Let’s face it, no matter how much you love its neon signs and Broadway plays, Times Square will always be the epitome of tourism. It’s hard to get around without bumping into a family taking a picture on the famous steps or a kid skipping happily with a Toys R’ Us bag. If you want to join some New Yorkers for classic American fare and some good tunes, you have to hit up Ellen’s Stardust Diner.
The diner is a bit off the beaten path but is still a stone’s throw away from Times Square. It sports a classic silver diner appearance with records, old photographs, and electric guitars plastered all over the walls.
So what’s different about Ellen’s that makes it stand out from the run-of-the-mill silver diners you can find practically everywhere? Four words: dinner and a show. Ellen’s puts a whole new spin on entertaining its patrons by allowing its waiters to burst into song at random points during your meal. Sometimes their skits are planned, other times, it’s pure improv. Either way, it’s a great way to enjoy a great Sandwich or dig into an enormous ice cream sundae.
Overall, Ellen’s Stardust Diner excels in ambiance, making you feel as if you’ve been warped back to the 1950’s. The food is standard American cuisine with nothing too special to make it stand out. The star of the show here is well… the show itself. All the waiters are aspiring Broadway actors and have plenty of singing experience to make you screaming for an encore.
Read any guide-book on New York City and you will find a nice dinner in town followed by a broadway show as a must do experience. Tens of thousands of visitors have done this, including me, but what I experienced last night will stay with me forever.
Last night was Siddhi’s last day of her first year at Tisch and we were invited to an event at school that was being held offsite somewhere near Times Square. While it was a bit odd that Tisch was doing an event offsite, off we marched on the subway and streets till we ended up at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square. “Lack of space at Tisch” was the excuse proffered to me, and as we rode the elevator to the top of the building to “The View”, little did I suspect that something did not smell right.
As soon as we reached the revolving restaurant famous for its 70 minute rotation with some of the best views of the New York skyline, the kids announced that there was no school event. It was a ruse to get me to the city for an early Mother’s Day celebration, since I would be on a trip with Siddhi on the holiday. I was completely taken aback. The View is a pricey place to eat and while Siddhi has a part-time job and Sathya had a little bit of cash saved up, it was cost prohibitive for them to bring me here. Not according to them. As I sat down recovering from the shock, out came a gift bag with two picture frames filled with memories of me and the girls taken in different locations around the world. Digging further into the bag, I found a vase with a flower and a TON of Twix bars and Heath, my favorite candies. Needless to say, I was crying at this point.
We proceeded to have a lovely meal of heirloom tomato salad, gnocchi with pesto, penne with tomato sauce and the most yummy chocolate mound cookies with vanilla ice cream for dessert, all while taking in the beautiful, changing views of the city.
When the waiter approached us with the check, Siddhi took it and signed away probably multiple months of money saved. For a mother, it was a moment of tremendous pride (at the kids being so thoughtful and doing this), joy (that they just made me so happy) and a tinge of sadness (that because of me, they were spending all this money).
Siddhi wanted to make one quick stop to bid her roommate good-bye and as we headed to Tisch, there was one more surprise. We paused in front of the theater where Wicked was playing and the kids turned to announce that was part two of my surprise. Speechless, I walked into the theatre dazed and was seated right in the front row (their treat), while they went several rows behind to claim their seats. What followed on stage was just one of the most magnificent audio-visual spectacles. The music was beautiful, the sets and special effects magical and haunting and the actors superb. This was one of the best musical productions I had seen.
As we walked out of the theatre, I looked at the kids with a mix of marvel and joy. Sensing something, Siddhi said, “Mom, I have no money left, you’re going to have to pay for the cab back to NYU and there are no more surprises.”
Driving back home at 11:30, I told the kids how proud and grateful I was for the gift of a perfect night, a night that they did not have to package and yet how it will be one that I will cherish for life. And the reply in unison? “Mom, it is a small thing we could do in return for everything that you do.”