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Wise Old Night Owl

If she’s not saving Africa, look for 87-year-old Zelda Kaplan at Bungalow 8.

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Zelda Kaplan rarely wakes up before 2 p.m. and never leaves her rent-controlled midtown apartment without massive, owl-shaped sunglasses. She doesn’t wait on lines. Instead, the doormen at Bungalow 8—and APT and Lotus—lift her up over the velvet ropes.

At 87, she’s Manhattan’s oldest party animal since Disco Sally—a Paris Hilton with a social conscience. About twenty years ago, Kaplan started a one-woman organization, financed through an inheritance, to raise awareness among African women about everything from their own right to inheritance to clitoridectomies.

When she’s not in Africa, a typical Wednesday is “Cobalt, then Cielo. Maybe to an Israeli film about clitoridectomies first.” Kaplan herself is the subject of a new documentary, Her Name Is Zelda, screening at HBO’s film festival here next month.

She’s been going out for more than 40 years, and she wishes there were still places like Rubin’s on East 58th Street, where she’d eat prune pancakes at 3 a.m. and spy on Ginger Rogers. “I hope I’m that fabulous at that age,” says Bungalow’s Amy Sacco.

“She’s an inspiration!” adds Tommy Tune, who dropped by Cobalt Club recently to see Kaplan, before she took off to dance at Lotus. “I never stay out as late as when I’m with her,” says Begonia Plaza, 38, who met Kaplan at a party filled with arms dealers and is writing a book about her.

Kaplan is a very forthcoming subject. Her two ex-husbands are the only thing she doesn’t like to talk about; one made her quit law school to go to Miami Beach, “a cultural desert.” After her second divorce, she taught ballroom dancing—before moving into African social work.

While she’s traveling, her energy remains ceaseless. “My God, we were in these African villages, and she’d wake us up at 7 a.m. with hard-boiled eggs, and we’d be off!” says the documentary’s director, Nicole Sampogna.

“I think one of the things that keeps me healthy is that I’m not introspective at all,” says Kaplan. “The secret is being interested in things outside of oneself.”


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