Bemelmans Bar.
Carlyle Hotel, New York
Bemelmans Bar.

A Family Tea with Madeline at The Carlyle Hotel, New York City

So, what has Sex and the City got to do with eating out with kids? Well, the movie was filmed at my family’s favourite New York tea spot – Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle Hotel, an Upper East Side Art Deco institution. The four lovely SiC ladies are seen sitting on the chocolate-leather banquettes, beneath the 24-carat gold leaf ceiling.

The film’s star Sarah Jessica Parker, a long-time fan of The Carlyle, spent her honeymoon with husband Matthew Broderick in one of their suites. But my family like to think we found Bemelmans first. It was one of those discoveries that makes a whole trip worthwhile. We’d wandered into The Carlyle from Central Park, looking for an oasis of calm and a familiar cup of tea. Bemelmans bar looked like a traditional old-fashioned joint with an Irish bartender who’d been there for more than half a century and served bourbon on the rocks to President Truman. But when we looked carefully at the paintings on the walls, we saw the distinctive diminutive shape of Madeline.

For those few families who haven’t met Madeline yet, she’s a very small girl with a very huge following. She’s the mischievous heroine of Ludwig Bemelmans’ illustrated books. And, like us, she travels a great deal, although she’s usually to be found at her French boarding school, ‘an old house in Paris, covered with vines, where ‘lived 12 little girls in two straight lines.' My kids know the words off by heart.

Her maverick author’s life is so crazy that we now tell it to the kids as a bedtime story. Ludwig Bemelmans came here to New York from Austria when he was just 16, fleeing after he’d had an argument with a fellow waiter and shot him in the head. He arrived carrying two pistols to fend off hostile Indians. He tried again, disastrously, to become a waiter, losing his job for wearing one yellow and one white shoe. He paid his Carlyle hotel bill (it’s a very fancy place and he had a family with him too) by smothering the walls of the bar with Madeline murals. We found the character all over them. There are city bankers in cages with smartly dressed monkeys gawping in at them and rabbits grandly picnicking in Central Park.

So still, where’s the food? We discovered that the next day, as at certain times of year, there’s a special Madeline tea. The staid bar is invaded by babies, with a kids’ buffet of Madeline-shaped food and sing-a-long to tunes from the Madeline Song Book. So who cares about Sarah Jessica Parker and her shoes? Madeline is the girl we come to see in Bemelmans bar.

Read about more things to do in New York with kids as well as other family-friendly places to stay.

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