Last time we went to Bryant Park, it looked like it might rain. Pour, in fact. And when we thought we might get rained out, we quickly called around to some restaurants in the area to see if any of them would be willing to take in a wet and bedraggled topless book club for lunch. A decent enough fallback, we thought.
Well, in the end it didn’t rain, and if you scroll down far enough you can see how much fun we had outdoors in the park that day. (Even the arrival of a Fox News reporter wasn’t enough to ruin the afternoon.) But one of the restaurants that enthusiastically said they’d have welcomed us was Ayza Wine Bar.
Well, not being ones to pass up a good thing, we kept in touch, and this past week we took them up on it, gathering first in nearby Washington Square Park (photos from that part of the day to follow) and then walking the six blocks south to Ayza’s downtown location.
And it was spectacular. Better than we could ever have expected. First of all, the staff was all welcoming and friendly and supportive and warm, and totally game to accommodate what had to be, for them, a rather unusual event. Second of all (though it hardly deserves to come anywhere but first on any list of good things), the food was absolutely delicious — spicy glazed chicken “lollipops,” savory dumplings, pizza spiked with black truffle, artichoke…and then the desserts started emerging, including chocolate truffles hand-delivered by charming waiters and chocolate fondue with all the trimmings.
Third of all (and it hardly deserves to come third), we had the benefits of a private setting (such as the freedom to get fully naked if we wanted, and a couple of us did) while the giant plate-glass windows enabled us to see the sun, and the world going by on the street outside. Could people see us too? Judging by the occasional startled facial expressions, some of them did, though when we sent ambassadors outside to try looking in, we mostly saw reflections. You had to be angled just right to get an eyeful. But some passers-by happened to look at the right moment, and the variety of reactions (confusion, delight, more confusion, stern tugging away of boyfriends by the sleeve) was fun to behold.
To give just one example, this older woman came to the door to find out what was going on. “We’re the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society,” our emissary explained. “Well, I certainly appreciate it,” the visitor said with a big smile.
The afternoon doubled as a birthday celebration for one of our two photographers, and one of the waiters (who got into the spirit of things by going shirtless himself) delivered some fireworks to her table.
Did we get any reading in? Not a ton. But we did have several anthologies on hand from Rachel Kramer Bussel, and the editor herself there, joining in on the fun. Copies of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Hard Case Crime books also made an appearance.
But this time was really about the food and the company and the venue and hoping not to cause any traffic accidents as drivers spied something like 20 women (and a guy or two) in rather less clothing than you normally see in a restaurant.
Happily, we can report there were no six-car pileups.
And Ayza was tremendous. We’re going to return for sure, maybe when it’s freezing out. Imagine people passing by outside in down parkas, when snow is coming down, and glancing in the windows and seeing this…