Pleasant, frothy memories of the WaldorfBy Rene Pastor
For 15 years, I have been going to the Waldorf Astoria for the Sugar Club Dinner, an annual ritual for many commodities journalists.
It’s one of those nights where I put on my best coat and tie and hope nothing spills from my soup or that I remember to use the right knife for my steak. That’s what the Waldorf did to me: It forced me to act civilized in front of a glistening porterhouse!
On March 1, it was announced this iconic hotel is closing down. A pall of nostalgia has come over me when I read the news: No more cab rides to and from Park Avenue, no more late nights with my favorite sugar guys, no more ill-fitting leather shoes. My Waldorf was full of pleasant, frothy memories – plus some great stories.
It’s not my favorite hotel, but I heard it was Imelda Marcos’s ‘gold standard.’ But I like it. I remember my first time in 1998. I had just transferred from Singapore to New York to report on the commodities markets for a news agency. Still a bit unfamiliar with the city and the subway system, I took a cab from near the South Street Seaport when a sudden spring shower happened. I was lucky to end up in front of the hotel.
In time I got used to my annual Waldorf dinner-coverage, which, to my wife, meant late nights at work. One time, I needed to go back to the Times Square office to file a story when the Brazilian agriculture minister made an announcement that could possibly move the market. I looked at the Bloomberg and Dow Jones reporters at my table and we all sighed. This meant going back to the office after drinks.
Going into the hotel and up the stairs, you were immediately conscious about the old-rich feel of the place. The new Chinese owners of this iconic NYC landmark announced a renovation which will convert the Waldorf into high-priced condos. There will still be a Waldorf hotel, except that it will be scaled in size, no longer what it used to be when it was a part of my life for 15 years.
On Sugar Club nights, I would just gaze at its luster and luxury. How much is a cup of coffee here? At the grand ballroom on the third floor, my feet sank on its luscious carpeting.
There at the back of the room was a press table, where I and some reporters would melt in the background. You saw old friends and made new friends, shook hands, exchanged business cards, and basked in the camaraderie of the evening.
The Sugar Club annual dinner is a big event for the sugar industry. You got the top honchos from Cargill and Louis Dreyfus, and Brazilian traders from Unica attending, not to mention executives from assorted banks from Europe to Japan.
Every company had its own table. By the time everyone had settled down for dinner, many would be a bit blitzed. There was one keynote speaker, and the betting would be how long the speech would run.
The Sugar Club in the middle of May marked the end of spring and the arrival of summer. I left the news agency in 2012, and have never been to the Waldorf since. Let me just say I was part of its dazzling history in my own inglorious way.
Rene Pastor is a financial journalist who covered the commodities market for a news agency in New York City from 1998 to 2012. He is now an online News Editor and an adjunct English teacher.