Hotel Kid: A Times Square Childhood


"Funny, poignant, sad and wistful…This is a very fine book—about a person, and a city, growing up."—Philadelphia Inquirer

"This delightful yet poignant memoir is highly recommended for both public and academic libraries."—Library Journal (starred review)

"The charming Hotel Kid is as luxurious as the lobby in a five-star hotel."—San Francisco Chronicle

A Manhattan landmark for fifty years, the ...

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Hotel Kid: A Times Square Childhood

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"Funny, poignant, sad and wistful…This is a very fine book—about a person, and a city, growing up."—Philadelphia Inquirer

"This delightful yet poignant memoir is highly recommended for both public and academic libraries."—Library Journal (starred review)

"The charming Hotel Kid is as luxurious as the lobby in a five-star hotel."—San Francisco Chronicle

A Manhattan landmark for fifty years, the Taft in its heyday in the 1930s and '40s was the largest hotel in midtown, famed for the big band in its basement restaurant and the view of Times Square from its towers. As the son of the general manager, Stephen Lewis grew up in this legendary hotel, living with his parents and younger brother in a suite overlooking the Roxy Theater. His engaging memoir of his childhood captures the colorful, bustling atmosphere of the Taft, where his father, the best hotelman in New York, ruled a staff of Damon Runyonesque house dicks, chambermaids, bellmen, and waiters, who made sure that Stephen knew what to do with a swizzle stick by the time he was in the third grade.

The star of this memoir is Lewis's fast-talking, opinionated, imperious mother, who adapted so completely to hotel life that she rarely left the Taft. Evelyn Lewis rang the front desk when she wanted to make a telephone call, ordered all the family's meals from room service, and had her dresses sent over from Saks. During the Depression, the tough kids from Hell's Kitchen who went to grade school with Stephen marveled at the lavish spreads his mother offered her friends at lunch every day, and later even his wealthy classmates at Horace Mann-Lincoln were impressed by the limitless hot fudge sundaes available to the Lewis boys.

Lewis contrasts the fairy-tale luxury of his life inside the hotel with the gritty carnival spirit of his Times Square neighborhood, filled with the noise of trolleys, the smell of saloons, the dazzle of billboards and neon signs. In Hotel Kid, lovers of New York can visit the nightclubs and movie palaces of a vanished era and thread their way among the sightseers and hucksters, shoeshine boys and chorus girls who crowded the streets when Times Square really was the crossroads of the world.

"[T]his postcard from a vanished age nicely captures a special childhood rivaling Eloise's"—Kirkus Reviews

"A colorful and nostalgic snapshot of a vanished era."—Bloomsbury Review

"Chockfull of history and wit, Stephen Lewis' account of his charming yet preposterous childhood spent in a suite at the Taft Hotel ordering from room service and playing games like elevator free fall is a five-star read. Hotel Kid pays tribute to an elegant time long ago that was very elegant and is very gone. It's a book we've been waiting for without realizing it: at long last, an Eloise for grown ups."—Madeleine Blais, author of Uphill Walkers: Portrait of a Family

Stephen Lewis on Hotel Kid: "Raised in a loving cocoon of chambermaids, bellboys, porters, waiters, and housedicks, I led a fairy tale existence as the son of the general manager of the Hotel Taft, just off Times Square and Radio City. During the darkest days of the Depression, my younger brother and I treated our friends to limitless chocolate éclairs and ice cream sodas. Vague longings for a 'real American life' rose only occasionally — as rare as the home-cooked meals my mother attempted once or twice a year. From my privileged vantage point in a four-room suite on the fifteenth floor, overlooking the chorus girls sunbathing on the roof of the Roxy Theater, I grew into adolescence, both street-smart and sheltered by the hundreds of hotel workers who had known me since I was a baby."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This literary memoir, ideal for chuckling at with a glass of port near a roaring fireplace while surrounded by sleepy grandchildren and old photos, is perfect for those who long for the way things were. For New Yorkers of many decades and for the younger set who push strollers along upper Madison Avenue to church on Sundays, Lewis the founder of a New Mexico memoir-writing workshop produces pages of carefully honed prose about his childhood growing up in the landmark Taft Hotel, where his father was general manager. The nostalgic goings-on unfold in the Times Square hotel and in the New York suburbs during the 1930s, WWII and the postwar boom years. With an appealingly innate whimsy, the author dutifully tries to provide psychological insight into human motives ("If power corrupts, hot fudge corrupts absolutely"). The book is as much a family history as a time capsule, as Lewis chronicles the menu from his father's bar mitzvah dinner and tells of collecting victory stamps with the hope of turning them in for a war bond. Lewis, who is kind in print to his family and those he knew, wraps up his book with a contrasting snapshot of his old Taft Hotel home in its new incarnation as the Michelangelo, and speaks with distaste of the "Roy Rogers Family Restaurant and TGIF on the corner." Sweet and unchallenging, this is a friendly portrait of a bygone Big Apple. Photos. (Aug.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The founder of a Santa Fe memoir-writing workshop, Lewis grew up in midtown Manhattan's Hotel Taft, where his father presided as general manager for 33 years. In this beautifully written memoir, he lovingly recaptures the experience. Lewis's parents moved to the hotel in 1931, when he was 18 months old and his brother 17 months younger. The establishment provided them with everything; Lewis writes that he never needed to buy a bar of soap until he traveled to Europe in his mid-twenties. His mother rarely left the hotel and, unlike most mothers, did not shop, cook, or clean. Instead, employees brought meals to the suite, and shops delivered dresses. As a result, observes Lewis, "she grew increasingly imperious on a steady, heady diet of servility"; the only employee she never yelled at was Robbins the Package Boy (at the Taft, people's names were their jobs). Lewis pays tribute to an earlier New York, when there were at least 25 theaters within eight blocks of his home and the Roxy, a movie palace, was next door on Seventh Avenue. That was before the city's penchant for demolition and excess development blotted out much of the neighborhood's light as well as its character. This delightful yet poignant memoir is highly recommended for both public and academic libraries. Elaine Machleder, Bronx, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Former educational publisher Lewis recalls growing up in a signature New York hotel. For 33 years, the author's father was general manager of the mighty Taft Hotel, nestled against the Roxy movie palace just off Times Square. Ben Bernie and Vincent Lopez played the hotel's Grill Room. There were pay toilets on the mezzanine, and the Lewis family lived on the 15th floor. The old neighborhood encompassed Radio City Music Hall and the theaters of 42nd Street. Stephen and kid brother Peter grew up surrounded by Runyonesque characters and attended by regiments of servile staff. The bellmen, waiters, telephone operators, elevator operators, maids, chefs, porters, painters, carpenters, and stewards all offered myriad forms of homage to the kids of the boss. It was youth in a palace, and Dad was king. Candy, comic books, and all the best of the Taft were free for the taking. Life was a bowl of cherries rolling in on a room service table. "Jumbo shrimp, bottles of Scotch, and freshly ironed sheets were ours without limit," Lewis reports. Life outside, though, was unfamiliar. A year in suburban New Rochelle, where the boys tremulously mistook a moth for a bat, was a failure. Back in the family suite, demanding and imperious Mom again presided while Dad, wounded by the Depression but wise in hotel ways, made his rounds. In other words, he was generally absent and remains a remote figure even here. The Taft is dead now, with not even a ghost of a hotel on the old site, but its devoted child vividly recalls its best days. Nostalgia runs rampant, but this postcard from a vanished age nicely captures a special childhood rivaling Eloise's. Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781589880184
  • Publisher: Dry, Paul Books, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/1/2004
  • Pages: 214
  • Sales rank: 994,754
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

After graduating from Harvard in 1950, Stephen Lewis worked as a writer of children's cartoons and educational films. In 1964 he joined SRA, an innovative educational publisher, and served as Editorial Director of the Elementary and High School Division. He now lives and writes in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he founded and directed Writing Your Self, one of the first memoir-writing workshops in the United States.
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