How do you judge the famous (or infamous) Serendipity 3? Truthfully, this place is pretty good. But the reviews are bad because it has such an enormous and historic reputation that there’s no way it can live up to the hype. Still, if you’re able to, I’d recommend you give this place a try (but only once) and check it off your list.
Serendipity 3 opened in 1954 and was one of NYC’s first boutique coffee shops. It’s odd to think of it as a coffee shop because it’s really a huge, full-fledged restaurant, but it was one of the first places that had a focus on coffee beverages and desserts. It was often frequented by the “who’s who” of that time including Jackie O, Marilyn Monroe, and Andy Warhol. It was featured in two Hollywood movies: One Fine Day with Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney and Serendipity with John Cusak and Kate Beckinsale. One Fine Day features the famous frozen hot chocolate. So, the restaurant’s reputation far outweighs the offerings themselves, which is really the problem. With such a weighty past, people have higher expectations than they should, which obviously results in disappointment and bad reviews. On top of that, tons of tourists insist on going there, which is annoying to all real New Yorkers and heavily detracts from the experience.
So, as you can imagine, the majority of days and times, the wait is insane. You can get around this in two ways. Either you make a reservation for lunch or dinner (as in, you have to order food, not just dessert, which is annoying because dessert is the sole reason you are there), or you have to go during one of very few off-peak times without a reservation. Then you can order just dessert or whatever you want. The best time to go is 3 pm during a weekday or super late night (11 pm).
Now that you’re there, we all know what you’re going to order – the frozen hot chocolate. So go ahead and order it. It’s good. But not even a fraction above good. You have to order it because that’s the only reason you came here. But you’ll likely be disappointed because it is ALL people talk about and you’ve heard that it’s the BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD. You will order it, drink it, and think “hmm ok that was good, but not wait-in-line-for-2-hours good.” Which is exactly why you should not go during a time when you have to wait for 2 hours! If you do want some delicious frozen hot chocolate, try Nunu Chocolates instead.
The frozen hot chocolate comes with whipped cream (no thank you) and is made for one person, but if you just want to have a few sips, then you could share it between two people. The chocolate flavor is weaker than expected and the drink is quite icy. It’s good when you want to have a frozen hot chocolate that you don’t feel too guilty about. It’s not good when you want to have something decadent and delicious.
The other stuff at Serendipity 3 is all fine. I don’t think there’s anything actively worth coming for, except to say you’ve done it. But they do have a variety of good desserts, some of which are quite exaggerated and make for a grand presentation. The ambiance is quite nice, but nothing super spectacular. And service is really quite hit or miss. If you’re looking for great quality, tasty food, desserts, and even frozen hot chocolate, it’s not the place to go. If you’re going to say you’ve done it, then set your expectations low and you’ll walk away satisfied.