Monday, March 26, 2012

Washington Social Diary

Waiting to cross Madison Avenue.
by Carol Joynt

Friends called me crazy, but given a chance to be sailing in the West Indies last week I opted instead to stay in Washington and work, with a quick getaway to New York. Others who have recently rejoined the work force may relate; after quite a long time unemployed I felt as though I'd been on a relative (and costly) two-year holiday. The truth is, to be of a certain age and in a real job again is against the odds and amazing. 

I am smitten with having an office, a desk, a phone, a window, colleagues, a morning editorial meeting, and daily challenges. I love that I'm part of a talented, harmonious group, who have office sports pools, "happy hour" cocktails at a nearby pub, plus an affable boss who brings in bagels, takes us out for a round, listens, and treats us as equals.

Most of all I'm happy I'm not the boss. The buck no longer stops with me, as it did for 12 years after I inherited my husband's restaurant. My job as editor-at-large at The Washingtonian – at 47, the most venerable magazine in the nation's capital – is to have story ideas, report and write them, and repeat on a daily basis. I don't have to worry about making payroll, hiring and firing, and how to keep the chef happy.
Our first stop: Cipriani before the show; that's Sergio Vacca in the dark suit.
STILL, I needed a getaway, because we all do, even if only for 28 hours. One of the great perks of Washington – maybe even the best perk – is that we're 225 miles down the highway from New York. Four hours in the car, three on the train, one and change on the shuttle, and we're transported to Manhattan, an island as unlike Washington as Washington is unlike Oz. Vegas may claim to be the land of plenty, but the truth is Manhattan is where you can get whatever it is you want or need, and you don't have to leave it there.

The intended purpose of my getaway was a long overdue catch-up lunch with DPC and JH, who I’d not seen since late summer. It was to be a same-day up and back. But then I decided to treat myself to an overnight, booked a room at the wonderful Surrey Hotel, and a seat on the Acela, and before I could make plans with NY friends learned my Georgetown neighbor and buddy, Ellen Charles, coincidentally was making the same trip, and to the same hotel, for business reasons. That settled that, we would have lunch and dinner together and, of course, shop. Getting into shopping mischief is always more fun (and dangerous) with an accomplice.
The very good Cipriani carpaccio of beef.
We started our escape with lunch at Harry Cipriani at the Sherry Netherland. Ellen had not been before. I’d been a patron since they first opened in that location and remained loyal through closings, relocations, re-openings and redesign. A good table at “Chip” is a front row seat at the show which is New York; “Toto we’re not in Kansas anymore.” 

And, of course, Sergio Vacca makes every man feel like a master of the universe and every woman feel like a pretty young thing. I once watched him attend to Sharon Stone. It was a master class in flirtation – from both sides. (Note: you can book on OpenTable.)

Yes, the prices at Cipriani are ridiculous, but I also think that’s the point. You have to pay to play. But the food is good. Very good. 
The vanilla cream cake after a couple of forkfuls.
In the home of The Bellini, we started with The Bellini. My choice for lunch was a full order of the classic beef carpaccio, accompanied by a plate of spring asparagus, but I also love the chicken breast in curry sauce, the fresh tagliolini with ham, and the club sandwich. Ellen had a lovely salad of shredded baby artichoke with avocado and shaved parmesan, followed by cannelloni, another house speciality. She was impressed with both dishes. For wine we got a carafe of house Pinot Grigio. Dessert was sublime, as it always is; Cipriani defines outrageous sweets. Ellen had the zabaglione cake, I had the triple layer chocolate cake and Sergio – that rascal – sent over a slice of vanilla cream cake. The double espresso transported us to Italy.

I miss the Venetian yellow fabric walls, the black and white photos of Venice, the center door that provided such an entrance maker, which were the last iteration of this restaurant. Gradually I’ve warmed to the re-do, with its highly varnished, yachty look, if for no other reason than I covet the faux ship’s portal with the “view” of the rolling sea.  Don’t miss it on your way in or out the door.
A Faberge cat at A La Vieille Russie.
Fortified by ample food and wine, we started to shop, or browse, beginning with New York’s “house of Faberge,” A La Vieille Russie, where Ellen’s grandmother, Marjorie Merriweather Post, was an occasional customer. We ogled, but that’s it. From their Ellen headed to the Apple store while I crossed Fifth to Bergdorf Goodman — or, F.A.O. Schwartz for girls over 16. 

We don’t have department stores in DC anymore, at least not with the aspirational scope of a Bergdorf Goodman. We once had something similar, Garfinckel’s, but lousy management caused its death back in 1990.  It was true old school, with an elegant “designer” floor, a popular luncheon room, “house” models who married well, a millinery department, and a grand ground floor with the latest in every luxury handbag, glove, scarf, trinket and perfume. Today that space is a 1,000 seat restaurant. 

The Louboutin spiked metal stilettos, which plainly state "don't mess with me, bub."
The shoe department at Bergdorf’s is a high homage to foot festishism, a sensory overload of pumps, platforms, sandals, boots, kitten heels, slip-ons and stilettos from every famous shoemaker in the world. The customers are a trip, too, with some women trying to decide among 15 open boxes strewn around them, while others say “I’ll take the whole lot.” Me? I was enchanted with the Silvia Fiorentina spectators.

Fortunately for my bank account they didn’t have my size. But I texted to friends a close-up of the Louboutin spiked metal stilettos that run about $1500 a pair. I’d like to see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wear those to a meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Oh, Bergdorfs, you are so much fun. Whenever I’m there I channel Barbra Streisand in her stunning first CBS special, when she romped through the store in sumptuous coats, dresses and hats, singing depression-era tunes. I breezed through every floor, admiring all that plenty, but alarmed that most sizes stopped at 8. The prices, too, were breathtaking.

At Prada, I fell in love with a cobalt blue cocktail dress and a black lace number that would stop any show, but didn’t even dare to try them on. Oh, no no no. On the 7th floor it was fun to visit the book shop, a source for terrific collectibles, coffee table books and great CDs; to peek in at the charming BG Restaurant, with its awesome view of Grand Army Plaza, and then the linen department, with dreamy Porthault bed sets and sleepwear. If the sheets and shams are out of your price range, buy a Porthault shower cap. The $75 price is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s an doozy of a shower cap. 
What indecision looks like (caramel, black, blue?) Still, they didn't have my size.
Show-stoppers: cobalt blue and black lace at Prada.
Ellen and I reunited in the basement at the Jo Malone counter, where my big splurge was a refill of her classic Grapefruit cologne. When in doubt on a summer day, wear that scent and you won’t go wrong. 

From there we did the Madison Avenue March, hitting both sides of the street from 59th up to 76th, where the Surrey sits across the intersection from the Carlyle. I started to stay at the Carlyle in the late 70s, and it has special and abiding meaning to me, but with the changes in ownership came style changes that veered away from unique and toward the trends of mass market luxury chains. The Surrey, on the other hand, was renovated and created its own unique brand of luxury; a discreet lobby, attentive service, lovely rooms, a well-run spa, a splendid roof garden (though sadly not open on the beautiful evening we were there, because their staffing calendar didn’t match Mother Nature’s). The hotel’s bar is right out of “Mad Men.” In fact, having a pre-dinner Manhattan there, I hoped Don Draper would walk in the door. He would have been at home.
Room 503 at the Surrey.
The view from Room 503 of the Hotel Carlyle. Isn't it ironic? A Maker's Mark Manhattan at Bar Pleiades, the hotel bar at the Surrey.
Bar tools at Bar Pleiades
But back to shopping. Ellen picked up a floaty, delicate tourquoise jacket at Julie Artisans’ Gallery. I focused on the funky jewelry and handsome bracelets. That store has been there since when I first lived in NYC in the early '70s, but this was my first time inside. If you haven’t been in, check it out. There’s a surprising amount of variety, something for everyone, and clever statement accessories, including a pendant that appeared to be a bouquet of breasts. They also had a bracelet of arms.

A favorite store for years has been Leggiadro. The clothing looks good and endures, and from my point of view, now back in the work force, the pieces are ideal for the office. My wardrobe had become mainly a few cocktail dresses, for evening NYSD assignments, and sweat pants and t-shirts, daywear while at home at the keyboard writing a book. Neither look suits an office job, but Leggiadro had crisp, simple skirts, a few pullover dresses. Just add t-shirts and tank tops from J. Crew. Or Banana. Also, a couple of pairs of J. Brand skinny jeans are good for casual days at work. To these I add Canfora sandals, or a pair of leopard slip-ons from Arche. 
Bracelets at Julie Artisans Gallery.
A pendant of breasts at Julie Artisans Gallery.
While I tried on clothing at Leggiadro, Ellen did business on her new iPad and played with the adorable store dog. We met another adorable dog at Reed Krakoff, which is fortunate, because we needed the distraction; Reed Krakoff is a danger zone. The handbags, the dresses, the everything, were simply gorgeous. I know nothing about this store except that it’s very likable and, except for the prices, not overwhelming; it features the privileges of wealth, space and quiet in which to think and spend money. 

The mini Madison Avenue shopping spree was rounded out at Comptoir des Cotonniers, a sweet French boutique at the corner of 80th, with jaunty shirts, silk and linen pants, jackets and dresses – the style of clothing that gets one through a steamy summer day. 
At Leggiadro.
At Reed Krakoff.
The window at Jonathan Adler. I include this because he's soon opening in Washington, in Georgetown, at Wisconsin and N Streets.
The window display at Dolce & Gabbana.
My NYC take-home meal: a filet and spinach from Lobel's butcher shop.
For dinner we walked the half block to Sant Ambroeus, which we chose for the fresh Dover sole. (Also on OpenTable). We had a table in the back room, which was filled but not crowded. The sole was delicious enough to start an addiction. Fortunately our Georgetown fishmonger, Cannon’s, has it in supply. 

At Sant Ambroeus it was paired – once again - with spring asparagus. For dessert we had ice creams and cookies.
The bank banquette at Sant Ambroeus.
Back at the Surrey I slept like a baby in my big king bed with crisp sheets and the Manhattan skyline outside the window. The next morning Ellen invited me to join her and Karen LeFrak for breakfast at 3 Guys, a classic UES Greek deli. Oh, what I’d give to have a branch in Georgetown, where we lost our only deli, Furin’s, last year. Ellen and Karen own show dogs together and it’s fun to listen to them talk about their dogs and particularly the process of naming their dogs.

After breakfast at 3 Guys, good "dog" buddies, Karen LeFrak and Ellen Charles.
If I recall correctly they had a new litter born in the wine country and so, maybe, those future champions will be named after vineyards. Karen also talked about relocating for part of the year to Miami, and I expressed my envy.

That city, though hit by hard times in the real estate market after the ’08 crash, over the last three decades has transformed itself almost entirely. When it bounces back it will be with vitality because it’s a cool place to be, no matter how hot the weather. We agreed it beats Palm Beach.

I had one little bit of shopping left to do: bras. These days a woman has a choice of a breast lift, implants or a good bra, and, at the risk of TMI, I go with lingerie. It’s hard to find a store where the staff know how to fit a bra to the wearer, and by that I mean speak the truth about size and shape.

Karen recommended BraSmyth, just a few blocks down on Madison. They were wonderful. The staff will set you up with the correct size in underwear and bathing suits, and the bathing suit selection was splendid. They have maillots in a variety of colors; all that’s needed is a pāreu and a tropical beach and, well, summer.

From there it was downhill to 55th Street and Michael’s and my date with David and Jeff, which is reliably a chatty, silly and amusing occasion. David spent half the lunch giving me a hard time for leaving NYSD for The Washingtonian, and half the time telling me how happy he was for my success. That’s David.
Headed down Fifth to 55th Street. Michael's, from the outside.
The view from DPC's table.
My view of manager Steve Millington and DPC.
My view of the incredible shoe string fries.
Ellen, finished with her lunch at the Knickerbocker Club, joined us. While she and DPC dished names and places, JH and I discussed cameras, computers and apps. I showed off my new Uber app, which allowed me to tap a box on my iPhone and order a car that picked us up right outside the restaurant – a new and spotless black SUV driven by Jamil, who smilingly got our bags, put them in the back, drove us to the new entrance at Penn Station, smilingly got out our bags and sent us on our way — for  $19, tax and tip included. A friendly Red Cap pre-boarded us on the 4pm Acela, and, 28 hours after arriving, we were on our way back to Washington. 

Thank you, New York. 
Outside Michael's at our Uber car, Jamil the driver, Ellen, JH, and DPC.
Whizzing through Times Square.
Just about at Penn Station.
Looking to see which track has our Acela so we can be pre-boarded. This service is available to all – for a tip.
They now have a bar down on the track at Penn Station (beer, wine, booze). What an idea!
The rolling bar cart on the Acela; very popular during the afternoon route.
My message to New York.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.
Carol Joynt's memoir, Innocent Spouse, can be ordered from Amazon, HERE.