Time Out New York Kids, April 2007

    Out Take: Not-Nice New York
    You say your spot is child-friendly? Prove it.

    By Bruce Kluger

    We’ve all heard about the kidcentric
    splendor of New York City: Museums
    around every corner. Cleverly
    constructed playgrounds. Free cookies
    for your toddler at the neighborhood

    All true, but what about those other
    “family” haunts in Manhattan—the
    ones that, in my experience, specialize
    in phony grins, outrageous prices and
    a not-so-secret contempt for children?

    Three leap to mind:

    Gymboree Stores: When my daughter Bridgette was two, we were browsing at a
    local outpost of this national chain one day when she abruptly announced the need
    to pee. As any potty-training parent knows, this is the Moment of Truth—when your
    brimming babe warns you about her impending spill, rather than test-driving her
    Pampers. But when I asked the store manager if we could use the bathroom, she
    said no. When I asked why, she told me it was “unsafe.” I commented that the open
    barrel of toys at the back of the store—you know, the one that keeps kids occupied
    while their parents shop—might be equally perilous, but she just smiled and rang
    up the next customer. So we dashed off to the McDonald’s next door.

    I subsequently learned that this potty-prohibition was store policy, and I wrote the
    CEO of Gymboree to tell him I was pissed. A flack called me back and, in so many
    words, told me to talk to the hand. I haven’t shopped at Gymboree since. Bridgette
    is now 11.

    Serendipity Ice Cream Parlor: What’s with the chronic lines? And the no-strollers
    rule? And waiters so snotty they make Simon Cowell look like Gandhi? For all its
    fame as the city’s toniest ice-cream parlor (it’s somewhere on East 60th Street; you
    look it up), what Serendipity 3 serves up best are portions of attitude and agita
    twice the size of its banana splits. Weary customers are herded (slooooowly)
    through the narrow gift shop at the entrance like refugees at Ellis Island, then
    hustled though their heaping mounds of gooey sweets with all the grace of feeding
    time at the Bronx Zoo.

    I was there last for one of my daughters’ birthdays, and all she cared about was
    taking home a souvenir spoon (the one that sticks out of the sundae like the flag at
    Iwo Jima). “All out!” we were told cheerfully—even though we could see that stacks
    of sundae kits, complete with spoons, lined the gift shop shelves.

    Open a kit for a little girl on her birthday? Are you kidding? They’d rather lose a
    customer. Which they did.

    Disney’s The Lion King: My four-year-old trouper, Audrey, and I stood in the
    cancellation line for 45 minutes, praying for tickets to a Saturday matinee. When
    two became available only minutes before curtain, I asked the box-office clerk—
    twice—if we’d get to our seats in time for the opening number (which happens to be
    the show’s most spectacular moment). “Sure,” I was told. “Hurry on in.”

    But as we entered the upstairs lobby, the theater doors were shut in our faces.
    “You can view the opening song on the TV monitor,” we were instructed.

    “We can watch the DVD on a TV at home,” I protested. “For $200, we’re seeing the
    real thing.”

    After finally making our way in, my anxious kid and I dashed to our box seats. It was
    there that a female usher—and may God strike me down if I am making this up—
    threw me a cross-body block. Hard.

    Audrey and I sat down anyway. She enjoyed “The Circle of Life.” I fumed.

    There you have it: from toilet to table to ticket-taker, a dad’s-eye-view of Manhattan
    for children. If you haven’t been to these kiddie meccas, don’t take my word for it—
    venture there yourself. Just don’t be surprised if you’re the one who winds up
    having a meltdown.