY at 8:00 a.m. Guests are asked to arrive at 7:45.
Rich: We showed up at 7:55, which was a feat—we (kind of) did it! I felt a sense of victory and it wasn't even 8 am yet. You're definitely winning at life when you get to stand around a toy store and take in its many wares alongside little girls named things like Madison, Maya, and Ava.
Caity: We slunk inside the store (which wasn't locked—toy soldiers are perhaps not the best form of security) and were greeted straightaway by a freakish mutation terrifying to behold. Half toy; half man, he introduced himself as Toy Soldier Roy.
You would think that these servicemen might be unaware that they were toys or, if they were aware, perhaps a little self-conscious about it. But he was proud. I guess it's like being a member of the Swiss Guard.
Rich: We were informed that we had to take a picture with Toy Soldier Roy (on our smartphones) immediately, before the tour started, and all I could think was...What if he ends up doing a shitty job? That's like giving a musician a standing ovation for walking out on stage before playing a note. Who does Toy Soldier Roy think he is, Ani DiFranco?
Caity: The thing I appreciated the most out of the entire tour experience was that they didn't try to sell us any photos. Photos were the first and last thing they didn't try to sell us.
One minute after we had our picture snapped, the tour began. Toy Soldier Roy led our group over to a staircase on the first floor, and gestured to the enormous and terrifying flesh-colored face of FAO Schwarz's famous clock. At what I suppose must have been precisely 8 a.m. ("The first tick-tock!"), the clock burst into song. Welcome to our world! / Welcome to our world! / Welcome to our world (of toys)!
Rich: If you listen to the clock's song backward, the message is: "Throw a screaming tantrum until your parents promise to buy you exactly two of every item that you want."
Caity: I must say, the four children (all girls) on our tour were very well-behaved. Did they have the best attitudes? No, the Australian one did not. But they were well-behaved, particularly for children who had been woken at dawn to spend an hour listening to an adult tell them riddles they could not solve and jokes they often did not understand.
Rich: To hear a stranger speak over their heads and right into the pockets of their consumer parents.
Caity: We should note up top that Toy Soldier Roy was very pleasant and engaged with the children.
Rich: He was wonderful. He is very good at his job. His mustache was very twisty and the wax made me feel right at home, as if FAO Schwarz had come to Williamsburg.
Caity: You couldn't ask to be accompanied by a friendlier, more capable mercenary than Toy Soldier Roy.
Rich: He described himself as a "booger" when he stood under a pair of lights and hanging blue orb arranged to look like a face in front of the Muppet Whatnots Workshop—
Caity: He also displayed a Santa-esque talent for not only remembering, but really seeming to know everyone's names.
Rich: —That really impressed me.
Caity: The booger thing or the names thing?
Rich: Both. One bespoke deep humility, the other, considerable mental capacity.
I don't know if it was the coffee talking, but paying $99 for a customized Muppet seems like a bargain to me.
Caity: After hearing Toy Soldier Roy's take, I'm pretty sure it actually costs more for me to not customize a Muppet and take it home with me.
Rich: Toy Soldier Roy has two Muppets.
Caity: Toy Soldier Roy is a strange and delightful lunatic.
Rich: He told us he got a second one because he feared the first was lonely. I believed that story and I still do!
Caity: They let us play with pre-customized Muppets for a few minutes, so we could see how much better they felt to have in our hands than two $50-bills. That was fun for about 90 seconds and then I was like "I get it." My hand started to get tired. Jim Henson's team didn't play with Muppets for fun; that was their job.
Luckily after our Muppet hand jobs, it was time to march into FAO Schweetz: a marvelous candy paradise where my dreams came true.
Rich: Our REAL breakfast, before the pitiful breakfast they would serve us later.
In this section of the store, Toy Soldier Roy highlighted a bunch of outlandish candy for sale: a 5-pound gummy bear that he brought home and "carved like a turkey" for his nephews; a Snickers bar that was the size of a child's arm; a "cereal" that was made up entirely of marshmallows.
Caity: After sowing seeds of desire for these monstrous treats in the girls' heads, Toy Soldier Roy and his suit-clad assistant, Normal Guy Name Not Given, handed out small, conical plastic bags to each and every one of us, adults and kids alike, and told us to fill them up at the candy station!
Rich: I like that we were asked, "Who wants free candy?" Which is one way of looking at it. The other is: that candy cost Gawker Media LLC $40 a bag.
Caity: I did not get $40 worth of candy, or even $4.24 worth, which is how much those 4 oz bags cost to fill if you buy them outside the tour, but I absolutely got some, and the collection of it was thrilling, like hunting candy in the wild. My haul consisted of: Raisinets, chocolate covered pretzels, Goetze's caramel creams, ropes and ropes of sour sugar gummies, and a couple Swedish fish.
Rich: I had to try a gummy chili pepper, which was, "not knock-you-down spicy, but it's a nice surprise." It was good. Light.
Caity: Then Toy Soldier Roy showed us some giant stuffed puppy dogs, a toy panda that cost nearly $1500, and a bouncing koosh ball game you can play "at the beach" or inside FAO Schwarz at 8 a.m.
By this point I was ready for the tour to end so I could sit down and eat my eight Raisinets, but there was still much to come.
Rich: Oh I'd been eating chocolate covered pretzels the whole time. I don't understand why we were given sealable bags. A feed bag would have been more suitable.
I think the stuffed panda was the most expensive toy we saw.
Makes the $800 teddy bear seem like a steal.
Caity: Those Hansa animals looked great.
Rich: They looked like furniture.
Caity: What child wouldn't feel better knowing a hyper-realistic facsimile of a mallard was waiting on her canopy bed with glass-eyed determination for her to return home from ballet class?
Rich: I would have to choose between them or furniture because both couldn't fit into my apartment. I'd also have to choose between them and eating.
Caity: If everyone reading this would only donate $1000, we would have enough money to buy a couple of the animals but not all.
On the second floor of FAO Schwarz were more things children love: rare teddy bears behind protective glass and rare Madame Alexander steampunk Wizard of Oz dolls behind protective glass.
Rich: One of the rarest Steiff brand bears recently sold for $25,000. Toy Soldier Roy informed us that that means we should "be good to your toys because your toys will be good to you."
I admired Australian Madison for refusing to hold a doll from the doll hospital, reasoning that it was "too creepy." Baby's first uncanny valley.
Caity: To which I say: This is America, Madison! Leave that rude 'tude back in Oz! Hold the fucking baby doll or get out, mate!
Rich: The dolls were busted. I stand with Madison.
Caity: At Toy Soldier Roy's urging, I accepted a baby doll from French Alexia (ALAXYAH! VAS-Y, VAS-Y!) And all the adults in the crowd (also at Toy Soldier Roy's urging) said "Ohhhh..Hahaha, uh-oh!" and nudged you in the ribs with their eyes, as if to say...
Rich: ...GET ER DONE.
Caity: I tell you what, I would not consent to raise a child with any man who tried to bring me to any place before 8 a.m.
Rich: Also on the second floor was something called "Super Awesome Me," which provides you with an action figure in your likeness. You just pose in FAO Schwarz and a month later, you're shredded in plastic. $100 is a small price to pay to look like a human god.
Caity: How exact a likeness the resulting action figures are was unclear.
Rich: Hm, get back to me in a month and I'll show you.
Caity: I thought this would make a funny and creepy surprise gift to give someone (I made a voodoo doll of you!), but then I realized that you must be there to be photographed in person. So that's out, unless you can somehow trick your friend into thinking they're being photographed on the Super Awesome Me create-your-own action figure photography stage for an unrelated purpose.
Rich: It would be a very good gift for a gay man and an even better gift for his self-esteem. Especially this gay man.
Caity: I fell into my old habit of taking lots of pictures of beautiful Barbies that were too expensive for me to ever ever own, and then it was time to go look at teeny tiny cars for children to drive without a license. In one teeny tiny Mini Cooper ("It's got an iPod dock!" shouted Toy Soldier Roy), you and I saw what appeared to be some sort of discarded mouth guard.
Rich: I thought it was poop.
Caity: Huh. Everything's a mystery in Toyland.
Rich: Up next was Lego, and several references to The Lego Movie, the gift that keeps on giving to Lego.
Caity: Toy Soldier Roy told us that professional lego statue assemblers make six figures, and I have spent the past six days wondering if that was a pun or simply a sign that life is meaningless.
Rich: Then we came upon "the room that everyone asks for, that people can't wait to get in."
GET EXCITED. Please feel this moment and invest in the idea that it will live up to the hype and absolutely nothing will go wrong.
Caity: I would describe enormous in-floor piano as a BIG disappointment.
Toy Soldier Roy started off by succinctly recounting the plot of Big. His appraisal of the film included the statement "And, of course, there's no one bigger than Tom Hanks," which I keep thinking about because it makes no sense.
Rich: I think he was speaking from the perspective of a person stuck in 1995, when Hanks won his second Oscar in a row.
Next he asked if we remembered what songs Tom Hanks and that old guy played on the giant piano in Big. Yes, "Chopsticks" and "Heart and Soul," but I didn't answer because I didn't want to seem like a know-it-all Hanks aficionado.
Caity: I answered "Heart and Soul" after no one got "Chopsticks" because I hate the anxious silence of an unanswered question voiced to a group.
Rich: "And," said Roy, "that sounds a little bit something like..."
His suited assistant stepped on the keyboard and...
Caity: An even more anxious silence.
Rich: That was the biggest anticlimax of the year—perhaps of my life.
Caity: The suited man lost it. Understandably so. It was the worst moment of the lives of everyone in the room, but especially his.
Rich: Everyone lost it. It was madness. (Quiet, disappointed madness.) A giant ladder was brought out. Many sound checks occurred.
Caity: Alexia didn't know what was going on or care, probably. The FAO Schwarz schtaff very graciously and nervously apologized to us, over and over again.
Rich: The man in the suit said that he couldn't apologize enough, in fact. He didn't kill anyone, but he did kill our dream of hearing music from a giant keyboard on the floor, and did the required penance.
Roy said, "I'll make sure that everybody your next visit here you will get Toy Soldier Roy on the piano with you."
I'm sorry, sir, we have to come back? What if we come back and Toy Soldier Roy is sick in bed? Will he come into work and stand on the keyboard with us?
Caity: No offense to Toy Soldier Roy—there's no one bigger than Toy Soldier Roy—but he was not the main appeal of dancing on a piano. If anything, I would prefer to have no one on the piano with me. This is is a solo performance—all heart no soul.
Rich: I was, frankly, relieved. If I didn't pull off flawlessly tap dancing either of those songs, I would have felt so embarrassed. It was nice to have that pressure immediately erased.
Caity: We still took photos on the keyboard. And if anyone who was on the tour showed their friends the photos and said, "Oh we had fun, it sounded just like in the movie with the enormous Tom Hanks" and now their friends are reading this post and realize they are liars, I'm always grateful for new readers and I'm sorry. But that keyboard would play no notes that morning. The guy who repairs it lives in Connecticut, apparently. In a MAGIC HOUSE, I imagine.
Rich: I want to know what else he does. Is there a three-story French horn somewhere that he is also responsible for?
Caity: If his job is to keep the FAO Schwarz stomping keyboard in working order, I would say he is...maybe not great at it? The man in the suit later told us that the rare occasions it does short typically fall around the holidays, due to increased foot traffic.
Rich: "I'm just as stunned as you guys," he said.
Caity: He seemed more stunned than us, frankly. I would not describe myself as "stunned." "Mildly disappointed but ultimately not too invested" was my reaction.
Rich: Something died that day. Something bigger than our hearts or our souls: a giant keyboard you play with your feet.
Anyway, the rest of the tour was like aftershocks of an anticlimax.
Caity: After that we saw some more fuckin' whatever.
Rich: We got $10 off coupons if you spent $50 building little cars (no thanks). I smelled a candle that looked like a brain (REALLY no thanks).
Caity: We saw a doll house workshop where a man will make an exact miniature replica of your house. I wouldn't want one, but I guess if you can afford one you probably live in a house worth recreating en miniature.
Rich: As we walked down to the basement party room, Roy told us the staff was having its morning meeting. We heard clapping, and I assumed that it was an incredibly successful meeting, but then I saw a bunch of kids walking a carpet that was just in front of the store's front door. The staff was cheering for the store's first customers of the day.
Well—the first customers who didn't pay a $40 admission fee.
Caity: Then we were herded into the subterranean realm of the flesh-colored clock for...I guess you could call it breakfast. Not really worth breaking a fast for these scraps, though.
The tables in the party room bore enormous fake candles that transformed them into very large, thin birthday cakes. There were extra-enormous fake candles lining the walls as well. FAO Schwarz has really tapped into what intrigues children about candles: the overall shape and design.
We were instructed to take what we pleased from a buffet table. Unlike the candy grab portion of the day, no one was excited about the breakfast buffet.
Rich: It was all carbs! There were small bagels, smaller chocolate chip muffins, not-quite-baked croissants, and…What's the thing I'm forgetting?
Caity: Soft pieces of toast-shaped bread with sugar on them. They were pastries, I guess, but not with the fun and flair that word implies.
Basically, everything tasted about a shade worse than if you had bought it in a grocery store for yourself. The flavor of items purchased in bulk but, honestly, none of the bulk? I would not describe that table as "laden" with food. There was food on it, but I felt bad taking one of everything. (I also felt queasy handling food after touching so many communally fondled objects, but I WAS STARVING.)
I also had an orange juice (the only juice option available), and a mini bottled water, served room temperature.
Rich: I had a coffee, which was knock-you-down-and-your-tongue-out-of-commission hot. Let's face it: the candy was the real breakfast and we ate that before witnessing the tragedy of the Big piano (RIP).
Caity: Yes, the tour could have ended after the candy grab and while it wouldn't have been worth $40, it would have been basically as enjoyable overall, and would have eaten up a lot less time.
Toy Soldier Roy collected our plates (kind of weird and unexpected, but...polite?) and, roughly one hour after it began, Breakfast with a Toy Soldier was over. Just in time to grab breakfast without a toy soldier and head into work.
Rich: We all fall down, the end.
Is Everything OK?
Questions About the Dining Experience
Would you go back?
Caity: I would go back with someone who had once wronged me, and I would spend the whole subway ride there hyping up the Big keyboard and how much fun it is to prance on, and then, when they stepped on it and nothing happened, I would look them dead in the eye and say "Life is full of disappointments." This would happen at 3 p.m.
Rich: No. I will never wake up for anything at 6:30 a.m. again.
Is it a good first date spot?
Caity: YEAH, A WALK THROUGH AN EMPTY TOY STORE AT 8 AM IS A GREAT FIRST DATE.
Rich: It's a good first date if you're a psychopath who wants to look at all the toys you'll be buying your future children with a person that you don't know. You'll also get to hold a life-size baby doll while standing next to that person, to the delight of the bored parents of actual children.
Is it a good place to have an affair?
Caity: No. You are watched like a hawk on this tour by Toy Soldier Roy and his smiling silent minions. There will be no dilly dallying in FAO Schweetz. There will be no lovers' holidays in Legoland.
Rich: Are men who can speak for an hour without stopping for so much as a breath your "type?" Do you like mustache wax? Are you "into" men in uniform? Well, I have a friend named Roy I'd like to introduce you to...
Is it a good place to bring a doll?
Caity: No. You wouldn't bring your wife to a whorehouse.
Rich: It would be a good place to bring a doll if you don't want to have the awkward conversation with her about where babies come from—and where they can be left for better, more expensive, limited edition babies.
There are a bunch of restaurants in the world, including some in New York City. But in a city of over 24,000 restaurants, how do you find the best? You begin your search in places that are already popular: New York's hottest tourist destinations. In The Best Restaurant in New York Is, writers Caity Weaver and Rich Juzwiak attempt to determine the best restaurant in New York.
Previously: The Best Restaurant in New York Is: The Best Restaurant in New York Is: The Rockefeller Center Ice Rink; The 9/11 Memorial & Museum Café; The Empire State Building; The Macy's Basement; Wall Street Bath & Spa; El Museo del Barrio; The Williamsburg Urban Outfitters ; The Central Park Boathouse; The Tommy Bahama Store; The Bronx Zoo; The Armani Store;The Crown Cafe at the Statue of Liberty; The Campbell Apartment inside Grand Central; The U.N. Delegates Dining Room; Play at the Museum of Sex; Le Train Bleu inside Bloomingdales; LOX at The Jewish Museum; The American Girl Café
[Images by Rich Juzwiak and Caity Weaver]