When planning a trip to New York City for Valentine’s Day, I knew two things: I didn’t want to fight for a dinner reservation in Manhattan on the national date night of the world, and I wanted a dessert bigger than my head. To achieve both, I made a reservation at Serendipity 3 months ago.
If you’re not familiar, the Lenox Hill restaurant, considered New York’s first coffeehouse boutique, opened in 1954 and has been a staple of both New York and pop culture since. Founded by Stephen Bruce, the eatery was named after three princes of legend that lived on the island of Serendip (Sri Lanka now). From the island came the word, “serendipity,” coined by Sir Horace Walpole to mean an “unplanned, fortunate discovery” -- or, as Kate Beckinsale’s character puts it in the 2001 rom-com “Serendipity,” a “fortunate accident.”
I’m not going to pretend that I wanted to go to Serendipity 3 for any other reason than the Beckinsale/John Cusack-led film being one of my favorites, but at least allow me to point out the rest of the significance surrounding the place. Big names have frequented the teeny tiny restaurant for decades: Marilyn Monroe was a regular, Andy Warhol sketched there and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis even tried to buy the frozen hot chocolate recipe from Bruce (he couldn’t be bought, but did come to her event to make the drink himself).
Besides their more deluxe options (like the Golden Opulence Sundae and Le Burger Extravagant, which go for $1,000 and $295, respectively), Serendipity 3 is known for making really good, really big desserts, including the frozen hot chocolates that Beckinsale (who’s been in the news lately for her rendezvous with Pete Davidson) and Cusack drink during their serendipitous first meeting in the film. This, however, is one of the most unrealistic parts of a movie riddled with unlikely circumstances: These goblets of hot chocolate cannot be finished by one person in one sitting. I tried.
Beckinsale, who commented on "Serendipity" for its 15th anniversary in 2016, told Bustle that even if she isn’t a sucker for the idea of destiny, “There’s something very sweet and innocent about that relationship in that movie. I love that it’s all chance and fate.”
So! Huge desserts and the site of a delicious romantic comedy? Count me in.
Walking into Serendipity 3 feels like stepping into a fantasy world. The walls are riddled with tchotchkes and random artwork, and the Tiffany lamps and wall decor are whimsical and colorful. An entire back wall is made up of bubble-shaped mirrors that warp your figure as you walk by, and in the stairwell leading up to the second floor hangs a big movie poster for “Serendipity.”
The table where Beckinsale and Cusack discussed the intricacies of fate and coincidence is upstairs, flanked by a stone bust of questionable origins (so is the state of most of the knickknacks around the place) atop a mantel and a chandelier adorned with multicolored light bulbs.
I can’t speak on the food at Serendipity 3, but the desserts hold their own. The Frrrozen Hot Chocolates really are good enough for Jackie O to buy out and come in too many flavors (peanut butter, white chocolate, salted caramel, etc.) to choose from -- but when the waiter talked up the s’mores option, complete with a torched, heart-shaped marshmallow, that was that.
To avoid getting in way over my head, I skipped the flamboyant ice cream concoctions that take up an entire side of a larger-than-life menu -- even this is scattered with too many things for your eyes to land on -- and opted for their standard Drug Store Sundae. Standard is subjective here, however: It still came with three scoops of ice cream (cookies & cream and cinnamon for me) with a healthy portion of your topping of choice and more whipped cream than I could process.
As long as you reserve ahead of time and come with an empty stomach, Serendipity 3 is a charming getaway to remove yourself from reality and into a rom-com for an afternoon. I wouldn’t try to have a three-course meal here, but come for the hot chocolate and weird pride at eating at a filming location, and stay for the whipped cream.