DIARY OF A MAD SALOON OWNER 2005
by CAROL JOYNT
Entries for March 2005
Thursday, March 31...Almost too exhausted to write. We're planning a cross country round-trip road trip this summer and the plotting and mapping involved is a challenge. I've tacked a map of the country up on my office wall, with a magnifying glass nearby, and mapquest is bookmarked on the computer. There's also a stack of books and some magazines I use for referencing and cross-referencing. This evening I plotted and booked most of the southwest portion of the trip...the leg that's after Los Angeles but before St. Louis. There's so much to see, so many great places to go, so many enticing opportunities for road food. Unfortunately, the demand for rooms outnumbers the supply and so it's necessary to book way in advance. I'd hoped to meander and bunk wherever, but in the national parks areas that's almost impossible.///Interesting moment at Nathans tonight. Someone phoned in an order for 8 steaks "to go." That's nice. Carry-out is found business. All good. However, the server who took the order forgot to get a phone number or credit card and when the steaks came out and sat in their packaging on the bar for a while -- and no one arrived to pick them up -- we had no way to track down the customer, and as the clock ticked for a tense moment we wondered if this was a scam. Naturally, I over-reacted and issued all kinds of new policies. Then, late, the gentleman showed up for his steaks. This episode reminded me I would love to find a way to do home delivery in Georgetown. It could be a useful and profitable service. Also, now everyone on the staff knows to get a phone number and credit card.///Long road trip today out to Rappahannock. Foggy and misty out there. Looked almost like autumn. Bought some wonderful French radishes at Sunnyside Market. They look like fingerling potatoes but pink and rose and white with big fluffy green leaves, and they are sweeter than the round babies. I love them with butter and salt, but Sunnyside is the only place where they've been available.///Curried chicken dinner tonight. Love curry. Love it with chicken and rice and chutney (and nuts & raisins), which is exactly what we'll be serving at the Nathans Community Lunch for Dr. DeGioia of Georgetown University next Thursday. We use the recipe from Harry Cipriani of Venice, Italia. It is irresistible.///Mrs. Schiavo died today after 13 days of no food or water, but her death was not the lead on the network/cable news. For sure the cables still hosted violent debates about whether Michael Schiavo is the devil, but the nation's - and the world's - focus is now on the failing health of the Pope. He's made clear he intends to die with dignity.
Tuesday, March 29...Please help spread the word we have a timely Nathans Community Lunch coming up next week with the President of Georgetown University, John DeGioia. Given that in recent weeks the presidents of Harvard and the University of Colorado were mired in controversy, and that Georgetown just settled its own student hunger strike, this is the right subject at the right time. The date is April 7.///I mentioned to Vito my idea of serving wedding cake for dessert that day, in advance of the royal wedding on the 8th, but he shrugged, and he's probably right. I called this one wrong. I thought we'd care, but on the scale of national interest Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles score a big fat goose egg. The Schiavo drama is much more where our heads are at in 2005. It's another national argument - like Fahrenheit 9-11 and Janet Jackson's breast. The post September 11th era seems more about being in each others' faces over moral issues than gossiping about irrelevant rich people on the other side of an ocean.///While the Schiavo debate goes on (with Jesse Jackson center stage), and the Pope may get a feeding tube, and another earthquake in Indonesia, and the death of Johnnie Cochran...at Nathans today we debated butter and orange juice, and several other issues, including how to keep the weekend brunch momentum going once the warm weather arrives. We lose a lot of customers to the sunny, alfresco Potomac River waterfront, and while I understand that's a draw, we have to give them a reason to stay put, indoors, at the corner of Wisconsin and M, and air conditioning isn't enough. Maybe we should hang a waffle in the window.///I've offered the Washington Nationals our prominent front window for a display of hats and bats and balls and banners, etc., in preparation for team president Tony Tavares' community lunch April 19th. They're game. Excitement about the rebirth of DC baseball is tangible. This town's gonna be insane on opening day, April 14th. (Spen wanted me to get tickets, but none are left!) Here's their website: http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/index.jsp?c_id=was.
I download all kinds of music and mix CD's to play at Nathans. But one CD I play just as it is comes from my friend Judith Owen. It's her new release, Lost and Found. Judith recently toured with Richard Thompson, the legendary guitarist, songwriter, founding member of the seminal British folk-rock group, Fairport Convention. Judith is quite a songwriter herself, and this new CD mixes her compositions with some lush standards. Apparently Nathans customers like it as much as her many fans, because every night this past week someone asked, "who's that singing?" You can find out more about her at: http://www.collectedsounds.com/spotlight/judithowen.html, and at her own website www.judithowen.net.
Monday, March 28...Now that the Schiavo saga is almost over, I wish Bill Frist, Tom Delay and their colleagues in Congress could get equally worked up about pulling our troops out of Iraq! It will be interesting to watch the political fall-out, and damage, from this seemingly misguided episode./// Easter is done, unless you are down on the White House lawn for Easter Monday, rolling eggs in the wet grass. Yesterday was cool, gray, misty, a good day to stay in bed rather than dress up for a parade. Easter is another one of those "family" holidays that can make Spen and me feel odd if we're not careful (all widows/widowers understand). That's why we prefer to be on the road. But this year we stayed put and got "adopted" by a few friends, including a chatty and lively Easter brunch at Nathans with Aunt Martha and Uncle Vijay Kumar. Vijay is just back from a long visit to India. We were six in all and took Table #1 at the bar. The place was, ah, hopping, but never slammed. Every table was filled and there were always a few people waiting for the next opening. Only three no-shows, and those three tables went quickly to "walk ins." The lamb special sold out and the ham special did well. We had to open a fresh case of champagne flutes. No calamities. At our table we were mostly waffle orders. Plus champagne. We lingered and talked, enjoying the view of the bar, the tv's, the people and the gray, misty weather outside. "The play looks great," Vijay said, and I looked around and agreed. I love those moments when I can enjoy my place like a customer.///Spencer and I missed Easter church service in the morning, and I thought there was a 7:30 pm. We got dressed appropriately and went, but the church was dark and locked up. We stood outside on the steps in the rain and conducted our own dripping wet service for two. It lasted 3 minutes.///It turns out Dennis Dunbar is in one piece, at least as of late last night. His Segway accident was a prank, involving a phone camera, a "lamb" and some plastic Easter eggs (and probably a few cocktails).///In today's Wall Street Journal, there is a front page story about Bill Gates and his "Think Week." Twice a year, Bill retreats alone to a cottage to think. For a week. It should be required and (employer) funded for all people over the age of 18. Who doesn't need a "think week"?///Yesterday a friend gave us a box of "spring" cookies from a bakery in Boston called the Dancing Deer Baking Co. The cookies, flavored shortbread with brightly colored icing, are dangerously good. Their website says it all: www.dancingdeer.com. Lose five pounds and then buy a few dozen.///I am feeling weirdly unsettled and don't know why. Must google my state of mind. Most likely the cause is the underlying constant anxiety of my need to get the lease resolved. It's always churning and gnawing, like a Beaver in my gut, though sometimes I can mask it or laugh over it or pretend it's not there, but then it gnaws harder. It's a tough jam for a solo parent with no other financial security, but we need to know whether we have a future. Maybe I'm still coming out of all the family stuff of the holiday weekend. Plus, we need sun!
Saturday, March 26...One of Nathans very best customers is Dennis Dunbar. He's also our audio technology ace, who helps set up the wireless mics and the recording of the Community Lunches. I get a kick out of Dennis, because he's out there in his own eccentric way. I wish he drank less, but that's not my affair. (I tell him so, anyway). He chooses to live his life the way he lives it, and it seems to work because he's always smiling ... and this is someone I see most days and nights of the week. He commutes to work, home and the bars via Segway. He even let me go for a test drive, and it was fun. So I don't know what to make of the e-mail I got from him this morning telling me he really messed up last night .. on his Segway ... and intimating I might be bothered by whatever happened. I couldn't open the attached photo document, so I'm supposing he either crashed into the front window or it's all a big joke. I'll cope either way, but I hope he's okay.///The Schiavo saga rolls on in its sad, maddening way. It's beginning to read like a Tom Wolfe story and screen like a Kubrick film. Day of the Locusts, II? The sad part is the family, and the maddening part are the spewing lowlifes who appear all day on the cables. My husband was on life support for three weeks. Three weeks, not 13 or 15 years. He was gone to me from the beginning. Our family and friends, and especially the doctors, hoped every day that he would turn a corner and come back to us. But it didn't happen. One day I asked the chief doctor, "how much longer does he have?" He said, "we can keep him alive through the weekend, if you'd like." I said, "Oh, no. Don't keep him alive just for me. If it's his time to go, please let him go." It was a heartbreaking moment, but not an agonizing decision, because I knew it was as he would have wished. And so they un-hooked the half dozen machines that were keeping him alive. He died the next morning. This does not make me an expert on anything, except I do believe the doctors at the Washington Hospital Center always told me the truth.
Friday, March 25...Cooking at home tonight, we had sautéed lump crab meat served on a bed of shaved Smithfield ham with a side of buttered asparagus spears with baby Portobello mushrooms. Mixed berry gratin for dessert (South Beach version). It tasted like Spring, which was needed because outside the weather is like unrelenting Winter - cold, gray and wet. I'd like to have it on the menu at Nathans, but we'd have to charge $35-40 for the entree, another $15 for the asparagus. That's not what the corner bar is about. Maybe in a couple of months, when jumbo lump crabmeat is less expensive. You can be sure I'll discuss it with Chef Loredonna. Maybe try it at a community lunch.///This afternoon at Nathans the discussion was about bartenders. We were recalling Howard's heyday, when the bartenders were larger than life and mostly Irish. They were a white hot draw. They were called "bar stars." They attracted an equally colorful clientele - bookies, hookers, and other assorted players. Only Howard had the smarts and gut to manage a stable of superstars like worked the bar at Nathans. It was always the high wire. But I was seated across from him the day he opened the report from the Wackenhut Detective agency, who he hired to "shop" the place. The blood ran from his face and his shoulders dropped. "You're not going to believe this," he groaned, and then read portions to me that detailed all the many ways the bartenders were stealing thousands upon thousands of dollars. One bartender alone pocketed $100 thousand. On behalf of the bartenders I'll say it was a culture Howard encouraged. But it was clear to me he never thought it would get so out of hand. He went in and shook things up and it was never the same way again. When I inherited the place, a couple of the bartenders tried to shake me up, but I was too dumb to do anything but stand my ground and they quit. Now we have personable, young bartenders who, for the most part, are in college or other careers - like acting, art - that benefit from a fluid schedule. They are interesting people. Do I sometimes wish I had the scene Howard had? Sure. But could I handle it? No. Every day I own a bar I have to be realistic about my limitations. Nathans is made for the high wire. I'm not. I have enough high wire in my life without bartenders contributing.///But speaking of THE bar ... I've been playing with some new cocktails. Dean & DeLuca had a couple of cool items - chiefly bottles of "original" Schweppes Bitter Lemon, imported from London. I remember this from my youth, and the "original" tastes different from what is sold in the U.S. by Schweppes. The American version is less bitter, but then what's the point. The British version is aces, and is so good with a little Campari and a slice of orange, which is one version I mixed. Another was with Stoli and a splash of cranberry, sort of a modified Schweppes Cosmopolitan. Something else I got at Dean & DeLuca was a jar of Litchi's marinated in Sake. It's from France. Wow. Let me tell you ... a little bit of the Sake, a Litchi or two, and some Stoli, stirred not shaken, and poured into a martini glass is, well, amazing. I asked Vito to track down the Schweppes, and I will do some R&D on these Litchis -- we could probably make them ourselves, Vito pointed out -- and very soon I hope to have these cocktails at Nathans. Will they sell? Who knows. It requires a push. I should point out I only tasted these drinks. A tiny sip or two, and then on to the next concoction. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to type.
Thursday, March 24...We took a long field trip west today to Quarles truck stop in Opal, Va. They have an eatery there called BBQ Country, and the beef brisket and the chopped pork are worth the almost 120 mile drive round trip. Spen had the pork. I had the beef, and tried to make it South Beach friendly by ditching the bun and only tasting the house made cole slaw. Their iced tea, mixed with lemonade, had enough caffeine to keep a driver wide awake from here to Oklahoma City.///Later, took a walk around Georgetown with Nora, who said, "why don't you write about your friends? You write about yourself and Nathans, but you don't write about your friends." Nora's a writer. These things matter to her. "I don't write about my friends as a matter of discretion," I said. "You can work that out," she said. Okay, here's an introduction. Like all people, I have tiers of friends. "You have the nuttiest friends," Nora said. Well, yes and no. Together we comprise a sweet bunch of mixed nuts. My day-to-day group would be the people I see or talk to most often. They would include my girlfriends Izette, Myra, Janet, Clarissa, Eda, Dorothy and Ellen. Izette, Janet and Clarissa are artists. Janet paints bold abstracts, Izette paints colorful and whimsical pigs and Clarissa paints flowers that are so fresh they look just picked, and leaves so colorful they look just fallen. Eda works for an auction house. Myra, a former lawyer, runs a grand central station of children and dogs, and her children's friends, and her children's friends' friends, and still finds time for Toby, her husband, a former Congressman who lobbies and struggles to get his party back into power. Ellen is president of the board of a museum house, and also owns show dogs and race horses. Dorothy is a woman about town, a wizard and a property owner. Like Myra, Izette, Janet, Clarissa and Eda have husbands. Like me, Ellen is a widow. Dorothy is divorced. Add to this group my sister-in-law Martha, who is a Presidency scholar who hangs out in the basement of the White House. All of us are mothers. We get together in groups and pairs. I like their husbands, too, but like the grown-ups in a Peanuts strip, the husbands are out of the frame of our goings on ... at least for me. I see my married girlfriends during the weekdays, but on weekends they retreat to their other gigs, as I used to. Then there are my men friends - Chris, Henry, Michael, Aubrey, Jim, Mike, Dale, Adam, Gil, Scott, John, Terry. Some I see often, some rarely, but it's always good. Chris is across the street and works at the White House. Henry is the head of a global corporation but a hippie at heart. Michael is an investigative reporter, and a Sean Penn character at heart. Aubrey lives around the corner and is a lawyer and lobbyist and a great traveler and host. Jim, in politics, and Mike, in banking, have been with me for years; they go back to the Howard days, like Terry, who is a network TV correspondent. John is the Capitol Hill producer for a network. Dale works in the private sector. Adam owns a small business. Gil, Scott and I worked at Nightline together, and now Gil is at National Geographic and Scott is at the White House. Henry, Dale and Terry are married and their wives are friends, too. Whenever I can I get any and all of these people to eat with me at Nathans. I talk to them about everything. We hook up for the party circuit. We go to movies. We have coffee in the morning, lunch on the run, take walks, talk on the phone, do e-mail, and gossip. Most of all we laugh a lot. I know in describing them they sound particularly normal and sane, but they are not. If they were we'd have no common ground.///David Kennerly had dinner at Nathans tonight. We had time for a drink together before he joined his friends in what he and they call "the Kennerly room." David is one of my oldest friends, but he lives in Santa Monica and so can't be day to day.
Wednesday, March 23...Right about now people who celebrate Easter probably are beginning to think about the Sunday meal. Sometimes the Easter holiday coincides with Passover, but this year Passover is much later, and so the newspaper food sections, the food magazines and websites and the restaurants are focusing on traditional Easter "cuisine." Personally, I don't think of it as a food holiday. Thanksgiving, with the turkey; New Year's, with lobsters, roast beef, venison, smoked salmon and caviar; July 4th/Memorial Day/Labor Day, with barbecues and picnics; even Super Bowl Sunday, with chili, wings and all manner of chips and dips - these are food occasions. But Easter? Well, to be fair, the sweets are great. Ditto the cross buns. Lamb is wonderful, especially spring lamb. (It's unfortunate that baby lamb tastes so good, especially grilled over a fire.) Ham is considered Easter's main dish, but ham is a challenge. How to make it interesting, extraordinary? In the New York Times today Johnny Apple celebrated a type of ham that is always interesting - Smithfield. Wonderful in a beaten biscuit, transcendent served with creamed lump crabmeat on toast. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/23/dining/23HAM.html? The best Easter meal for me was last year at the Moffetts, because Myra and her stepmother - both southerners - put out a buffet of all kinds of classic casseroles, and some even had crushed potato chips on top! For a yank like me this was a treat. It was easy to have second and third helpings. At Nathans we're already fully booked for brunch (but still call, because there will be cancellations). We'll add a few Easter specialties -- lamb and ham -- but my guess is the big sellers will be, as usual, eggs benedict, waffles, pancakes and crabmeat omelets.
Very lively and compelling community lunch today with David Kennerly. He came to play. David had anecdotes, wisdom, reflection and a sense of humor. We were joined by several people he knew in Vietnam, including generals and correspondents. Though we lost about 10 reservations to the rain, it was still a good turn out. I think for most of the patrons the best part was when David went round the room and told the circumstances behind taking each of the photos that now hang on the dining room walls. We heard candid behind-the-scenes stories about Fidel Castro, Hillary Clinton, Bobby Kennedy, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, George Harrison, the Seinfeld cast, Betty Ford, Leonid Breshnev, John McCain, John Kerry, and Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush.
Someone wants to know if our parrot, Ozzy, is the same kind of bird that is featured in the new documentary, "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill." Yes, he's a cherry head or red mitred Conure. He was hatched in captivity and is not wild and he's as good a companion as a dog. In fact, being around Leo, he has learned to mimic barking like a dog. He lives free in our house, but when we go out we put him inside one of his McMansion cages. He eats pretty much what we eat, plus lots of seeds and nuts, and at bedtime he likes to snuggle under the covers. The film is quite good, even for people who aren't bird nerds.
Tuesday, March 22...So far, today is a better day, but the day is still young.
Later...Good lunch and good dinner business. A lot of families, which makes me happy. Got an email from the couple who were turned away on Sunday and I offered them dinner for two. We had a cordial exchange of messages. Vito is working on the insurance matter, but we're not there yet. Gorgeous weather today. Missed a tasting of German wines at the Four Seasons, but since we carry so few German wines it's probably okay. Dorothy McGhee went with me to visit the hotel that would like me to host a Q&A event there. She was impressed. She's one of our loyal community lunch patrons and is happy with the way things are. For her to approve of the venue means there's a good chance of success. Spencer off visiting a buddy all day and this evening on an actual almost date, which means a group of boys and a group of girls. I'm not supposed to mention it, of course, but how can I not? This is the little boy who's feet used to fit inside my palm. Nonetheless, having a night off, Chris DePaola took me to the movies. We saw the "Upside of Anger," fittingly a film about a suddenly solo parent trying to get it done. Joan Allen gets it done. Also, Kevin Costner has his best role in ages. Enroute home we passed by Nathans, stopped and looked in at all the many customers. Thought of hanging out, but it was 10 p.m. and time for sleep. Community lunch tomorrow - David Kennerly; have to have my wits about me. David and I go way back, started covering Washington at the same time in the late 60s, can finish each other's sentences ... but still, he's all wired energy and I must be on my game. Rain is in the forecast. We have 44 reservations for the lunch. A heavy rain could cut that by half (this is Washington, after all). Please let the forecasters be wrong again.///It's time to lose a few pounds. My jeans are tight and my fat jeans fit like a glove. So, it's off to South Beach for 2-3 weeks. As in the South Beach Diet. It works, and my doctor likes it, too.
Monday, March 21..A day of pounding on people, and let me tell ya - I hate it; the abhorrent underside of ownership and bossdom, and why I never wanted or sought management jobs when I had a career. It's not anger as much as frustration, but unchecked frustration turns into anger. All I could do was seek therapy in a long walk with my i-pod. It sort of worked, but just sort of, and I had to do it more than once. The other option is to bring a bad day at the saloon home to a 13 year old, but that's child abuse. What I do is go at it head on, give employees some wiggle room to work it out, without yelling. But the disappointment is upsetting and it gnaws at me. I don't want people to fail me. I want them to exceed my expectations, and make me look good for having hired them. This, of course, is another reason why I'm not qualified to own a business. Successful business owners are unrepentant S.O.B.'s.
The day began on a high. Arrived to find the front room, the bar, looking shiny and new, with the barstools arranged smartly, the brass polished, the bottles on the back bar gleaming, everything set up and ready to go. "This looks wonderful," I said. The three young college men who helped with the set-up work -- two servers and bartender -- were fixed on the TV's, watching "The Price is Right," because THEY WERE ON THE SHOW! They'd been in Los Angeles during their last break, and had a lark with Bob Barker, et al. Their buddy was a contestant and, sure enough, they proudly pointed out they were right behind him in the audience. That's cool. Got to the office, checked over the weekend, which was strong thanks to yesterday's brunch, and went over the reservations for the David Kennerly lunch scheduled for Wednesday. It's looking good. Better than I expected, because a lot of people are out of town for spring break. I did some other work, too. Then the day went south.
First I learned a couple who bought a Nathans brunch at the Hyde School Auction were turned away at the door on Sunday because "they didn't have the right document." This news came in an e-mail from Leslie Wheelock, and I was just destroyed by it. When I asked the manager who did the turning away why he didn't simply call me, he said, "I didn't want to bother you." I pointed out, "I own the place! Please bother me! Ownership is 24/7. That's why I live 5 minutes away and have a cell phone. You should have served them and we'd deal with the details later." I offered to make it up to the couple by upgrading the brunch to a dinner, if they'd like./// Then the second ill wind. Without going into gory details, it had to with my health insurance, someone screwing up and letting it lapse, getting new insurance, and then today receiving an unexpected bill for almost $17,000 and change. I'll spare you my reaction. Then, the third. In the bar, the speakers weren't working right. One end is too loud, the other too quiet, and customers were complaining about the loud end, and so the staff turned it down so there's no music at all. The problem exists because we let a company install two different kinds of speakers, and there was no supervision, and the speakers aren't balanced and, well, music is an important component of what goes on in a bar like Nathans. It's part of the set, part of the magic. On the scale of the world's problems, this is less than nothing, but I wanted to see a little more concern from the managers, like, "this is wrong, let's fix it." It's like burned out light bulbs, stained table cloths, dead flowers, busted chairs and barstools - don't just look at 'em, do something about it. This is what the customers are paying for when they choose us over the place down the street or around the corner. If you've read this far, you're a strange person. Thank you for letting me vent. Now I don't have to kick the poor dog.
Later...Everyone knows I was kidding about the dog, right? I've never kicked a dog in my life.///This is Howard's birthday today. He would have been 66 years old. For the past 8 years Spen and I have honored him on his birth day rather than his death day. We make a point of going somewhere he would have gone. We've celebrated at restaurants in L.A., Germany, France, the West Indies and, with leaner times, good places closer to home. Tonight we went to Gerard Pangaud's on McPherson Square, which was fitting, because for years Howard and I went most Monday nights ...when Gerard waived corkage...to sit at table #40 and have a memorable bottle of wine and a meal to match. Tonight we sat at #40, and I had a glass of champagne. Spen had sorrel soup, from which I snagged a few spoon's full, and I had a medley of beets. Who but Gerard would think of making a plate of beet presentations? I think I loved the mousse the best, but the carpaccio, in its perfect simplicity, was amazing, too. For main courses Spencer ordered the signature lobster with mango and sauternes, Gerard's primal pairing of sweet and salt, and I had the duck, served rare. I always have Gerard's duck. It's so difficult to find duck anymore on DC menus. Even The Palm 86'd duck, much to my dismay, because they did it so well. So, we had a good dinner and good conversation. I tried not to talk about business and let Spencer, instead, tell me about recent hushed up sex, drug and alcohol scandals at Washington's private schools.
Sunday, March 20...Okay, it was a slight exaggeration. It's not that "no man, never" has ever hit on me at Nathans, but is a real hit a hit? Twice since I've owned the place one of the quirky barflys has spontaneously lunged at me, and I mean as in tackle, as in causing me to cry "help" to the bartender, who came from behind the bar to pull me free. That done, everyone went back to what they were doing - me to walking from the front door to the kitchen, the drunk back to drinking and the bartender back to minding the bar.///This is random, but the word "luxury" has become meaningless. It is the modern day code word for air-brushing and pasteurizing the character and uniqueness out of high end dining, traveling, and fashion, aka "the good life." Beware when the pitch artists attach the word "luxury" to whatever they're hustling your way. You're about to be overcharged for something that lost its authenticity, and heart, in the corporate meetings that strategized how to put it on the assembly line. Maureen Dowd makes the point perfectly in her New York Times review of the Fiesta Americana Grand Aqua hotel in Cancun. I'm with her - when in Mexico one has to be able to have nachos, and a hotel of genuine luxury, rather than the new faux variety, would know that. http://travel2.nytimes.com/2005/03/20/travel/20cancun.html?n=Top%2FFeatures%2FTravel%2FDestinations%2FMexico.///Palm Sunday and we have lots of reservations for brunch, meaning after church. Yesterday was beautiful and we were slow. Today is gray and misty, and so we should do well.
Later...For 15 years Terry Schiavo's saga has journeyed through a painful and fierce family struggle and the courts, and now it has made it to an 11th hour showdown in Washington with Congress taking on a new role as family court. One wonders where they were five years ago, when the issue was the same. Could it be that tough guys like Bill Frist and Tom Delay didn't then have the power they now hold? They may call it the Terry Schiavo Bill, but it's just mid-term run up politics, and it's only about the politicians, not poor Terry Schiavo or her family.
Saturday, March 19...Men don't go to bars to meet middle aged widowed mothers. Mostly they go to bars to drink and to be with other men, but when they are on the prowl for women the prototype is a 20/30-something, unmarried, unencumbered by children, worry, debt and, most of all, available in an uncomplicated way. Granted, as it gets close to "last call" on a Saturday, in a stupor of alcohol and desperation, a man's standards modify downward. Roseanne Barr begins to look like J-Lo. Weekends belong to the single men almost exclusively. The married men are at home, behaving. Weeknights you get a mix of both, and only the morning sweep-up reveals the truth of what went down. Occasionally, mixed into the detritus under the bar will be a man's gold wedding band. It's not because he dropped it there on purpose. Instead, the night before, in the hot and moist moment of having an intoxicated flirtation with an available woman he tried discreetly to slip the ring off his finger and into his pocket - but missed. He won't know until the morning, and then he calls Nathans and sheepishly asks, "did you find a ring last night? Damned thing's too big and keeps slipping off my finger." People call for all kinds of things the next morning. Our lost and found is a trove of stories only half told. Shopping bags filled with fresh purchases; wrapped gifts, gym clothes, jackets, hats, gloves, medicine, the occasional undergarment, an unsent FedEx package, unmailed letters and bills, a diary, a box of computer parts, shoes, watches, countless cell phones and credit cards. The phones and credit cards are put in a desk drawer. We have a thick pack of credit cards wrapped in rubber bands whose owners have not yet called to claim them. The other items -- the "merchandise" - is held for at least a month or more, and then eventually tossed or distributed to staff. But it's odd how people forget their stuff.
This entry began as a way to write about the many well-meaning acquaintances who say to me, "Owning a bar, you must meet so many men. You must get hit on all the time." Well, no, I don't; it never happens. I'm not on their radar and don't expect to be. And that's okay with me. If I'm doing my job right, I'm invisible. It's about Nathans, not me. I'm not what they're looking for and vice versa. My man, wherever he might be, is not hanging out in a bar. And I wouldn't be either, if I didn't own one. Give me a bistro or cafe or a terrace under the stars. I've never understood why women bother with bars. Really, they were created as a safe house for men to get away from women (except for a certain kind of woman), and apart from occasionally clever decor and architecture, the good ones have a seedy and raunchy charm that is endearing to men. So just imagine the thrill shared by Nathans male staff and customers when the owner's wife became the owner. Wherever Howard is, he's still laughing about that one.
Friday, March 18..."The Nathans Community Lunch "60 doggy stylin' minutes of candid conversizzles"... "she was a produca fo` Larry King Live, her husband, J cuz its a G thang. Howard Joynt III, died suddenly fizzle pneumonia n Joynt inherited his restaurant, Nathans, tha hizzle of" ..."Carol Joynt, bitch of Nathan's Restaurant"..."Carol Joynt, wanna be gangsta of Nathan's Restaurant"..."Carol Joynt, shot calla of Nathan's Restaurant"..."Carol Joynt. Boo-Yaa!. Bizzle... Bounce wit me." Just a few of the ways Nathans bounces up on the Gizoogle search engine of Snoop Dogg, as pointed out to me by my son. My personal fave is "shot calla." ///Life's way of telling us we're doing too much: arrived at Nathans this morning with my jacket on inside out. Had rushed to dress and to get out of the house and only half noticed the odd glances as I walked down Wisconsin Avenue. Then, at Nathans, I looked at my arm and saw seams on the outside, pockets hanging outside. Gotta slow down, inhale, get dressed a little more attentively.///St. Patrick's Day turned out okay for us. Better than the last two years. The place got busier as the evening wore on. But no bad behavior, no craziness - nothing like years ago (before my time) when Howard sent some boys over to Ireland to bring back large patches of sod, which he then used to cover the barroom floor for the big day. Not very Irish of us here at home, Spencer and I had delivery pizza from Listrani's.///Interestingly, there was little to no coverage of the Smoke Free DC press conference. A small story by Eric M. Weiss in The Washington Post, which was mostly politics but mentioned Nathans has a smoke free dining room. Fox 5 News did a piece last night but it was borderline irresponsible journalism. The reporter used a couple of bites from council members, and then claimed the restaurant industry uniformly opposed the ban and interviewed some guy from the restaurant association saying the same thing. She didn't need to use me, but she should have pointed out that the press conference was held at a well-known bar and that there is some support in the industry for the ban. A few people worried I was taking a dangerously bold stand (Mark Plotkin), but in the end, with the absence of media, who knew? Like a cotton ball dropped in a dark room.///While I'm on my soapbox, there was a piece yesterday in The Georgetown Current about a group who want to open a bar at the old Saveur location in Glover Park. In arguing why they should get ABC Board permission to serve liquor past 11:30 pm, one of the owners said, "we won't be like a Georgetown bar, we'll cater to families." Excuse me. What's wrong with a Georgetown bar? And, at least at Nathans, we have families in the dining room almost every evening. They ought to get their facts straight and maybe visit a Georgetown bar or two. Rant, Rant, Rant. Excuse me. I'll now change my disposition with a lunch of fresh spring morels and asparagus sauteed in butter, garlic and a little broth.
Later...To celebrate Friday, and spring break, and life, Spen and I made it over to Etrusco for dinner this evening, a stop I've wanted to make for a while. Vince MacDonald simply does not disappoint. It was a splendid dinner. We split a pasta course of spaghetti carbonnara that had lots of nice zingy and crunchy pancetta, followed by pounded thin veal scaloppini with cheese and ham for Spencer and wild rockfish with olives for me. Beautiful, enchanting simplicity to both preparations; freshness as superstar. One of us had strawberries zabaglione and the other a chocolate "creme" with whipped cream for dessert, swooping our dessert spoons into each others' plates. A happy coincidence was to have a reunion with Roberto Donna (of Galileo), Mark Furstenburg (Bread Line), and the one and only Phyllis Richman, who slipped in for a quick dinner together before Roberto headed off for work. Reminded me of the night I walked into Balthazar and bumped into Wolfgang Puck, Jonathan Waxman and Alice Waters about to dine together. Legends, all of them legends...the trio then and the trio tonight.
This is the shot calla. Out!
Thursday, March 17...HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY! Once upon a time, back when Howard and I were first married (in the dark ages), Nathans was a hub of alcoholic frolic the entire day. By noon Nathans would be filled with revelers. Not so in 2005, when people are more sober about everything. Today at noon there was one woman at the bar, having a Maker's Mark neat and a basket of fish and chips. "I love it here," she said, "I make a point of stopping in whenever I'm in town." She's in town on business from Dallas. Spilling out of the speakers was music of The Chieftains from a CD I mixed of great Irish tunes. It will play all day. Lunch turned out well, though, as more people came in for Irish stew, corned beef and cabbage and whatever bit of spirits lift up their Irish souls.///Earlier we hosted a press conference for Smoke Free DC. Participants included several members of the DC City Council who strongly support legislation that will ban workplace smoking in the city. Mark Plotkin said, "you are a profile in courage for allowing this." I thanked him, but said "no, it's really a profile in common sense. I'm not banning smoking at Nathans, but if the city makes it a law for everyone I will support the law." Ditto my staff, who leave their shifts each day smelling like ash trays. There was a good turn out of press from print and broadcast. It will be interesting to see what kind of coverage, if any, results.///Last night I had dinner at Cafe Milano with a small group pulled together by Jason Binn, publisher of many high end, glossy magazines - Gotham, Ocean Drive, LA Confidential, AspenPeak, Hamptons - but in particular the new Capitol File, which will debut in September. He sees things in this metro area that we who live here don't see ourselves. Most of all he recognizes a market for a high end glossy magazine about the good life. I hope he's right. The best news is he plans a magazine about Washington that won't necessarily be about politicians and diplomats. He recognizes we've grown up and have a diverse and interesting community of people who sometimes don't mingle with a single politician for the entire day.///The community lunch yesterday with realtor Nancy Taylor Bubes was a near sell-out and chock full of insider info from the first question to the last answer. I think it was an eye-opener for a lot of people, especially when Nancy talked about how home values in Georgetown have doubled and tripled. She mentioned one rich boy who bought a landmark house for about $8 million a few years ago, did nothing to it, and now plans to put it back on the market at almost double the price. Interest rates are still good, it is still a "seller's" market, and she believes this trend up will continue to the current horizon. I asked, "what if someone wants a 3-4 bedroom townhouse, garden and parking. Where should they expect to start?" She said, basically, don't start looking unless you have $1.5 to $2 million to spend, at least! While we focused on Georgetown, she said these relative high prices are reflected throughout the DC area, especially in McLean, Va., and Potomac and Chevy Chase, Md.
Wednesday, March 16...The death of Betsy Cronkite made for very sad news today. The cause of death was complications from cancer. She was 89. It was comforting to learn Betsy died at home, which is where we should all be able to go if we can. We first met at Cape Kennedy during the Apollo 17 launch, not long before I became a writer for Walter. Then as always what stood out was her good humor and amiable attitude. She was good natured about absolutely everything. She and Walter were like salt and pepper shakers, a total matched pair, like geese - together for life. Even though she had not been well in recent months she still had remarkable spirit and stamina. They traveled to Vienna this past New Year's, as they have for years and years. It's a heartbreaking loss for the Cronkite family, the extended CBS family, and for everyone who knows and loves the Cronkites.
More about today tomorrow. For now, it's just about Betsy. http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/arts/AP-Obit-Mrs-Cronkite.html?
Tuesday, March 15...Got to school early today to hang out at the edge of the playing fields. When I watch my son play lacrosse my heart murmurs with yearning for it to be true about angels and spirits and that somehow his father, too, is watching him through my eyes. He'd be proud.///Got home in time this evening to make a cold meatloaf, mayonnaise, and tomato on white bread sandwich. I made meatloaf for dinner last night, and there was an underlying motive - mainly to be able have this sandwich tonight. Yes, it's very Elvis Presley, but it's also one of the world's great sandwiches. (Spencer, the rocker in the family, actually bought Elvis' cookbook at a flea market.) Regarding meatloaf, over the years I've read raves about the meatloaf recipe of the late fashion designer, Bill Blass, a man who liked the best things in life. I did some internet hunting and found it, and if you would like to try it the link is http://recipeview.com/Meat/Meat354.htm. The meatloaf at Nathans is excellent, and it's one of the reasons I was very happy when Loredonna Luhrs returned as chef. She has a deft hand with this staple of comfort food.///This evening there was a meeting for the Tudor Place garden party, which happens May 25th. Tudor Place is an important and handsome museum house high on a hill here in Georgetown. It was the home of George Washington's granddaughter, Martha Custis Peter, and several generations of her family, and it was designed by Dr. William Thornton, the first architect of the U.S. Capitol. The house and garden are open to the public. For Georgetowners the annual garden party is a special event, and of course a key bit of fundraising for the foundation, which needs lots of $$$$ to keep the house up and running. Leslie Buhler, the foundation's executive director, asked a few business owners to give ideas on how to include more of Georgetown's businesses and corporate tenants in the party. We had ideas flying all over the room. If you want to get involved, the website is http://www.tudorplace.org/home.html.///Any day now we're going to have some news to report here ... but not just yet. Stay tuned. No, it's not why Mario "ankled" American Idol.Monday, March 14...We're always in need of equipment at Nathans, particularly in the kitchen, but in the office, too. Most of our equipment is circa 1980-85. The phone system hasn't been updated since 1988 or so, when Howard did a full redecoration down in the dundgeon. (After all, Nathans basement was a prison during the Civil War.) If we were a corporate restaurant we'd requisition the head office for whatever was needed, there'd be a few meetings, some R&D, and eventually the items would arrive. Now, we're not a corporate restaurant, we're not even a
"Ma and Pa," cause the Pa isn't, so this morning while walking the dog, when I saw an abandoned file cabinet on the street, I called Vito and said, "Hey, please come check this out." He did. I returned with the Nathans S.U.V., together we loaded it into the back, I drove it down to Wisconsin and M, and now the abandoned file cabinet is in the basement office, next to the other file cabinet we got from a law firm that was upgrading. They match, too. I feel brilliant and frugal, a great way to start the week. We could give tours of Nathans office and kitchen and prep area and show off all of the "found" machinery, equipment, appliances, etc. The same with repairs. Rube Goldberg would be impressed. When we have to buy stuff we do, but it's a last resort. Later...Two bowls of delicious tortilla soup at the counter of C.F. Ffolks today, as I enjoyed a moment of relaxation before a downtown appointment. At the counter next to me - in the long row of lawyers and lawyers and more lawyers - was Cheyenne, WY, City Councilman Pete Laybourn, who explained he's in town to try to persuade Congress not to slash too much of Cheyenne's federal funds. He said it's his first visit to Washington. "How did you find this place?" I asked, and owner Art Carlson chimed in, "Yeah, how'd you find us?" Pete said, "I walked by and it looked like a good place." Darn tootin! Impressive that he found one of the city's best restaurants, and certainly the best lunch spot, simply amblin' down the street. When Pete stood up to head back up to Capitol Hill he was all jacket and tie city slicker from the waist up but shit-kickin' jeans and boots cowboy from the waist down. I gave him a look, and he proudly showed me his very big, very shiny, very detailed belt buckle. We need more cowboys in this town. You know, the kind who actually come from out West./// Speaking of out-of-towners, apparently a lot of firemen were here over the weekend to walk in the St. Patrick's Day parade, and some are still here. In fact, a mess of them are at Nathans, enjoying the pleasures of the bar. Incidentally, Washington, DC's, firemen are some of the best looking men in the city. We know they're the bravest, but they're also the hunkiest. If I were 25 I'd go check out the visiting firemen, but I'm not 25 and Spen had me cut his hair tonight and, well, now that the screaming and yelling have subsided I'm whipped and in need of a warm bed, not a hot fireman. Sunday, March 13...Woke up this morning to a sweeping view of the Chesapeake Bay from the vantage point of Deale Beach, Md. The sunrise was a brilliant slash of orange and red on the blue horizon. The swans and ducks rustled the calm water. Not a bad way to start the day. We were the guests of a friend who is fortunate to have this weekend retreat less than an hour from downtown Washington. It felt hours and millions of miles away. For more than a decade, until the bottom fell out of our lives, we lived several miles north of Deale on the West River where it opens into the Bay, at 1125 Cumberstone Road, with about the same view. It was home, and assumed it would always be our home. When Howard died I tried to keep it, but it was a lot to manage by myself with a 5 year old, and besides, we needed to be in Georgetown near what we now owned: Nathans. I wanted to be petulant and stomp my feet and hold my ground, but life tossed a curve ball and I had to grow up and accommodate what would be our new course. Still, when we visit it all comes back...just like riding a bike.///The reason I'm writing all this is to be able to mention Deale's Fractured Prune, where they make hand-dipped on the spot, fresh doughnuts. What a treat. Could be worth making a trip to Deale only for those doughnuts. Back to DC in time to meet Toby Moffett, Mary Moffett and John Moffett in the "dug out" at Martin's Tavern for brunch. Martin's is a testament to why family run restaurants are the best, and also to the good sense of owning one's own building. Without a giant rent, there's money to re-invest in the place - to keep the wood varnished and brass polished. It makes a difference. It show's at Martin's. Toby mentioned Calcutta to me, and I thought he was about to leave for the far ends of the earth. No, he was talking about "a" calcutta, and then explained same to me. Ah, March Madness. It's in the air. Many of Nathans male customers will get a little crazy for the next whatever days and weeks as the basketball play-offs play out.///From Martin's to Nathans, which was having it's own S.R.O. brunch. I love it when I have to stand in line to get in my own front door. That's a good sign.///A nice interlude with Edie Schafer today while I photographed her for the website. Her community lunch with Frida Burling May 12th will be a lot of fun.///Busy week ahead. A lot of functions. The spring season is about to pop.///A business group made a reservation for 40 for 8:30 tonight, but showed up at 9:30 with only 25. This would have been a problem had we turned away customers for them. But we did make special arrangements in the kitchen and on the floor. Saturday, March 12...Even though it's a Saturday, the business of owning a restaurant does not stop, especially Nathans, which is always open. There are no days off. Period. What also never stops is the process of evaluating product. For example, today for me at brunch it was about butter and O.J. and sausage. This goes on all the time. Is this butter the best we can get? Should we continue with the whipped butter, which is more economical, or go to butter pats, and if we have butter pats should we have them wrapped in foil or not. When they are not wrapped in foil they can sometimes absorb the flavors of other food in the same cooler. Not good. Foil is fine with me, especially if it encases a high quality butter, but some people find foil wrapped butter less elegant. (I prefer sugar cubes to sugar packets) Hmm. But butter matters to me and I want to make the best choice. It's the same with orange juice. For years, Howard had a press at the bar and the oranges were cut and squeezed to order. That's the best. But demand pushes against quality, and then then a company came up with fresh squeezed O.J. that would be delivered to Nathans daily. Howard switched to that. It was expensive, but good. The problem was, it spoiled fast and a lot was tossed out. Then he went to frozen fresh, which is what most restaurants use. In my eight years we've had frozen fresh and Tropicana. I would like to go back to cutting and squeezing oranges at the bar, at least at brunch, and serving it fresh. But then the staff ask me, "what will we have to charge? People will balk at a high price?" Will they, if it's fresh? Fresh makes the best Mimosa. Spencer wants me to get Jimmy Dean sausage. He likes it the best, especially the Jimmy Dean "hot." But I have to find out if Jimmy Dean sausage is available wholesale. I would imagine it is, but this is a Monday question. The waffles are great. And the Eggs Benedict always have been among the best in the city. Omelettes are tricky for me, because I prefer the French style to the American. I like a two-egg omelette that is sprinkled with fine herbs and very lightly turned, so that it is served runny in the middle. The American omelette is three eggs, with cheese or tomatoes or ham or - you name it - and its cooked through. That's what we serve at Nathans and they are popular. I also like soft boiled eggs, chopped up with good butter, salt and pepper. And Huevos Rancheros. Oh, boy. It's this simple: if my sentence is to own a restaurant but could own any kind of restaurant it would definitely be a coffee shop, opening at 7:30 and closing at 4 or 5 pm. That would be sweet. No booze. Maybe some beer and wine, but only maybe. And if I could own any coffee shop the one I would own is Cora's Coffee Shop at 1802 Ocean Boulevard in Santa Monica, CA. To me, it's perfect. Seats maybe 12 people at a small counter and a couple of tables (there's a patio, too), and serves the most sublime EVERYTHING, including Heuvos Rancheros. During a trip last year we ate at Cora's every day, and I smiled every minute I was lucky to be there. It's owned by Bruce Marder, another restaurant God. Unfortunately, the rent at Nathans is too high for me to make it a coffee shop, but if I could I would!!! Friday, March 11...It's a personality defect, but not everyone is comfortable with praise. For reasons that can't be explained, flattery embarrasses me. However, got a got dose of it at lunch today, particularly for the Nathans Community Lunch. I'm still somersaulting high in the air. The praise came from three gnetlemen who own/run a major hotel and who want to find a way to bring the Community Lunches into their hotel. They had many good ideas. Many, many, many. I listened closely and told them I'm game to give it a try, possibly in June, possibly with an evening event. We will meet and talk again. Everyone on the Nathans Community Lunch mailing list will be the first to know where this goes. I'm too superstitious to say more. If you are not on the list, and want to be, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to offer encouragement or bust my chops about the idea of a Community Lunch or dinner outside of Nathans, please write to email@example.com. Patron participations matters to these gentlemen and to me.///It would be a giveaway if I revealed where we had lunch, but I did feast on some darling little oysters, tiny as quarters. Emmm, emmm, good./// Otherwise down in Nathans basement paying a few bills. Not a lot of bills. Paying what we could. It's been an okay week, even though winter won't let go. Blustery rain tonight right at the cocktail hour. Only 4 reservations on the books!!! But last night began the same way and we ended up busy. Encore, please.///Spen and I hung out at Ben's Chili Bowl tonight, because he envied me my chili dog of the other day and it was the first thing he asked for after school. "Please take me!" So, that's what we did. Chili dogs, fries and milkshakes, and a hip-hopping juke box. After the cookies last night, and my chocaholic dessert today, it may have to be the treadmill till dawn.///Do you know about Fisher House? It is an organization designed to provide shelter and comfort to the families of soldiers who are hospitalized due to illness, disease or injury. It's particularly helpful to the families of soldiers wounded in Iraq/Afghanistan, who are being treated at Walter Reed Army Hospital. If you are seeking a way to help in response to the Iraq war -- remember: you can oppose the war but still support the soldiers -- then take a few minutes and visit: http://www.fisherhouse.org/.///It's been a good week with a break from the community lunch pattern, but I'm looking forward to getting back into it next week with Nancy Taylor Bubes. Just this evening noticed that the townhouse around the corner, that sold only a few months ago, and was immediately flipped by the new buyers, had a "sold" sign on it. This market can cause whiplash. Thursday, March 10...Just back from Nathans and dinner with the ever groovy Dorothy McGhee. We anchored booth #26, under the Seinfeld cast photo, while other tables filled with lively groups of international out-of-towners, mostly French journalists, here for a meeting of some sort. Had I been more plugged in today I would know the details, but I returned to the city from rural Virginia only 45 minutes before our dinner, and spent most of my drive time listening to radio reports about Michael Jackson showing up at court in his P.J.'s. That's the way to win a jury. Anyway, tonight, at a few tables were French, at another Italians, and some Spanish, and some Japanese. I loved it. That's what Nathans is - doors open to the world. Dorothy and I had a good dinner. We started with an app of rare tuna wrapped in crispy bacon on a bed of frise with warm vinaigrette. Dorothy followed with salmon, while I had duck with risotto and asparagus. We drank a '99 Barolo. Oh My Gosh! I'm in love. This wine. This wine! It doesn't stop seducing me. For dessert we ate a mountain of fattening cookies I brought from the truly decadent Upper Crust bakery in Middleburg, Va.- Iced sugar farm cows, butterscotch and pecan "cow puddles," and classic chocolate chip with walnuts. We were total pigs, which was appropriate considering how much we gossiped. All in all a fun night out at my bar with one of my favorite people.///I thought the music sounded a little tinny, and then Vito told me we are two speakers down, out being repaired, and two others aren't completely well, waiting to be repaired. That explains it. Our speakers are cranking all day and night every day and night. It's an enormous amount of wear and tear.///Was on the road most of the day, it seemed. Spen had only a half day of school, so we kicked out of town. When not on the phone with the accountant, or Nathans, I focused on the way spring is emerging in the trees, grass and sun, even though it was a chilly day. First stop The Coach Stop in Middleburg for lunch, where I had barbecue and Spen had a cheeseburger and milkshake. That stop was his idea. Upper Crust was mine, as well also a stop-and-look at the new Market Salamander, which is eye-popping and mouth-watering. Then to Little Washington for a nap and a walkabout, then back to DC. Altogether more than three hours of driving. Good to be on the road. An opportunity to think. Wednesday, March 9...Day started with annual mammogram that happily went well, but can't they either hire technicians with people skills or train them to laugh at our anxious, awkward jokes? This is not an easy experience for any woman. It's bad enough to have one's breasts squished between two cold, hard metal plates, and then be told not to breath or move, but can it please not be like Abu Ghraib? I'm grateful the test exists and it saves lives. I left thankful but also remembering my friends who didn't get a good report. But maybe a smile. Even a small one would ease the tension. ///Ward 3 City Council member Kathy Patterson asked if it would be okay for her and other council members who support a DC smoking ban to have a press conference at Nathans. In 1998, along with Jack Evans and Jim Graham, Kathy co-sponsored legislation that let Nathans keep its liquor license. I want to do something for her. Besides, while we won't arbitrarily ban smoking from Nathans, if there is a citywide law we will support it. It's the way of the future. She told me Ben's Chili Bowl hosted a similar press conference earlier, so I hopped in the car and drove to Ben's to talk to the owners about what it was like for them. Well, they answered all my questions, but best of all I had the most delicious Chili Dog with EVERYTHING on it. What a freakin' great place. It's at 1213 U Street, NW. Go. You won't be disappointed. Lively, rockin', packed with people. I sat at the counter between a cop and a preacher. BTW, already they have a no smoking policy.///Returned to Nathans in time to work with Loredonna on the menu for next Wednesday's lunch with Nancy Taylor Bubes. Since it is the eve of St. Patty's Day we will do either Irish Stew or Corned Beef and Cabbage.///Then to a Barolo futures tasting at Cafe Milano. It was for the 2001 vintage, a stunning keeper year. Buy it, put it away, forget you have it, bring it out in 2010 or beyond.///In between all this did carpool and watched some lacrosse practice.///Later sat down at Nathans at table #1 with Richard Ley and Jim Arseneault. Jimbo is one of the great wine characters of Washington. He also happens to know more about wine than most mortals. He has a shop in McLean called The Vineyard of Virginia. Whether you need a full cellar or the perfect bottle for Friday night dinner, call Jim at 703.288.2970 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. I asked him to craft a wine list for Nathans. It would be satisfying to have the world's best good value wine list. In closing, I have only this to say: Courage. Tuesday, March 8...The experts say write what you know, and so here's what I know. In 1972, when I joined the staff of the CBS Evening News as "all else" writer, Walter Cronkite was the anchor and Roger Mudd was his official heir apparent. In short order, Dan Rather, making a name for himself as White House correspondent, became a serious contender. Those of us on the inside, and some on the outside, were aware that it was a horse race between Mudd and Rather. Unquestionably they were outstanding news reporters, easily the superstars of CBS News' strong varsity line up. Roger was a gifted writer, as well. Both men had distinct, outsized personalities, but couldn't have been more different in style. Both were southerners, but Dan was the flashy Texas glad-hander while Roger was the buttoned down reticent elitist from Virginia. Roger covered Capitol Hill, which was a story back then. They were competitive even on their beats, which were crowded with fodder due to Watergate. Each man took turns filling in for Walter when he was on an assignment or a holiday. Though all of us on the Evening News were "Walter" people, under that umbrella were "Dan" people and "Roger" people. Purely on the basis of the day to day grind, the staff preferred Dan, simply because he was easier to get along with than Roger, who could be prickly. Dan went out of his way to be one of us, to remember names and occasions, even of the "little people." Roger was friendly only with the people he favored, who tended to be in the producer aristocracy. We had friends in common, but he didn't like me. We were oil and water. He talked to me only when it was about the script, and went so far as to get me kicked off the show on the occasions when he filled in for Walter. And he didn't do it himself. He had an intermediary, our beloved editor, John Merriman, do the deed. For 23-year-old me, this was a professional crisis. Walter said, "he's just using you to get at me. If you want back on the show when I'm not there I'll arrange it." I said, "don't bother. I'll be okay. I don't want to write for him." For several months we went through a charade of me being exiled to the general newsroom whenever Roger sat in for Walter, and a sub being brought in to do my job. Finally one day the executive producer said, "F*** Roger. You're the writer. You stay. He'll have to grow up." And so we went on from there, and it wasn't awful. Roger and I found a way to get along. Over the years, Dan developed a reputation for being wacky, though he wasn't wacky back then. Certainly, he had that Texas cornpone about him, but it was authentic. Some friends and I were in a cab with him and when we arrived at our destination he actually shouted "Whoaa!" to the driver. Outside of work he would take his son, Dan, fishing on the ponds where my family lived in Warrenton, Va. For years after he would ask me about my parents and my family. Pages of analysis have been and will be written about why Dan got the job over Roger, and while there is merit to the argument that Dan said, "pick me or I'll jump ship," another factor is that Dan had the niceness thing going for him. Many of us think that put him out in front early on. Tomorrow Dan relinquishes the anchor desk to return to his roots as a reporter. I wish him well. I wish him the opportunity to redeem his reputation, marred by the Bush/National Guard story, because his legacy should be one of a great reporter. I also hope his successor will be more benevolent to him than he was to his predecessor. In the meantime we will have the pleasure of hearing the news from Bob Schieffer, who deserves this moment. The coolest thing would be if Bob, in his temporary stint as anchor, pulls higher ratings than Brian Williams and Peter Jennings. Later...Just back from Nathans, where dear young friends tonight announced their engagement to a group of 20 family and friends. Earlier they went to dinner, came home, he surprised her with candlelight, dozens of roses, a string quartet, a proposal on bended knee, and a beautiful diamond ring. They then joined their nearest and dearest at Nathans for champagne and toasts. Wow. Romance is alive.///Also in the front room were City Council members Jack Evans and David Catania. We talked about the possible vote on a smoking ban. Catania said there should be a compromise. Perhaps have a start time for smoking, like 9 p.m. I suggested 10 p.m. I think both men hope a vote will not happen.///There are some perks to owning a restaurant. Today I enjoyed one of them, a portfolio tasting hosted by Clicquot, Inc., at the Four Seasons Hotel. The entire lower level was resplendent with tables of wine and food. I couldn't taste much, because of afternoon carpool, but Bacchus Importers' Richard Ley guided me to these: a pour of the Le Grande Dame rose 1995 vintage, which was a wash of paradise in my mouth, followed by the 1998 Veuve Clicquot reserve (delicious); to Krug, where we tasted both the 1989 vintage, which comes only by the magnum, and the Grande Cuvee, a more affordable but also tasty bubbly; then to New Zealand's Cloudy Bay, where we sampled both their justifiably famous Sauvignon Blanc ('04 vintage), and a rich '03 Chardonnay. Stopped for some parmesan and bread and then moved on to ... drum roll ... the '99 Chateau Cheval Blanc, which is a St.-Emilion that grows on the border of Pomerol in Bordeaux. Cheval Blanc goes back to the 18th Century. It is powerful, complex and designed to age gracefully. There was no option but to follow this with the world's only drinkable liquid gold, '95 Chateau d'Yquem. This sounds like a lot, but the tastings were small, some were spit out (it's the way its done); all in all I swallowed maybe 4 ounces of wine. A real heartbreak; I could have slurped glass after glass. The tasting went on all day, with seminars and private chats with vintners. Monday, March 7...There is a dress code at Nathans, but in this day and age it is for the staff rather than the customers. Once upon a time in an era long, long ago, a number of bars and restaurants in Georgetown, including Nathans, had a dress code that required men to wear a jack and tie. Law professor John Banzhaf at George Washington University challenged the requirement and it went away forever. Now some places "request" a jacket and tie, but that's about it. At Nathans we don't even do that, and yet people arrive dressed appropriately for the most part. If you're nekked from the waist up we'll probably ask you to leave, ditto no shoes or only wearing a jock strap or thong. When I inherited Nathans in 1997 the wait staff wore quasi black tie; trousers, shirt, tie, vest, minus the jacket. It seemed dated to me and I asked Deb Johns, a wonderful stylist who is based in Georgetown, to help come up with a new look. She suggested the open collar blue pin striped Ralph Lauren shirts, white undershirt, and dark chino's that are the staff uniform to this day. At the time, the "look" for the women was supposed to be the same shirt, but with a tank top underneath and pearls. It became difficult to keep that consistent, and so the men and women wear the same outfit. Same for the bartenders. The kitchen staff have chef whites we get from Linens of the Week. The managers are required to wear jacket and tie, and comparable for women, when they're on the floor. The hosts and hostesses are asked to follow the guidelines for the managers. It's important that staff look like they're working, not hanging out. Nathans "sells" one striped shirt to staff at a discount, and for any additional shirts they pay full price. They provide their own trousers, belts, socks, shoes, etc. Aprons are given to them. The IRS allows restaurant employees to write off the cost of laundering their uniforms, but not the cost of buying them. As for me, well, as noted yesterday, it seems I have ashcan chic in common with Mary Kate Olsen. I thought it was basic bag lady, but bag lady chic is probably not P.C. When I worked in TV it was suits and heels every day, except for those days caved in an edit suite, but stilettos and Sabrina's don't work on the bricked Georgetown sidewalks or the steep metal stairs that lead to Nathans basement office. I dress to walk, haul, do stairs, run errands, climb in and out of an S.U.V., and blend into the scenery as much as possible. Last week not one person at Nathans batted an eye when I showed up in camouflage pants, a leopard print sweater and boots. Now, for the community lunches I totally dress, and it's fun and I get into it because that's, well, a performance and I'm center stage. Of course, as a carpool-driving mother, there are some days I don't get out of sweat pants or leggings until an embarrassingly late hour. Sunday, March 6...Bars, restaurants and hotels also are stage sets for human romantic drama. It's on their barstools, at their corner tables, in their large, cold crisp beds that we meet, flirt, go on first dates, fall in love, fight, shack up, tryst, marry, betray, reunite, reminisce. Check in/check out; it's both anonymous and intimate. News reports say we're about to lose the patriarch of all great American hotels, New York's fabled Plaza, at the intersection of Central Park and Fifth Avenue. Everyone should have a Plaza Hotel story, and if not they have until April 30th to get there and make one. Mine happened three decades ago. It was Christmas, which fell on a Sunday that year. My boyfriend and I were madly, passionately in love, but in an operatic on again/off again way. One week he'd live with me in my funky 4th floor Village studio with the mattress on the floor, the next he'd be elsewhere, and then back again. OH, YOUTH. For his gift I decided to surprise him with a suite at the Plaza. We were writers and it was, after all, the hotel of Fitzgerald. It cost me $75, an outrageous expense, but a gift too good to resist. We made a Christmas Eve date for afternoon tea in the Palm Court; so grown up. We'd have tea and then - surprise!- a night of uptown love. I costumed myself in a vintage hat with a veil, which seemed appropriate for the locale, and provocative, and romantic, and a black dress, too, and pearls. I arrived first and was shown to a romantic loveseat under, naturally, a palm. I wrapped the precious room key in festive Christmas paper and then set it just so on the starched white tablecloth at the place where my boyfriend would sit when he joined me. But he never joined me. For an hour I waited, as the suspicious maitre'd poured cup after cup of tea, coyly reassuring me, "I'm sure he'll be here any minute. Holiday traffic, you know." The strolling violinists rankled me with their cheerful Christmas tunes. I froze to the loveseat, unable to move, much less exhale or think. It took an emotional crowbar to get myself up off the sofa and out of the room, hiding my embarrassment under the now silly veil. I didn't even try to find him, the lout. Instead I took a cab to my Perry Street apartment, changed clothes, grabbed some books, and returned to the grand but lonely Plaza Suite, whereupon I called a girlfriend in mid-divorce and invited her over. We caught a Romy Schneider movie at the Paris Theatre, ate room service, drank wine, cried, laughed, and when she left I slept like a princess. Got up Christmas morning, a Monday, and went to work at CBS. I didn't speak to my boyfriend for three weeks, but then one night he tracked me down at the White Horse Tavern and we made up. A couple years later, a new boyfriend, touched by the story, surprised me by booking us the same suite at the Plaza. This time everything went according to plan, and it was fun. Nonetheless, the night of Christmas heartbreak remains my favorite Plaza Hotel story./// People have Nathans stories, and I love to hear them. When my husband was at the Washington Hospital Center, and on life support, a new nurse, as a way of getting to know us, asked, "What does he do?" I said, "He owns Nathans in Georgetown." Her face lit up. "Nathans," she said, stopping for a second, "Oh My God! That place is famous. That's where my sister met her husband. They've been married five years and have two kids." She looked tenderly at my comatose husband, patting his arm. "I'm going to take really good care of him." Friends here in Georgetown have a son named Nathan, and his first birthday party was held at Nathans. Hmmm. It would be interesting to know that story!///I learned from the NYTimes today that the way I dress is a style and has a name, "ashcan," and that my role model is Mary-Kate Olsen.///Myra Moffett and I toured the open houses today as part of the research for the Nathans Community Lunch with realtor Nancy Taylor Bubes 4/16. What we learned is this: the demand is greater than the supply. At every house we traipsed through there was a crowd of people. Cecelia Leake, the agent at one, said, "there's no place for the current homeowner's to go so they don't put their own homes on the market." Later...Altogether a good, strong weekend, and one without calamity. Good brunch business today and yesterday. Last night medium dining room with busy busy bar. Today was lovely weather. Really, it feels like spring. And I'm so happy for Vince MacDonald, owner of Etrusco, who got a 3-star review from Tom Sietsema today in the WaPost. Vince is an obstinate purist and I admire that./// For dinner I sauteed fresh shrimp in olive oil, minced garlic, tomatoes, cilantro and lime. The aroma is maddening. I must stop writing. I must go eat. Saturday, March 5...Washington, DC, Mayor Anthony Williams has asked for a city council vote on whether to ban smoking in restaurants and bars. It will be a good debate, and certainly the restaurant industry will oppose a ban, but after owning a saloon for 8 years, and consulting with my managers and staff, my position is to the contrary: I'm for a ban on smoking, absolutely, in Washington, and neighboring Virginia and Maryland, too. It's sane and modern. It's worked elsewhere and it will work here as long as it applies equally to everyone. New York restaurants and bars are a thousand times more pleasant since smoking was 86'd. I don't know what the prevailing political sentiment is here, but I know those who oppose the ban - who are in favor of allowing smoke - fear smokers will flee to the restaurants in the Virginia suburbs and that Virginia, being a tobacco state, will never ban smoking. The ban's already in place in Montgomery County, Md. First of all, do that many people still smoke? Second, people can go to the suburbs if they want, but with or without smoking there's only one Georgetown, one Adams Morgan, one Capitol Hill.///Having been to see "Be Cool," the occasionally funny sequel to the smart "Get Shorty," it's obvious what I'm lacking: my own Chili Palmer. Uma Thurman's widow Edie inherits her husband's business and Chili, aka John Travolta, helps get her out of a mess that involves crooked competitors, rapper gangsta's, Russian mafiosi and her own lack of a dance partner. Chili works it all out, and there's a happy ending. Geez.///Good brunch today. Packed. Of course, the rain and snow that were forecast did not happen. Made an executive decision to extend brunch hours from 2:30 to 3:00, because we've been turning away too many people at 2:30. We could probably go until 3:30, until the weather gets nice.///My spirits were inexplicably low today, and not having the means to buy a new dress or a pair of shoes or an Italian playboy, I instead slipped out of Nathans and headed for nearby Casa del Sol on Grace Street for my first ever sprayed on tan. Now I am glowingly tan, in fact, so tan I need a story to go with it. Let's see, Mustique with Mick Jagger, or, Las Ventanas with Brad Pitt. Either would do, though Anguilla with Clive Owen would be best. The spray process and the result are okay. But this was my first time and the tan is a little streaky and odd down below...so it's probably better that, at least for tonight, I did not buy the Italian playboy. Friday, March 4...Where do I begin? Perhaps with today, the lunch hour packed and busy upstairs while downstairs in the dreary basement I sifted through bills and signed checks. This is the reality: we're rarely able to pay as much as we owe. I paged through layers of bills, with checks attached, and in every case we paid the minimum required. It breaks my heart each time I come across a bill with "past due" stamped on it, because I would rather pay off every bill and not do this "only what we can afford" piecemeal distribution, but who are we kidding? It's that or fold the tent. I never heard the term "aging debt" until I owned a business. Nobody called me a "deadbeat" either, as they have many times in the past eight years. Nathans simply can't afford itself, as I report over and over again. That doesn't mean it's not a wonderful and viable business, it's just not currently set up in an appropriate way. It's business model sucks. We'll get there, and that's the ultimate goal of this long, long march. I may be naive about many things, but not survival.///Last night, over Cosmopolitans, a younger man called me "hot." I did not laugh out loud in his face, though a good guffaw was near. I mean, I'd like to be hot, super hot, but the last time I felt hot was in 2000, back when I still worked in television, earned well into the six figures and didn't have business debt. Business debt drains all the heat out of hot. Thursday, March 3... From CNN: "The U.S. death toll in Iraq hit the 1,500 mark this week with the death of a soldier killed in action south of Baghdad, the military announced today." I, usually of so many words, have nothing more to say today after this sad news, except please think about it.
Wednesday, March 2...Woke up this morning, performed ritual scanning of the news on Drudge, was delighted to see wonderful Nathans item in the WaPost's Reliable Source, reporting on the Arun Gandhi lunch. Items like this fall out of the sky and they are wonderful when they happen. People sometimes compliment me when Nathans makes it into the Post, as if I dictated the piece, but anyone who thinks I can manipulate this kind of press are not hip to how it works with the major media. I may pitch Nathans items -- of course I pitch items, shamelessly, particularly re Community Lunches -- but for every ten I pitched to Lloyd Grove he used maybe one, and with Rich Leiby the record is much worse. In fact, I gave up on RS, so was delighted when Anne Schroeder showed up at the Gandhi lunch. With Posties, it's foolish to think someone in my position can tell them what to write, when to write or how to write. I know this from having spent 30 years on the "other side" as a working journalist, but also because I covered stories alongside Post reporters and with a few exceptions -- all who have been outed over the years -- their integrity cannot be compromised, even in the gossip column. So I respect that. What I don't respect are the publications that slobber all over you, but only if you advertise. Of course, if I could afford to advertise I'd be fine with moderate slobber.///Ana Marie Cox is very good. She aced a phone interview with Imus this morning, and that's not easily done. In person and on the radio she actually outshines her good and clever website, www.wonkette.com. She did a memorable Community Lunch last year. She was herself - candid, ribald, self-effacing - and it was one of our very best Q&A's in almost four years of doing them. However, Vito forgot to push the record button and so it is lost forever. Ana is working on a novel right now, and we're wishing her big success, and hoping for an encore at Nathans.///Now, off to a restaurant supply show in a warehouse somewhere out there beyond the beltway. Don't you wish you had MY job?
The Harvard Business School should give me a class to teach because...well, just because. No, seriously. How many people go into business without one day's worth of training or planning? Not one day in my adult life did I aspire to be in business, and yet here I am the owner of a 36-year-old business at the best corner in DC, that has 55 employees and grosses $1 or $2 million a year. Professionally, before becoming a small business owner, the most I had to do with money or numbers was to submit my expenses. I was thrilled NOT to be the boss. Someone else at CNN or CBS or ABC had the sleepless nights over budgets, lawyers and accountants. When I became the owner of Nathans, there was no prep time. Immediately people had me signing documents of a dozen varieties - from banks, suppliers, contractors, etc. "We need your signature here," a manager would say, placing a document before me. "Oh, okay," I'd say, figuring that's what you do as owner. Among the many papers I signed was a new lease for Nathans. That was cool. Included with the lease was a "guaranty." I asked the lawyer who handed it to me, "Did Howard sign the same thing?" "Sure," he said. So I signed. About five years later I learned I'd been signing my life away. Too many of those documents were "personal guarantees," making me "personally liable" for whatever I signed, the lease guaranty being the most troubling. What it meant was that Nathans could be zapped by Martians, collapse into a pile of brick dust, and I personally would be held responsible for the rent, the property taxes and the insurance premiums totaling many hundreds of thousands of dollars for the life of the lease. This is a tough lesson to learn after five years of mounting debt, and after putting all our savings into the business. By rights, Nathans should have been bankrupted way back, but because I'm "on" that lease I have no option but to keep going forward and to try to get a new deal that will give me a chance. Today you'd have to hold a gun to my head to get me to sign anything - even if was vetted by God. So, here's a free lesson: Basically, in business, don't ever sign anything that is a personal guaranty. Set up a company and sign for the company, and then make sure you can walk away from the company.
This was the theme in my head as I mingled with the professionals and perused the wares at the restaurant supply show, where they sell everything from toilet paper to ovens and stoves to fine leaded crystal wine glasses. I looked at the other restaurant owners and wanted to ask how many signed personal guarantees and knew the answer would be few to none. I wish I had twenty bucks for every time another restaurateur has said to me with a shocked expression, "You signed a guaranty? Why did you ever do that? No one does that!"
Tuesday, March 1...Happy 36th Birthday, Nathans! It's not often a restaurant can claim such an epic age. This little corner bar's history spans the Nixon Administration, Watergate, Ford and Carter, Reagan, Bush, the Clinton years and now Bush again and again, with many of their players being Nathans players, too. We celebrated with chocolate cake and one candle at the Arun Gandhi lunch. He came across as a quiet man with big ideas and the patrons sat fixed on his words during our interview. It's not every day we have a guest who starts a sentence, "My grandfather told me..." and he's talking about Mahatma Gandhi. Arun carries on the quest for a world where nonviolence is the option in settling any dispute. My first question was, "How would you or your grandfather have handled 9/11 if the response was for you to decide?" He believed the U.S. government could have found a nonviolent solution, but I wonder. He had the same message for Osama bin Laden, too. "Would you advise him to turn himself in?" I asked. "Yes," Gandhi answered. There were lots of good questions from the patrons and we could have gone on for longer than our standard 30 minutes of Q&A. The Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence is located in Memphis, TN. They host many classes and lectures and Arun Gandhi each year leads a tour to "Gandhi's India." Wouldn't that be something? Find out more here: http://www.gandhiinstitute.org/
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