Front door, Magnolia House
Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers—Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire”
We traveled to the east coast for a wedding in Philadelphia, the World Traveler having taken himself forevermore off the marriage market and finally settling down with a nice Jewish guy, who will, no doubt, keep him on his toes, but I digress.
Since the boys had their fall break, we decided to tag on a few extra days and head to New York City. FOTI had seen enough of hotels the past months, so we decided on an Air B & B, but what a choice! Every enterprising homeowner in the tri-State area seems to be doing Air B& B. “Here’s a good one,” he told me one night after dinner, ” its called “Magnolia House”, Staten Island, easy walk to the ferry, two rooms so we don’t have to share with the boys, living room, breakfast and, oh by the way, Tennessee Williams stayed there.” Hold the phone. Tennessee Williams, right, not Hank Williams (although that’d be cool too) or Ted Weems? ” Tennessee Williams for sure,” he said, “you know, Stella!Stella!” “Book it,” I told him, without a second’s hesitation.
The host, Danforth, responds to our booking request with the elegant, almost florid correspondence of a 19th century gentleman. I, for one, was intrigued.I didn’t have time to google Danforth to make sure he wasn’t of the Procrustean persuasion, so I had no idea what to expect he’d look like and was hoping for the best.
We arrived after dark on Sunday night.
Magnolia House, is nestled in the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island, tucked just beneath the wing feathers of St. Peter’s Church. Even under cover of darkness, the Victorian house is as quaint and welcoming as her name would imply.
Danforth was a surprise. I think I was expecting a cross between the immortal Jeeves and a forbiddingly gothic Mr. Danvers as it were, but the friendly figure who answered the door looked more like your hip college RA than a B & B landlord.
While FOTI and Danforth parked the car, the boys and I moved into the parlor. Here quaint gave way to opulent, quirky eclecticism. As they say in Dutch “Ik kwam ogen tekort” or my eyes could hardly take it all in! From the golden proa , to the masks, the regency sofas the curios, the art work. “Is this a haunted house?” one of my sons asked. “No,” I replied, “we’ve tumbled into a game of Clue and this is obviously the Oriental Room.”
By this time Danforth and FOTI had returned, wine was poured and we sat down for a chat about our plans, what time for breakfast, books, art, music etc. etc. like you do. Hey, when I meet somebody, first thing I need to know to get their measure is: Atlantic or Motown? Eventually, Danforth shimmered off to his second-floor abode and we shimmered off to bed.
Breakfast was another surprise. Darwin, that is, Darwin Porter, yes, that Darwin Porter was manning the stove and whipping up some delicious scrambled eggs. It is not every day that you get breakfast cooked by a mondo travel writer, journalist and raconteur extraordinaire. Between Danforth’s running commentary and Darwin’s wonderful tales of New York, Key West and Hollywood “back in the day”, time flew by and it was well past noon before we took Manhattan.
It was a great stay in New York. We took in museums, strolled in Central Park and Times Square, surfed on the subway…but getting to know Darwin and Danforth made everything even nicer and more memorable; hanging out on the veranda, talking about all kinds of important things including politics, Harper Lee, The Pink Triangle, extraordinary people we’ve met…
Joe College and FOTI hanging out on the veranda with Danforth
If you are looking for a unique and unforgettable place to stay on a trip to New York City and if you aren’t expecting a premium hotel experience, this is the B & B for you. As Danforth says, “The Hilton, it ain’t”. He’s a believer in what he calls “radical hospitality”. All I know is that we arrived as guests at Magnolia House, we left as friends.