Where do they come from? These young nymphs piling into Serendipity at 9 p.m. for mountainous ice cream sundaes. Their slim forms are just one of the many wonders of Serendipity 3, the eccentric ice cream paradise at 225 East 60 Street. Literally one block from Bloomingdale’s size 2 racks, Serendipity has long attracted the fashionable and the famous, but above all, just folks for 65 years. How many places last this long without giving up their groovy 1960s font?
Teenagers still celebrate their Sweet 16s at Serendipity, and many of those returning now carry Medicare cards. Certainly, celebrations are frequent reasons for coming. But, simply going is a ritual for many people who remember the good times at a place that hasn’t changed in decades.
One woman brought her husband who was in the military and about to be deployed to Afghanistan, Serendipity manager Victor Mercado recalls. “You don’t know what this restaurant means to me,” the man, a Bronx native, told Mercado. When he rolled up his sleeve, there was a Serendipity tattoo on his arm.
An older man undergoing multiple medical treatments once came to Serendipity 3 with his wife the moment he left the hospital. He was on a walker and almost couldn’t move, but he got there.
“I actually skipped dinner to get this,” said one woman who’s made dessert-only visits with her mother something of a tradition. Another young woman thinking about making the big move to New York City enjoyed a quiet and salty-sweet evening treat of french fries and their famous frozen hot chocolate. She was sitting right by Marilyn Monroe’s usual table, back when Monroe was a regular at Serendipity 3.
Beyond the desserts, Serendipity 3 has always been about occasions. It’s an establishment that has been making evenings just a little more special for 65 years.
Here come the celebs
Celebrities also come here as ordinary patrons. Katy Perry brought her sister and niece recently, and before diving into dessert went for the chicken parmesan (there is some regular food on the menu). Dessert was an easy choice – the iconic Frrrozen Hot Chocolate and Forbidden Broadway Sunday. (Mercado remembers these things.)
Other patron names ring bells – Leonardo DiCaprio, John Travolta. Even Cher reportedly shows up for the Frrrozen hot chocolate after landing in New York and right before she takes off.
Two long departed celebrities, Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe were regulars in the early days – often at the same time. Warhol wasn’t famous back then, just a local artist. But, he was a friend of one of the founders, Steve Bruce. During lunch, Warhol would cover his face with a menu that had small holes he could look through. He would privately observe and draw other patrons. “Some customers became Warhol originals,” Mercado said.
Bruce was a wardrobe designer who used to dress Marilyn upstairs. After visiting his boutique for a fitting on the second floor, Marilyn would go downstairs and sit at the same table, where we (and Katy Perry), and many others can still sit.
Serendipity 3 starred in a movie
The place itself is a movie star. Some may remember the 2001 film, “Serendipity,” where John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale vie for the same black cashmere gloves at Bloomingdale’s and decide to depart for Serendipity 3, where they share a sundae. The rest is romantic comedy in New York. (One very sad aspect: images of the World Trade Center were digitally removed after the 9/11 attacks.)
But, somehow the regular New Yorkers make the place. At the table next to us, Edye Smerling shared the Forbidden Broadway Sundae with her 36-year-old daughter, Jessica Smerling. Edye said used to come here with her husband before he was her husband. “This is pretty cute,” Edye said, working on the gigantic pile of ice cream and pointing at Jessica. “She’s a registered dietician.”
Five interesting things about Serendipity 3
1. The “3” in Serendipity 3 refers to the Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip. Serendip was an old Persian name for what became Ceylon and is now Sri Lanka. It is obviously the origin of the word, serendipity, meaning ‘the occurrence of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way’.
2. Serendipity 3 could be the city’s (the world’s?) only aprés theater night spot. How many late-night dining establishments stay open until midnight (1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays), without even selling liquor?
3. Serendipity 3 has scored several entries in the Guinness Book of Records. One was for the world’s most expensive hotdog ($69). Needless to say, it’s a big hot dog. It also sells the world’s most expensive ice cream sundae ($1,000). Shelling out for that requires an advance order, at least 24 hours before.
4. The world’s most expensive sundae features gold flakes and is served in a Baccarat crystal goblet. Buyers can keep the goblet.
5. The three princes who founded Serendipity 3 were Bruce, Patch Caradine and dancer Calvin Holt. Caradine and Holt were from Arkansas.
1. Frrozen Hot Chocolate
2. Broadway Sundae
Photos by John Aurelio