April 30, 2013

Restaurant Gino Lives on in Cupcakeland

The other day I stopped in at the Upper East Side Sprinkles, 780 Lexington Avenue. There, on the north wall of the shop were the famous leaping zebras of the shop's previous tenant, the late, lamented Gino restaurant. Gino was the classic red sauce joint where Gay Talese and Ralph Lauren were regulars, where Woody Allen filmed a scene from Mighty Aphrodite, and where for 65 years generations of Upper East Siders came for their "secret sauce" and spaghetti, osso buco and lasagna.

Actually the original wallpaper was reported to have been taken by Gino co-owner Michael Miele when the restaurant closed in June 2010, to be installed in a successor that never came to life. But it must not have been hard to find a replacement; Scalamandre, the decorative fabric, wallcovering and trim store, still features the wallpaper pattern of leaping zebras (in different colors!) pursued by arrows. The pattern, a nostalgic touchstone for those in the know, was paraded out before a new audience in 2001, when it was featured in Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums.

I took in the irony of the situation: Here were the remains of an extinct restaurant exotic, glimpsed at the moment the media was gleefully announcing the demise of its usurper--over-extended cupcake makers. The Wall Street Journal headline: "Forget Gold, the Cupcake Market is Crashing."The helpful Sprinkles server told me that customers still come in and get misty-eyed over the wallpaper, telling her exactly where in the space Gino's phone booth was located, where they always sat, and how much they missed the old place.

Perhaps one day the juice cleanse salon or organic soft serve place that replaces Sprinkles will keep the perpetually airborne zebras aloft and a new generation of customers will wax nostalgic about those great old-fashioned cupcakes they used to get here.

The reports of the cupcake boom's demise may be slightly premature, though: A new branch of Baked by Melissa just opened right across the street from Sprinkles, at 784 Lexington.