I just read a piece in Food 52, about Princess Pamela, her mysterious disappearance and reissue of her cookbook. It cast me back to East Village days. In 1991 or 1992, my sister and I lived in the same building as Princess Pamela's restaurant, 1st St and 1st Ave. We literally lived above the back of the restaurant, in the walkup on the 2nd floor, rear apartment. My sister could hear the music in her room at night, through the wooden floor. I was under the impression that Princess Pamela's husband or ex-husband played the bass and that it was his quartet that played nightly or whenever. It was haphazard but seemed a world of its own which I did not understand and facts were optional and seemed to carry pain. This is not necessarily hard to find in NYC, but usually it is avoidance of facts. She did not seem to want anyone to know where she came from like precisely, and was adamant without having to say it. Her body language and eyes were so cold and hot at the same time. I did not really need the info, I was just "being friendly" but she seemed to take questions one would ask as prying. I had seen this in people much older than myself and I understood it must mean something I did not understand and was bound to make more mistakes and hurt her. So I stopped asking. For a while it was tough to get into my apartment because she would be out there asking us to come to the restaurant. I would go home later and later. I didn't have money to eat at her restaurant as it would be $20 each time (cash, like most of NYC) and I could seldom do that. I was not making much money. She didn't have a menu, she would just tell you what was being made by Ada who seemed to be under her control (it was a bit hard to watch) and then at the end of the meal she would tell you what you owed her for dinner. I didn't have that luxury. I had originally gone to the restaurant a few years before when she opened in that spot, because a friend, while we were in college nearby, knew about the place and got a group of friends together to go a couple of times. I remember in one gathering, someone had brought Princess Pamela a "throne"! It was a chair that they had crafted which looked kind of "royal", decorated with red fabric and gold trim. She sat in it a bit. Definitely Princess. It was a perfect fit for her. The food was good, it was the first Southern food of its kind I had ever had, as I grew up in the north and knew nothing of Southern food really, except stereotypes and other "Southern" food in NYC. I would never describe it as a happy place, but there was a magic spell to it and I was never sure if it was good magic or bad magic. I was not a perfect fit for it. It does not surprise me that no one can seem to find out what happened to her after it closed in 1998 -- But she was one of the characters that make NYC magical, good or bad and I hope she and Ada and the band members were able to find peace in their own ways.
Donna Joyce is a writes and posts somewhat regularly at https://email@example.com. She is a big time fan of Life in 10 Minutes <3