Rich: Let's talk about sex, Caity.
Caity: To get to Play through the main entrance, you must walk through the Museum of Sex gift shop, which sells standard museum souvenirs like mugs, postcards, and lotion to arouse your genitals.
Rich: In the window is this:
So that's welcoming or prohibitive depending on your sexual attitude/appetite.
I enjoyed pondering the portmanteaus ("Sliquid" lube, a book called "Sexitecture"), the penis bones, the fertility soaps, and the pristine copy of the December 1989 issue of Playboy with Candice Bergen on the cover being sold for $15 ("The looker speaks from the heart about men, Murphy Brown and movie-set sex").
Caity: The shelves are also stocked with row upon row of pricey dildos. These, customers attempt to turn on and then, as soon as they shiver to life, drop, shrieking with delight. I could have stood in that store all day watching people drop dildos on the ground, but it was time for lunch.
The best restaurant in New York is
Play at the Museum of Sex.
À la carte.
Cost, before tip
Rich: Unfortunately, at 2:40, lunch (in "the den") was no longer being served. In other words, we got fucked at Play.
Caity: We got Played.
Rich: But! The Nice & Sweet Cafe has sandwiches. I was happy with that because their menu actually evokes sex, as opposed to the Play menu, which does not. There's a lot of fun you could have with a sex museum's restaurant's menu (Vienna sausages, calamari rings, tacos…) that just wasn't being had. Play is not so playful. More like Chore.
Caity: I was also excited for the sex sandwiches (because I love sandwiches), but what I wanted more than anything was the sandwich that was actually a bratwurst (because I really love hot dogs). Unfortunately, they were sold out of almost everything, so all I could have was fish. I hated that metaphor even as it was happening, and I also hated the fish.
Rich: There were two pre-made sandwiches left and two packaged salads. The experience ingeniously mirrored what happens during last call in a disappointingly populated gay bar: Panic mode. Ahhhhhhh, gotta pick something! Uh uh uh!
I wanted the "Bang Me" (a vegan banh mi, which is not on the online menu) and I got the tuna ("Italian Tuna Loin"). There's my metaphor.
The other sandwich was called a "Lox Me Up." Lox strikes again, as underwhelmingly as ever.
Caity: The eleventh plague is lox.
Rich: Ahead of us at the counter was a woman with short brown hair and visible bra straps. She fawned over your glasses. "Where did you get them?!?"
Caity: You said later she was hitting on me. I thought she just loved my glasses.
Rich: I do think she was hitting on you, but give everyone the answer you gave her.
Rich: The eyeglass capital of Europe.
Caity: The answer I actually gave her was "[Silence silence silence] Lenscrafters. I couldn't think of a cool lie fast enough. I wish I had said Ibiza."
Rich: I think I squealed out loud. I couldn't hide my joy from the content that was just materializing before my eyes.
Caity: Then the girl taking our order said that she was on the market for some frames too, and although she had not expressed an interest in mine, again I said: "Lenscrafters."
Rich: I'm sure she could find something at Lenscrafters that went with her gently alt septum piercing. She was nice. Her co-worker, an Asian guy with tattoos and blue colored contacts and a lip piercing was also nice, if not present.
Caity: I asked the girl if I could please have a Diet Coke with my meal. She said: "I want to say yes..."—and I believe, in her heart, she did—"...but we don't keep it up here. Let me call the bar [portion of the restaurant, 20 feet away]."
Rich: Bad news, four-eyes.
Caity: "We don't have it, unfortunately, but we do have seltzer water."
They didn't have the thing I asked for but they did have one thing, so, don't anybody go starting a rumor that this restaurant is an empty box with nothing in it. We don't have batteries but we do have crackers.
Rich: Seltzer has bubbles. You like bubbles, right?
Caity: So you know what I told her? "Lenscrafters." (Just kidding. I said, "I'll just have a regular water, please.") You got Champagne even though they had seltzer.
Rich: It was buy one get one. How could I not?
Rich: The salads—one lentil, kale, and ricotta, one quinoa and squash—smelled like burps. But different burps, at least.
After our food arrived (even if you order at the counter, they bring it out to you), I learned that salad is poison to Caity Weaver. It was like watching a cat nibbling at a new brand of cat food, moments before deciding that not eating is preferable. You said that you felt like you should "get something" for eating them.
Caity: When I was little (and a very picky eater), my parents would make me eat as many bites of dinner as my age before I could have dessert. This felt like that.
I disliked the salads less than I thought I would. I loved the cheese.
Rich: Ricotta: always great in a salad.
Caity: I kept forgetting which was lentils and which was quinoa, although they were different colors.
You were very patient. Anne Sullivan in the dining car. Quinoa, Helen, Q U I N O A.
Rich: You had quinoa all over your pinafore, bless your animal heart.
The lox sandwich made LOX seem like the actual best restaurant in New York, and not just one we profiled for a column with that tongue-in-cheek name.
The tuna was a problem. It had anchovies on it. Would you like some fish with your fish? NOT REALLY.
Caity: Fifty percent of the desserts were good. The first, pain au chocolat, was cheating because they get it from an outside restaurant (Balthazar) (delicious). The second was an awful little pyramid shaped cake, and never has the majesty of the pyramids been so demeaned. Lemon olive oil with matcha.
Rich: I liked both. Even the one with your slobber on it.
Caity: I said, "Do you think I could fit this whole pyramid in my mouth?"
And you said, "Probably, but I want to eat it."
And I said, "Would you rather eat it or see something amazing?"
And you said, "The latter, I guess."
Rich: I'm in it for the story. That's my approach to life AND my job. No divide.
Caity: Ladies and gentleman, I got that cake in my mouth. Unhinged my jaw like a snake and popped it in whole. And as the corners of the pyramid scraped the back of my throat, I knew: I'm giving Rich a great New York memory here.
Rich: It was great. Definitely a highlight.
Caity: Then you said "I would still like to eat it,"
Rich: And so I did.
Caity: I gave you the piece that had been exposed to air rather than my oral cavity. I thought it tasted like a dessert that had been left on the kitchen counter while you were spraying disinfectant.
Rich: I guess I'm just into that.
Caity: The off-putting taste wasn't enough to stop me from eating the cake.
Caity: As if the sex books lining shelves throughout the restaurant weren't enough, there was an actual study session going on in the booth behind us.
Rich: Yeah, bring your laptop to Play and look at porn or don't! Anything goes! Very open-minded sort of place! The type of place where you could read a photo-illustrated sex manual (The Ultimate Sex Book) in front of a half finished sandwich.
Caity: I felt like: I don't come to your classroom and put an entire cake in my mouth. Why do you come to my lunch and do math problems?
Rich: The scene was a real melting pot of races and apparent sexualities (a gay guy said something about Mary when passing our table—he was talking about the Virgin Mother, but STILL).
Really, it was indistinguishable from a coffee shop or Barnes & Noble cafe. It's the Babelandification of sex commerce. There were no ostensible creeps, but sometimes you just want to gawk at a guy who looks like he smells like masturbation and then walk by him to confirm. I saw a woman napping on the couch.
Caity: It was exactly like a Barnes & Noble Cafe except bigger, darker, and with no soda. It reminded me of a dorm common room. Just people sitting around doing whatever. Many did not appear to have ordered food.
Rich: Play was like sex purgatory. A culinary translation of the experience of being trapped between second and third base. Eternal shortstop zone. Wear a cup to protect your blue balls.
Plus that chemical smell.
Caity: Smells like paint, tastes like fish: Play at the Museum of Sex.
Is Everything Okay?
Questions about the Dining Experience
Would you go back?
Caity: No! No.
Is it a good first date spot?
Caity: No, it is not. Play is one of those restaurants where it's totally unclear if you're supposed to seat yourself or wait to be seated, if you order your food from a waiter or at the bar, and if anyone in the room works there or if they are all just schmoes like you who wandered in searching for seltzer water. The back and forth antsy dance of looking around, slowly sitting down, and wandering back outside to try to find an employee would only compound the awkwardness of a first date. No one looks attractive when they're uncertain.
You also have to walk past a police lineup of dildos to get to the restaurant, which may not be to everyone's taste.
Rich: I think the seating uncertainty just gives you the opportunity to show off how alpha (dom) or beta (sub) you are to a potential sex partner. Do you take charge of a potential challenge and assert yourself, or do you wither?
Also, because it is sex themed, it's a good way of telling a stranger, "Hi, I'm interested in sex." I say yes to first dates at Play.
Is it a good place to have an affair?
Caity: It is not a good place to have an affair, because such a large cross-section of people congregate there: office workers, students, glasses enthusiasts, frowning layabouts. Who knows who you'll bump into? Maybe your partner having an affair of their own.
Rich: I agree with you, but I will say that the bathroom does seem to offer the opportunity for a quickie. There are handles, like those that would be on the side of a trunk, placed high on the wall. They seem like something to hold onto while you are being sexed. I guess that means if you are so inclined, you can go in there with another person. (ALSO a nice option for a first date.)
Is it a good place to bring a doll?
Caity: No. The table is just high enough so that she would not be able to see over the top. It would be pointless to bring her.
Rich: It's a good place to bring a sex doll, if you're the kind who keeps a portable sex doll. I wouldn't expose an innocent child's doll to such tawdriness, though.
There are a bunch of restaurants in the world, including some in New York City. But in a city of over 24,000 restaurants, how do you find the best? You begin your search in places that are already popular: New York's hottest tourist destinations. In The Best Restaurant in New York Is, writers Caity Weaver and Rich Juzwiak attempt to determine the best restaurant in New York. Photos by Caity Weaver and Rich Juzwiak