DIARY OF A SALOON OWNER 2005

 by CAROL JOYNT

Entries for February, 2005

Monday, February 28...Once again ALL area schools are closed and, at least in Georgetown, it's been snowing for two hours with ZERO accumulation. Maybe that will change as the day goes on. So far this season the DC weather forecasters have not correctly called one single snowstorm. They pump them up as the blizzard of the decade, and then phffft.///Do you want to know when you will die?  Do you want to live as long as you can?  Here are two websites worth visiting.  The first will tell you the day of your death: http://www.deathclock.com/. The other, based on your answers to a battery of questions, will track your longevity and give tips on how to stretch it out.  This website was touted in the local news and turns out to be pretty good: http://www.agingresearch.org/calculator/quiz.cfm. If the results depress you, or you want to celebrate, then by all means come to Nathans to have a good dinner and a glass of wine.///Only three thoughts on last night's predictable Oscars. 1. As a lead-in ABC should have run "Desperate Housewives," instead of Barbara Walters; 2. Clive Owen is still hot and 3. Don't hire Chris Rock and then make him work soft. Let Chris Rock be Chris Rock.  Oh, and 3-a, Sean Penn is the new Alec Baldwin.///We had an okay night. Few dinners but a medium bar.  Most likely today's non-blizzard will flatten lunch, but I'm doing voodoo that it won't phase the community lunch tomorrow with Arun Gandhi. Randolph's is making us a chocolate birthday cake to celebration Nathans 36th birthday.  

Sunday, February 27...In the 70s and 80s Howard held an Oscar night party in the "back room" at Nathans each year. Occasionally we would attend, and it was a big deal. Theme food, decorations, TV's, and lots and lots of people dressed for the red carpet. We could try it now, but its doubtful it would be a success. Why? Because when the Oscars got moved from a Monday in March to a Sunday in February they got muddled in an awards show season glut and, importantly, people are not as inclined to make a night of it on a Sunday; they are resting from being out Friday and Saturday. So, I predict a near normal Sunday night at Nathans, with an okay dining room and some people in the front who will have one eye on the bar TV's to see who wins.  I don't have a stake in the competition tonight. I didn't go to see "Million Dollar Baby," because I cry enough without being prompted by a movie...but I'll watch it on DVD. Annette Bening was brilliant in "Being Julia." Clive Owen is hot. And then there's "Sideways." That movie made me very happy. First, because it celebrated my favorite grape: Pinot Noir, and second because it had a great Merlot joke. Now, on the one hand it's become a "cult" hit, with ardent fans storming the Napa valley to get a piece of the buzz, and on the other it's making some people hysterical. It's  appeal for me was the way Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen tenderly (and amusingly) played out the realities, and compromises, of falling in love the second or third time around. He's an endearing shlub and she's a lonely beauty, and both feel a bit like losers, but as they become acquainted there's that indefinable connection, and they bring out the best in each other. Living in Georgetown, we're a little more exposed than average to the culture of marrying up and power dowries, but out in the world beyond the 20007 zipcode people still hook up because they're right for each other.///Didn't get into Nathans last night because it was the school auction. Good to catch up with other parents and see some of the teachers in their after work mode, but it was, as Saturday nights often are, the weird scenario of me with the married people. It probably wouldn't matter so much if I'd never been a member of the club, but 20 years of being a "couple" on Saturday nights makes it harder to be among 'em when you're not. For dinner I sat with four couples, all good friends, but headed home before the dancing began.

Later...Just back from an elegant reception for Arun Gandhi at the hilltop residence of the Ambassador of India, Ronen Sen, and his wife.  It was a soiree full of the knowing and notable old guard. Had the fun of introducing Spen around, and we both had a pleasant get-acquainted conversation with Mr. Gandhi.  He's a good looking man. He is our featured guest Tuesday at the Nathans Community Lunch.  I told him the lunch is on regardless of whether it snows one inch or ten inches (the forecast is for ten), and he's down with that. We talked with the deputy ambassador, and several other people, as well as Albrecht Muth and his interesting wife, Viola. Albrecht is the intermediary who suggested this lunch in the first place. Other than that, Spen and I ate tasty Indian samplings and played a game of guessing who in the room was CIA.///Now it's time to pull up in front of the tube, ogle the arrivals and enjoy Chris Rock.   

Saturday, February 26... This photo is not in a league with Martha Stewart, but it is how we try to start the day: juice, berries, Emmi yogurt, green tea. Ozzy the parrot and Leo the dog love the Emmi, too, especially black cherry. Spen has this plus cinnamon toast or pancakes, poached eggs, sausage, and then I get to clean up.///Fantastic news today - a dear friend who underwent surgery for colon cancer has learned it is stage one. The tumor did not penetrate the intestinal wall, and the lymph nodes were clear. He's on the other side of 65, and had his first ever screening colonoscopy a month ago. Need I emphasize what a testament this is for having that exam? Had he not, or had he waited another year, the news could have been much worse; it may have been too late. My only lecture to him would be please try to cut down on red meat. Basically, if we're not raising them, and feeding them ourselves, we have no idea what chemicals have been injected into the animals we eat. Eat meat rarely, save the money, and when possible buy the highest quality organic beef, veal, lamb. That's my rant.///A moving story in The Rocky Mountain Times about Hunter Thompson's family and how they dealt with his suicide. Their behavior was unorthodox -- having a cocktail with his dead body -- but it worked for them and that's what matters. Here's the link: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/state/article/0,1299,DRMN_21_3575306,00.html

With the Oscars tomorrow there are a lot of good movies on the tube. Last night my #1 and #2 favorites ran on Encore and Bravo - #1, Two for the Road, with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney, and #2, Shakespeare in Love with Gwyneth Paltrow. So I switched back and forth.  If my #3 fave had been on, the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan and Renee Russo, it would have made for remote control chaos. I saw Two for the Road first when I was 18, and probably 20 times since. A few years ago I was alone in a London hotel elevator with Finney, still handsome despite a few added years and pounds. He smiled, I smiled back. As our lift lumbered up the shute, in my heart was the deep warm rush of sentiment and yearning that comes with seeing a beloved old friend, but I said nothing. Then the doors opened at my floor, and he went on to his.

Enough of all that.  Off to Nathans.

Later...Another men's bathroom crisis at brunch, though less harrowing than the one a week ago.  In the middle of a slammed afternoon - every table and the barstools filled, fifteen people waiting - a man flies out of the men's room with a look on his face like he'd just seen an autopsy. "It's...it's overfilled in there!" he wailed to Vito and Mahde, who were standing nearby at the service bar. They looked down and it was clear from their worried expressions that "water" was seeping out from under the door.  They sprung into action with mops and buckets -- in their nice suits -- and quickly got the mess cleaned up. It was simple: the men, those bad boys, had not been flushing the toilet. That can do it. This is not unique to the men's room.  The women trash their bathroom more often, throwing everything imaginable into the loo's, unreeling the toilet paper all over the floor, emptying the paper towel dispenser in one clump, and lots more that doesn't need to be detailed. Staff are constantly in there tidying up.  What is this about?  Do people forget their potty training when performing this simple human process in a public place?  Sometimes I wish I could put two portable john's out on the street and call it a day. Otherwise, a lovely brunch.  The streets were packed. Exuberance in the air. Snow virtually gone. The sun is higher in the sky.  There's hope.

Friday, February 25...The day started late due to a two hour delayed school opening because of yesterday's snowfall, which the bright sun melted half away by afternoon -  the advantage to February snow; here today, gone tomorrow. The first part of the work day was devoted to a good, long meeting downtown with another businessman who wants to help me figure out how to save Nathans. He was stunned by the amount of debt, but had good ideas and I valued his opinions.  We will talk more.  We have one goal: a new longer lease with better terms so that Nathans can endure, for job & $$$ security and a future, and to continue to give Georgetown a tavern at its most important crossroads. Until then, there's no happy ending to the dramedy that began eight year's ago with me as the accidental "Desperate Widow."  Then from downtown to Nathans to sign several thousand dollars of checks for past-due bills.  This is what a good week brings - we inch out of the mud a little. Worked on updating the website. Talked to the Washington Nationals about setting up a table at Tony Tavares' lunch where patrons can buy Nationals t-shirts, caps, etc., and possibly even tickets. I want to have boxes of Crackerjacks at each table, and maybe even serve ballpark franks. Then to a quick 29th birthday lunch for Izette Folger at Bistro Lepic, with her good friend, Janice, and her sister, the screenwriter Nora Maccoby.  Nora told us about her fundraising project with the gifted actor Edward Norton. I will have more details soon. Once again I enjoyed Bruno Fortin's scrumptious creamy green lentil soup and the warm chocolate souffle cake.  Then to school, then Nathans again. I'm tired, and ready for a weekend, such as it is.

Later...It seems people are rejoicing in the last week of February, eager to bid winter goodbye and welcome the month of March, and spring. That's one explanation for this week of nights at Nathans that have been strong, lively, profitable. Tonight was no different - busy dining room, busy bar. Chef Loredonna has produced some delicious specials, too. Today at lunch Bruno, in asking about a chef who once worked for me, said, "If he cooked at Nathans does he know anything other than hamburgers?" Well, in defense, while we do serve among the best burgers in the city, our dining room menu is top notch American white table cloth fare - excellent Chicago steaks, chops, roasted chicken; a variety of fresh fish; house made pasta. There's something to appeal to everyone and Loredonna, the daughter of the original chef, and her team currently come up with superb presentations. However, many people say: "I've been going to Nathans for 20 years and I didn't know there was a restaurant." Oh, yes, the clubbiest room this side of the 21 Club, with burgundy leather banquettes and booths, intimate lighting, polished teak floors, deep red walls trimmed in wood, and David Kennerly's handsome photographs.

Thursday, February 24...Yesterday was a goner. Spen home with a sore throat, time at the pediatrician's for testing (thankfully negative), then Nathans, then the DMV (we all know how that goes), then the market, make dinner, take care of Spen, back to Nathans, evening meeting with yet another charming suitor who wants to be my business partner, and then finally home by 8pm. Phew!///Do I want a partner?  I know I want a solution to the nightmare of problems on my plate, but is a partner the answer? I hired a management company once and they did more damage than manage. It was a mistake I'm still paying for and, once burned, I'm skeptical about ever again signing any contracts with anyone regarding Nathans.  Except for a lease. I would sign a new, long lease, if I could.///The entire Nathans website is managed by me from my basement home office, which is a too grand way of describing my little desk and computer.  But we get the job done. The dog curls up in his bed in the corner, and the parrot sits on his perch.  There is a door to the outside, and right now the view is of SNOW. Down the hall is a small den where Spen is under blankets on the sofa, still nursing a sore throat. This being Washington, and with an inch of snow on the ground, every school in the entire region is closed. I went to the market early and got all the ingredients for a robust beef stew. But first have to go to Nathans - which is a struggle when a child is home and not feeling well.  But, as I've written, Nathans is my other child.///We've had three strong nights, and a couple of strong lunches.  Who knows why?  We can never figure it out.  Some of the action is coming from hotels, and we're grateful.  It's not yet the convention season, but maybe we're getting an early jump. We live for March-April-May, when we pay our bills from December-January-February, and sometimes even more aged than that. It never ends.  Nathans is a great white shark that never slows and never is sated and it takes bites out of me whenever possible.///Just added lunches - We will do a David Kennerly lunch March 23rd and a Washington Nationals lunch April 19th, this along with the Marsha Evans lunch on April 28. The community lunch season is shaping up nicely.  I've got a few more on my wish list; stay tuned.

Danny Meyer has been a hero of mine since long before I inherited a saloon and restaurant. Like Patrick O'Connell and Rinehardt Lynch, he is one of the restaurant Gods. When Howard and I used to make our quarterly visits to NYC to eat we would usually have one meal at a Danny Meyer restaurant, whether it was Union Square Cafe or Gramercy Tavern.  Since those days Meyer opened Tabla and Eleven Madison Park, plus a wickedly good hot dog cart. Yesterday the New York Times gave Eleven Madison Park a very good review, and you should put it on your list of places to go.  It is in the old Metropolitan Life Building at Madison and 24th Streets.  Danny Meyer is the quintessential American restaurateur, and knows how to essay inventiveness, quality, comfort and tradition into places where everyone feels welcome and equal. If rather than inheriting an existing business I could open a restaurant that was about my vision and choices, he would be my role model.

Later...We have our snowfall, and it has good manners. The city sidewalks and streets are clear, but the snow covers everything else like white icing. It's lovely. Spent part of the day at Nathans, and part of the day at home with Spen, making beef stew.  Elaine Marie in Baltimore asked about the recipe and, well, here goes. I call it "Sail boat beef stew," because I learned to cook during my hide-out year, crewing on a charter sail boat in the West Indies (after CBS, before NBC) and what I learned was that after a hard day at sea one-pot meals taste especially good - aroma's waft up from the galley and by the time the boat is anchored and sluiced, and the crew has had their swims and portions of Mt. Gay rum, hunger prevails. First I melted a big chunk of good butter in the bottom of the pot, then added some crushed garlic, chopped onion, chopped leeks, chopped celery and celery root, salt and pepper, fresh thyme, a few cloves...and let them stew in their juices.  In a separate pan I seared the beef, and drained off the meat juices.  I marinated some dried morels in warm spring water and added the broth to the pot. Later I would add the morels. I poured in half a bottle of Marquis de Riscal rioja Spanish wine of a good vintage, and added 4-5 slices of Nueskes Canadian bacon. Then some chicken broth. Let it cook for a few minutes.  Added the meat to the pot and topped it off with spring water. Then some Worcestershire, some fresh grated lemon zest, a sprig or two of parsley. Brought it all to  boil, reduced it to a low flame, and then let it simmer on the stove for two hours.  That done I skimmed some of the remaining beef fat, and then added carrots, Russian banana potatoes, pearl onions, sliced Crimini mushrooms (earlier sauteed in butter), then the morels, and peas. Et, voila! So dinner tonight - my guests being Jim Spellman and Mike Kelly, who I stiffed two weeks ago -  beef stew, salad, some ripe cheeses and Fuji apples, and baklava for the finish. We'll sample two Barolo's - a '98 Vietti and a 2000 Michele Chiarlo. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Tuesday, February 22...Everyone has a Hunter Thompson story today, and that's a good thing. He'd probably like it, too.  Telling stories about the dead is one way we keep them alive for a little while longer as we work through our grief. And even later, when we're healed, a good story about a departed friend or loved one brings them back for another dance. I did not know Hunter Thompson, though I wish I had, and the only story I have is second hand. But I've treasured it all these years.  It came from Hughes Rudd, who was a dear friend when we worked at CBS News. For an instant in TV time,  Hughes and Sally Quinn anchored the Morning News. Hughes and Hunter were buddies, and at Hughes' behest Hunter blew in to New York to appear on the show. Later that day I met Hughes for lunch and he was frazzled. In his voice of gravel and dust he growled, "that G-D son-of-bitch Hunter, he just about did me in today." He had his customary glass of wine before continuing. Since the show went on the air at 7 a.m., and Hughes' work day started between 3 and 5 a.m., lunch was his cocktail hour. "I told that bastard not to arrive at the broadcast center until 6 a.m., but instead he shows up at 3  - wired, crazed, unhinged. He stormed into the newsroom with his hat, his sunglasses, his cigarette holder and a case of booze!"  According to Hughes, Thompson proceeded to polish off one bottle after another as he careened around the newsroom, ripping wire copy off the ticker machines, bellowing instructions to the serious-minded producers and writers huddled at their typewriters, and generally making havoc. Hughes said he pulled Thompson into his private office and commanded him to "stay here," but just as Hughes would get back to work Thompson would bound out of the office, bottle in hand, ready for more mischief. I don't know whether Thompson made it on to the show. All I remember is how Hughes had me laughing all through lunch and how I wished I'd been there to see our sober newsroom so full of antic life.  Hunter and Hughes are together now - two devils in heaven.

Well, enough memories.  Off to the saloon, and it's own fraternity of ghosts. 

Later... Hard day, mostly because even with antibiotics I am only half over whatever it is I have and should have stayed in bed, but not an option. Then Verizon cut off our long distance service, and I don't need to tell you why...but we dealt with that and got it back on. It's always something, and this was a problem of the smaller variety.//Busied myself with community lunch stuff. Organized the lunch for Arun Gandhi March 1, which will be vegetarian, and since it will be Nathans 36th birthday we'll serve birthday cake for dessert. That'll be fun. But the best thing was confirmation from the American Red Cross that their President & CEO, Marsha Evans, will appear at Nathans on April 28th.  This is terrific. She's got a fascinating story to tell: 29 year career in the Navy, head of its recruiting command, chief of staff of the Naval Academy; after the Navy she ran the Girl Scouts, and in 2002 she took over the ARC. We'll learn about her as well as continued Tsunami recovery efforts. I hope to get word on a baseball lunch tomorrow, and pursued requests for three other bold face names that -- if we get them -- are guaranteed hits. Then carpool, more Nathans, walking the dog, making dinner (corn chowder, chopped steak with mushrooms, mashed cauliflower, mixed salad, ginger ice cream with fresh mango), website ... the usual.  Checked in with Brian at Nathans and it's a STRONG night. Busy dining room, busy bar. Good. We can cover payroll. 

Monday, February 21...As with most widows, every day I have to wear all the hats. Mother and father, bread winner and bread baker, home maker and auto mechanic, gardener, bird minder, dog walker, chauffeur and cook.  If nothing tips the balance the day goes smoothly and I don't go screaming naked down the street with my hair on fire. But then, every now and again, something tips the balance.  There were some child discipline issues today.  Nothing earth-shattering, but try being all at once the lecturer and the nurturer. It makes your head spin round like Linda Blair's. Plus, my head is grating with a sinus infection. And it may be a federal holiday, but there are no holidays when you own a business that is open 365 days of the year. Nathans is there at the corner. It's a fact.  It must open for business every morning regardless of how awful I might feel or how challenging the day might be. My son may need me to work out some issues with him, be available, act like it's a holiday, be his mother, but eventually I have to show up at Nathans. And while I'm there he's off skateboarding with a buddy, and he's supposed to be in one place and then isn't, and so on. He's testing me, of course, because he wants to know if its Nathans or him. It's him, of course; he's always No. 1. But I own this business (or, honestly, it owns me).  We have an able staff of managers, cooks, bartenders and wait staff ... 55 in all ... but it's only my name that's on the guarantees and promissory notes and license agreements and tax forms. Just as nobody will ever keep an eye on my child as I do, no one will ever keep an eye on my business as I do. I'm mother to both, but only one by choice. And until I win the lottery, that's the way it is -- sinus infection or no sinus infection.

Sorry for the blues-filled rant.  On the positive side - usually the Monday of a three-day weekend is deader than Kelso's nuts, but not today.  For some reason the place was as lively as a Sunday brunch. People at the bar, people at the bar tables, people in the dining room, more coming in the door.  Every one seemed to be relaxing and having a good time.  I sat briefly with Eleanor Dunn and a friend.  Eleanor lives in Cleveland Park, but it was good to see her slumming in Georgetown. We talked about the community lunches, my favorite Nathans topic. Speaking of which, happily we've worked out an arrangement where Edie Schaffer and Frida Burling, two recently self-published Georgetown authors who equally are forces of nature, will appear at a lunch together.  That's gonna be a doozy. I hope to have a date this week.///Saddened by the news of Hunter Thompson's suicide. Why did he do it?  I knew he was off the charts and crazy, but his mania never seemed like despair./// Speaking of wild and crazy ... about 2:30 this morning some man rang our doorbell and banged on the front door. I tiptoed to the window and saw him in the shadows, but I did nothing. Chances are it was a drunken customer who'd been made to leave at closing. It's a scary business, I tell you. 

Sunday, February 20...Even restaurant owners screw up on a reservation. Last night, before dinner at Nathans, we stopped in Michel Richard's Citronelle to have one of their immaculate raspberry Cosmopolitans (if you've never had one, you owe it to yourself) and an order of their oyster shooters (ditto). When the manager, Jean-Jacques, saw us his expression hardened. "Carol Joynt! I need to know something: did you cancel your Christmas dinner reservation or else, what happened, because we held the table for you for hours..." As he spoke I cringed as it all came back to me. A week before Christmas, me on the phone begging for a table when they had none, him promising to get me in, me thanking him for the "huge huge" favor.  I could have lied and said, "Of course I cancelled," but my embarrassment was overwhelming. "I forgot to cancel," I explained, truthfully.  We were on the highway all day returning to DC, arrived tired and dazed, and went to Nathans for Christmas dinner. However unintentional, I totally stiffed another restaurant.  It's awful when a customer does this, but when the customer is also in the business it's much worse. "Michel yelled at me all day," Jean-Jacques said. "That table sat empty, and every time he looked at it he got angrier." Michel, typically a sweetheart, wears his moods like skin. It would be no fun to be at the receiving end of his anger. I owed J-J him big time. I learned he loves good tequila. On the way to Nathans I slipped in to see Steve at Potomac Wine and Spirits and bought three kinds of Padron in pretty boxes, inked a note of apology, and had it all delivered to Jean-Jacques on the spot. I'm sensitive to this sort of mess up. At Nathans, there's a regular good customer who often books the best table in the bar, Table #1.  Usually he shows, but sometimes he doesn't, and it sits empty with a "reserved" sign on it as we wait for him. The manager asks me, "what should I do?" and I say, "Hold it another hour. Just in case."  It can put us in a bind when we're busy.  But what can you do?   The restaurant business is a service industry, and what good is a restaurant staff if they don't keep their word on a reservation for a good customer? 

Midday - Brunch was kickin' today.  Wow. People flooded in the door. I wedged my way through the crowd.  In the midst of the hustle and bustle I sat for a little while with my friends the Hubers, Philip, Fiona and Isabel. Great time catching up, talking about everything from Concorde to college. Philip is a community lunch regular and one of my favorites.  He doesn't ask who the guest is until after he has taken his seat and had a first sip of wine. He has faith in us to put on good show.

Later - The weather reports today were designed to do in our dinner business.  At 3 o'clock I heard a forecaster on WTOP say something like, "the snow will start at 5, so best to get your errands done now and get home."  There was no snow at 5 or 7 or 9, and now it's not expected at all. Of course, with these kinds of forecasts the broadcast companies succeed in keeping people at home in front of the TV screen during February sweeps. It's not an accident. They are not stupid and I'm not a paranoid.  Regardless, our dinner business is strong - though the party that booked a table for 20 showed up as only a 7. So it goes...

Saturday, February 19...Attention all one-time gay male escorts with occasional White House day passes!  "The urinals at Nathans are really gay friendly," I was told the other night by a good friend who plays on the other team. "Great line of sight."  Who knew?  I did not throw my hands up in horror or call a contractor.  To me it's just another piece of the legend that is the bar at the corner of Wisconsin and M, and besides, they've been the way they are for decades with no dramatic results. In fact, more often it's the straight dudes pulling 'em off the wall, as opposed to...  But now we know. As a woman I've never understood how men can go to the bathroom in full view of each other. Not so much because of the gay cruising thing as much as the human privacy thing. Then again, the hygiene of most women's toilets is revolting. If men sat to pee, long ago they would have invented a better means of getting it done.///From the ridiculous to the sublime - dinner at the Inn at Little Washington last night was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (sp?). Foie gras with brandied cherries and sauternes jelly, baby lamb carpaccio, poached Pullet eggs in oxtail consommé, Nantucket bay scallops with mushrooms and peppers, prawns roasted in salt, Dover sole with caviar butter. For an entree Spen had pan roasted Maine lobster with grapefruit and orzo and they brought him a second helping of lobster. Two desserts each. We both had panna cotta parfait, which Spen followed with Seven Deadly Sins and I with white chocolate ice cream and hot, dark chocolate (of course) sauce.  Lots of quality time with Patrick O'Connell, too, who could not have been more wonderful to us. I asked for confirmation he is NOT taking a job at the White House, and got it. We need him right where he is, and he can consult the White House whenever. We wobbled home to our tiny clapboard cottage (actually Spen's cottage), our first night there since the ceiling fell in last March, happy and fat.

It's curious how this weekend is playing out at Nathans.  Just got back from brunch and it was slow to medium.  Last night the same.  Is it the cold or are most people away for the long weekend,  skiing or sunning?  Could be a little of both.  We hope it will gear up tonight. Guillermo came in and he and Vito wrote up a punch list of a dozen needed repairs.  I especially want the back door fixed. And it was pointed out to me that the service bar flap - a big heavy piece of wood on hinges -- is rotting on the inside and out. We also need to lay new industrial floor covering between the bar and kitchen. All of which translates to $$$$.  I envy the people who are on beaches today.

Later...Friendship. If you don't have it you're more bankrupt than the fellow who's out of dough. Dinner tonight at Nathans -- in a crowded dining room (yay!) --  with my friend Sahm from the Eastern Shore. She's in a rough patch but she'll be okay.  We met eons ago at Richard Nixon's second inauguration. She was a stunning and talented Camera 5 photographer, shooting for Time, and I'd just left Time to become Walter Cronkite's writer on the CBS Evening News. (Now she teaches photography to youngins').  We met over late dinner at the old Gusti's on M Street in a group of many journalists, including my pal Les Ledbetter, who'd given me a lift from NY to DC in the windowless, hard, flatbed back of his white van. I was not on assignment and so was mooching from everyone. CBS News gave me a press pass but no expense account. While the republicans were at their balls, we partied all night. Sahm was suspicious of my then outsized personality. Even moreso the next morning when she saw me gaily exit the room of a fellow Time "Incer" at the Hay Adams. He was married and she was appalled. Well, I'd crashed on the carpeted floor of his room -- and nothing more -- cause it was free, and when she finally accepted this truth, and a few others, we became friends and, ultimately, inseparable as unmarried young women in NYC in the 70s ... that is, until I introduced her to the man she married. But even then she still made time to troll downtown after hours clubs with me and have post-dawn breakfast at the Pink Tea Cup. She said, "you look good," and Patrick said this last night, too, but I think they just say that because they are shocked by my bloated, haggard self and want to bolster me. I face the looking glass and see a woman who needs a beach, a book and the love of a dangerous man.

Friday, February 18...We're going AWOL today, after work and errands. We keep a bag in the house where we toss loose change.  Then, once a year I haul the bag down to the bank and run the money through a counting machine, get it toted up, get the receipt, take it to the teller and get the cash. The cash buys us dinner at a favorite restaurant, and tonight it will be The Inn at Little Washington, which has been in the family, so to speak, since it opened. (We had a lot of change!)  Howard and I went there in its first weeks (and then a hundred or so times more); the owners, Patrick O'Connell and Rinehardt Lynch, were the witnesses at our wedding, and they are Godparents to Spencer. I think they are restaurant Gods - equal parts passion, genius, talent and graciousness. They share a wicked sense of humor and always make me laugh, and their generosity is humbling. So, another stressful week begets happy kick off of holiday weekend...but first must go do payroll and snoop around my own place to make sure everything is whirring and humming. Yes, I could put the money toward the mortgage, or the home equity loan, or a dozen other debts, but the day after nearly bawling in the lawyer's office (and a couple of weeks of seeking solace in chocolate), I yearn for the balance of a restaurant that's not mine, where the food and service are sublime, and where I have to do nothing else but sit and listen to my son talk about his life and friends, his school, and his dreams.

Thursday, February 17...Addictions. On a positive note, I try to begin each day with a good workout and a cup of green tea.  But, my name is Carol and I'm a chocoholic. It's been under control for the past year, but two weeks ago there was the cup of hot chocolate at Black Salt, then the cup of hot chocolate at Ray's the Steaks, then the cup of hot chocolate I made here at home, then the box of Leonides dark chocolates I got myself on Valentine's, and then yesterday, being in the neighborhood, I found myself in Kron, which for me is like being a junkie in a crack house. No need to itemize what was bought and what was consumed, but I'll reveal this: by the time I got to school to pickup Spen I'd eaten mine and his. All that remained for him was one lonely chocolate covered marshmallow. "That's all?" he asked plaintively, peering into the bag.  Then, in the back seat he spied the empty box of Leonides.  "You ride around with it in the carYou drive and eat chocolate?" Shame is not a guilty enough word.  So today, along with the 9:30 a.m. meeting with the lawyer, and the 11:00 a.m. meeting with the accountant, and going over the P&L's at Nathans, I will be working on myself to get this chocolate jones back under control.///It was a good night at Nathans last night. The large group of 30-somethings stayed for dinner in the back room and then returned to the bar for cigars and after dinner beverages. In my 11 pm call, I said to Brian, "So, a smooth night. No urinals torn off the walls, no fights, no bricks flying through a window."  He said, "Yup. Kinda nice." 

Later...too much serious business today. Explored dwindling options with lawyers for almost two hours and, proudly, got close to tears only once. It's not that I'm a wimp, but reality can be too real sometimes, and when you own a not debt free saloon all by yourself there is a lot of daunting reality. Said to Crystal Palmer at lunch yesterday that it's as if Mary Richards (remember the Mary Tyler Moore TV show?) married Sam Malone (remember Cheers?) and then Sam died, and Mary had to run Cheers. That's me in a sentence. However, I think sometimes that I should wear only combat fatigues and then people, seeing my outfit, will know where my head is at.  I'm on a long march to save my business and our future and that's all there is to it.  Now, let's laugh.  My three favorite statements made to me by lawyers: #1) (from my husband's criminal tax lawyer after the meeting where he first informed me of the $3mil federal tax debt and that the case was now mine, at the elevator, with his arm round my shoulder: "Now don't leave here depressed."  #2) another of my husband's lawyers, after a meeting re his estate, as he walked me arm in arm to the elevator: "Widow's really have it the worst. It's awful to be a widow."  #3) from my lawyer, to cheer me after reviewing my life, "The best wives make the worst widows."

Not only did I not have chocolate today, I've really not eaten anything at all.  I will have dinner tonight at Nathans with a man who owns bars & restaurants here in DC and would like to own mine, too. THAT should be interesting. 

Later still...Almost strong night at Nathans, thank you. Who knows why. It's too cold outside, the streets are "dead," but we're doing a little business.///In the spirit of following my own advice, I wore combat fatigues to dinner. Or, at least the bottom half. My suitors, so to speak, were ardent and charming and even slightly persuasive. "Wouldn't you like to stay at home and collect dividends?" I was asked. Well, yeah, and spend the winter on the beaches of Anguilla in a bikini, too. But I'm raising a kid and he needs as close to a guaranteed future as I can provide...and...by the way...I don't go to bed on the first date. Or dates. Home by 9.

Wednesday, February 16...ThisEvening: every now and then a party surprises. I needed to find out whether this afternoon's fall caused brain damage (see below) and decided the Martha Graham Dance Company party at Cafe Milano would be the appropriate test.  Did not collapse, did not speak in tongues, did not hurl the elegant canapes, therefore assume brain is intact. Nancy Bagley and Washington Life typically do not disappoint, but this evening, with Kevin Chaffee, she kicked it up to the world class groovy edge.  When she and Kev dictated the guest list, did they know all in one room would be a woman who wore a necklace made of her late mother's bones, and another woman who everyone gawked at because she is reputedly the woman who disappeared with George Bush, aka "W",  when he supposedly disappeared for three months from the National Guard?  She caused so many elbow nudges and whispers and wink winks that I could have got whiplash had my saloon not already  provided this service earlier in the day. And then, to add balance, there was Janet Bruce, looking divinely one-off. I hung with the always cool Dorothy McGhee, cooler still because she did her sister a favor and agreed to be the blind date of an O.T.H. M.A.T. whose regular squeeze was off-duty. When the woman with the Mother Bones Necklace revealed this to Dorothy, Ms. Cool fainted into the nearest deck chair, instantly attended by a waiter - not to fan her back to consciousness but to offer a tray of hot cheese balls. These goings on among the antics of a hundred other loud and eager party-goers, including a dozen or so small, thin, taut dancers.///Earlier I was at Nathans.  The bar was rockin' - in fact AND on the jukebox - with a crowd of 30-something men and women drinking Heine's from the bottle. Later, after I got home from Milano, Spen and I did a drive by and he reported: "Mom, every table in the dining room is filled."

FIRST THING: Spen promised his classmates Krispy Kreme doughnuts this morning so we made a 6:50 a.m. pit stop at the shop on DuPont Circle before heading to school.  Needless to say, helped myself to a couple of "hots." A few hours later I'm still on a sugar rush, even with indulgent morning dog walk with Myra Moffett down by the river.  The dogs splashed in the Potomac while we squished in the mud on the beach. Spring has to be just around the corner.///Too much today.  Nathans, two lunches, one with the head of the DC Film Office, Crystal Palmer, and John Ralls from Jack Evans office, (which means dressing like a grown up) school and then another function at Cafe Milano. Most of all have to get organized for accountant tomorrow morning. So, Gotta Go!

Later...this has been a really good day, except, just after my lunch with Crystal Palmer and John Ralls, dashing out of Nathans basement office, my feet slipped out from under me (leather soled heels on a concrete floor) and I went down hard on my right side. Whoosh, Whump! So much for dressing up in a nice suit in a saloon. Knee cut up, right shoulder, hand and forearm banged up, neck sore, and now I'm sitting here wondering whether I have a concussion because I feel odd - even though I drove to Bethesda and back and did all my other stuff. While I wait for the doctor to call, here's the scoop on these two great lunches this afternoon.  First, The Children's Law Center. Mariela Trager and her colleagues are doing a wonderful job with this organization, providing legal aid to the thousands of DC children who live in poverty and hopelessness with few options for their legal protection. So, if you're in the market for a good cause, please go to www.childrenslawcenter.org and volunteer. If nothing else, get involved with their September benefit.  They will welcome you with loving arms.

For 18 years Crystal Palmer has run the DC Film Office.  She's outlasted many administrations, and with good reason.  She's clever and a good listener, and when she's done listening she responds with positive ideas and enthusiasm. Her office has launched a new online opportunity called The Celluloid City Directory, where residents and business owners can sign up to have their homes or businesses considered for film locations. For additional information please go to the website: http://www.film.dc.gov/film/site/default.asp or please call 202.727.6608. They will photograph your business or home and put it online for location scouts to consider. Come on, DC, get ready for your close up.  When we weren't talking about Hollywood, we talked about the Community Lunches (I asked her to do one), and ways she might be able to help me with potential guests. "Would you be interested in Robert Redford?" she asked.  No, Crystal. An emphatic NO.  Of course, that's not what I said.  I said, "Are you kidding? Absa-effing-lutely."  We were just as giddy with "yes's" about Ridley Scott and Carrie Fisher and Ice Cube, all of them coming to DC in the spring and summer, and I want all of them!!!

Also talked to Patti Cummings, PR for Neiman Marcus, about the possibility of booking Marc Jacobs, or another designer, for a lunch. Jacobs is at the top of my list. Fingers crossed.  But for the moment I am perplexed by fashion, cause fashion did me in today -  decked by decade old Prada pumps. 

Tuesday, February 15...okay, Valentine's is over. Now we move on to St. Patrick's Day, but in between there are two big community lunches - Arun Gandhi, and Nancy Taylor Bubes. I have to work on pushing up the reservation count and the menus, etc.  Valentine's night turned out okay. It was six times stronger than our usual Monday, which tells you the usual Monday is fairly slow.  We had only 10 or 12 no-shows/cancellations.  That's not bad, given it was a Monday, rainy and foggy and Washington.///This morning worked on getting papers together for a meeting I have this evening with a smart businessman, and also made some new music mixes -- Nathans Winter Mix '05 -- about 6 hours of music. Sampled some of the Grammy winners, which is fun. I'm hot for Franz Ferdinand and Alicia Keys, but who's not?//Now must rush to get pulled together. Even though up at 6 a.m., time flies away.  Have a noon meeting with a wine distributor who I like a lot, Richard Ley from Bacchus. But I also have to actually go to the grocery store and get home supplies, like detergent, garbage bags, etc., and some items needed for Spen to finish his replication of the Atom for science class.

Later...Almost done in tonight by the atom, Spencer's atom, in 6 pieces made of brass and Styrofoam held together with glue and wire. Frustration at fever pitch, but the storm seems to have passed. He did the work, but I was the venting wall. Sigh. Before all that had a busy day, that began at Nathans with meeting at the bar with Charles Thomas, winemaker from the Rudd vineyard of Oakville (Napa Valley), Ca.,(very tasty chardonnay).  At the same time in walked Trisha Canzeri, son Stewart, with John Coleman, who once owned The Fairfax Hotel and my most beloved Jockey Club Restaurant. I miss the JC to this day, passionately.  Trisha and Stewart are here for "wake" type gathering tonight at Goldoni's, organized by Mike Deaver, for her late husband, Joe. I met Joe Canzeri in NYC when he worked for Rocky and I was at CBS News. We hung out some in New York and continued the friendship here in DC, expanding the circle to include Howard and Trisha. When I came out of my first "retirement" Joe hired me to help produce the show at Constitution Hall for the dedication of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial - aka, the Wall. Wayne Newton footed the bill.   Joe masterminded the fundraising and organizing, while Dann Moss handled the entertainment. Highpoint for me was writing a speech for Jimmy Stewart and being on hand for him much of the night. When Wayne Newton came off the stage after the show, dripping with sweat and excitement, the first thing he did was come to me at the edge of the stage and give me a big sweaty kiss. Then he rejoined the beauty queens and the case of Stoli he had in his dressing room. But all in all, he was low maintenance. Tonight's about Canzeri, and I'm thinking of him.  Also at Nathans was one of my lawyers, Gary Leiber (I have many lawyers), welcoming a new partner to the firm.  They dined in the back room.  In the bar, at a window table, was Monica von Eichel, newly married to Henry, with her daughter, Geraldine. Tried to spend some time with each of them.  Picked up Spen at school, then went to my downtown 5 o'clock meeting (wore a suit; amazing), then back to make dinner for Spen, then off with neighbor Aubrey Sarvis for a quick bite at Neyla, where we enjoyed so many good small plates of delectable Lebanese food. Home by 8:30 for THE ATOM. I'm whipped. Tomorrow I have twice as much, and Thursday even more.

(No prior diaries available -- This was the first.)