The Best Restaurant in New York Is: The Macy's Basement
Rich: We're kicking off Gawker's Christmas 2014 coverage with a trip to Macy's! Where shiny red balls hang from the ceiling gently suggesting that you should start buying because Christmas is just around the corner! It's Christmas time in the city, Caity, and all I want is some fried food.
Caity: The best part of this lunch was that all Christmas ornaments were 30% off. The worst part of this lunch was the lunch served.
The best restaurant in New York is
Macy's Cellar Bar & Grill
À la carte
Cost before tip
Rich: It wasn't THAT bad. I will say that Macy's Cellar Bar & Grill is basically a Ruby Tuesday, hold the ruby.
Caity: Dining in a cellar sounds kind of magical and romantic—I picture wine casks and candle light and crumbles of brick falling into my food so that I crack a tooth and the meal is free. This was eating in a basement.
Rich: And nobody's brother was on the couch offering us bong hits or anything.
Caity: The lighting was sort of low, but not in a "Dim the light—it's the Jazz Age" kind of way. In a "Does it seem a little dark in here to you?" kind of way. The windows of the restaurant—which were already psychologically vexing in the way that windows located on structures completely enclosed within other structures always are—looked out onto the extremely brightly lit Macy's appliance graveyard, to the further detriment of ambiance. My seat faced a display featuring boxes of waffle makers and skillets. But "display" implies an element of showmanship. This was just a pile.
Rich: The lighting of the actual Cellar level was retina-scorching. The overhead lights bounce off the gleaming KitchenAid boxes and now I'm blind.
Caity: Upon entering the restaurant, the second thing you will notice (after realizing your cellphone does not work down there, which is the first thing you'll notice) is that the place is replete with huge glass boxes inhabited by terrifying dolls representing scenes from Macy's past. The third thing you will notice is that the L's in the Macy's Cellar Bar & Grill logo bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the Twin Towers.
Rich: When I wasn't staring into your eyes, I was looking at a recreation of the rocking horse float that appeared in the 1967 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I would have preferred the waffle makers and skillets in your line of sight.
I also stared at the people that we were seated three feet away from in the mostly empty restaurant. Macy's Cellar Bar & Grill: giving you the cramped New York experience, needlessly and whether you like it or not.
Caity: Despite an embarrassment of tables, we were given probably the worst one in the restaurant, located directly adjacent to a waiter cubby where servers entered customers orders and busboys dropped big plastic tubs of clanging dishes throughout the meal.
It was a little exciting because after you placed your order, you could observe as it was immediately entered into the system. Like watching an airbrushed t-shirt burst into color with your custom-selected design right before your eyes.
Rich: Like an open kitchen for accounting nerds.
The speed with which the food was brought to our table was insane. We put in our order and didn't even have time to travel around the dining room, laughing at all the weird shit that was immortalized in those glass cases—Wayne Newton, Tony Bennett with Einstein hair, Rudolph—before our meals were there. It almost seemed like they already knew our order. Or that it was frozen.
Caity: As best I could tell from our breakneck tour, there seemed to be no clear theme coherent to all the doll displays, apart from the one of "generally related to Macy's." Some were recreations of Thanksgiving Day Parade floats from bygone decades. One staged a scene from "Miracle on 34th St."
One, large portions of which had fallen over and were displayed in the window upside down, commemorated the R.H. Macy & Company 1911 fall catalog.
The thing I liked least about the dolls was that their hair was dusty.
Rich: Nobody is caring for those dolls. I wonder if our food was dusty before they put it in the fryer.
Caity: The menu itself offered the same middle-of-the-road fare you might list if forced to design a "regular American menu" at gunpoint. The sorts of items that might come standard in a child's plastic play food set. The appetizers consisted of guacamole, artichoke dip, and chicken wings. There were burgers. A "Classic Caesar" salad. Penne caprese.
Rich: The desserts were even more hilarious! "Cheescake." "Key Lime Pie." "Chocolate Cake." "Vivoli il Gelato." Did a Russian immigrant write this menu? Food. Stuff. IDK Eat It.
Caity: I think we would have been served the same food even if we hadn't ordered, but for the sake of sport I chose the Cellar Burger which came with "frizzled onions," (fried onions) and "Macy's Cellar Bar & Grill special sauce" (loose application of the adjective). For $3, I upgraded my regular fries to Parmesan fries—a mistake I would regret for the rest of my life.
Rich: The garlic Parmesan fries were the single oddest culinary choice we have witnessed together. Weirder even than the pig head we didn't order at Urban Outfitters.
Some diners will make cheese fries by just melting some sliced cheese on fries (which...OK, but...I mean, fine, BUT). This restaurant—sort of the equivalent of a diner's aunt who pees on herself a little from time to time—just melted a slice of Parmesan on the fries. I was glad they weren't my responsibility.
My fish (of ...and chips) seemed looked like it had leprosy. It tasted fine, but maybe it WAS leprosy. I don't know what leprosy tastes like.
For dessert I had chocolate cake. Eaten with the accompanying whipped cream (served with a strawberry resting in the middle), the cake tasted like a Wendy's Frosty. I wish my fries ("chips") and chocolate cake had been served at the same time. Fries + Frosty is what God coming on your tongue tastes like.
Caity: I had the cheesecake. It bore a dotted line, marked for ease of cutting, which had been resolutely ignored—a member of the kitchen staff instead chopping through the cake like a machete-wielding explorer blazing a trail through a swath of jungle undergrowth.
Rich: If you're not going to bake something with love, you should at least cut it with care.
Caity: It was room temperature, which I liked. The crust was sweet. It was fine.
Rich: Macy's Cellar offers the experience of Macy's in edible portions: You could go elsewhere and get something less prefab, but whatever, you're already there so you might as well.
There aren't bathrooms in the restaurant, so after we left we had to wander back into the store to track them down. Ever since a guy jerked off next to me at the Astor Place Kmart in the early '00s, I generally expect to see at least one hard penis in every NYC department store bathroom I visit. The Macy's men's room was not cruisy, but it was very crowded.
I assume your bathroom experience was worse as there was a line out the door. Waiting for you, I got a taste of what it's like to have a girlfriend. Thank you for never making me hold your purse, which I would do without complaint to combat my internalized femmephobia and/or misogyny, but still would rather not be asked to do.
Caity: I liked that the stalls had floor to ceiling doors so I could pretend I was in a tiny apartment where the only furniture was a toilet and a trashcan. No complaints.
Is Everything Okay?
Questions About the Dining Experience
Would you go back?
Rich: I would go back if my mom had to get some Christmas presents and made me go with her and told me that lunch was on her.
Caity: No. I would go back to Le Train Bleu in Bloomingdale's and tell my dining companions how favorably that restaurant compares to the one I once ate at in Macy's.
What's it called? they'll ask.
You know, I'll say, I don't even remember.
Is it a good first date spot?
Rich: It's a good pretend first date spot to take your partner of several years for whom you are buying a Sodastream as a birthday present this year.
Caity: It's a very bad spot for a first date because there's no cell service, so you won't be able to fire off the text you have pre-arranged to send to your most responsible friend in order to confirm that you have not been kidnapped.
I will say that it was incredibly easy to find. Very well-signed.
Is it a good place to have an affair?
Rich: Yeah. The guy with the ponytail two tables over and the other one in the rented suit behind you aren't going to tell a soul, count on it.
Caity: It's a very good place to have an affair because no cell service ensures you can give your lover your full attention during the meal, as etiquette dictates. After you eat, the two of you can wander through the Macy's basement and wistfully pick out items to place on the wedding registry you will never set up.
Is it a good place to bring a doll?
Rich: It is a GREAT place to bring a limited edition doll you were eligible to buy for $25 after spending $50 or more on cosmetics.
Caity: Taking into account the age and condition of the dolls that surrounded us while we ate, bringing a doll to this place is akin to taking a small child to a nursing home. Do with that information what you will.
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: 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]