Taking the cake

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Moon over Manhattan. Photo: JH.

Thursday, February 2, 2023. Cold, yesterday. The kind where you need the quilted jacket or overcoat.  In the 20s after a light snow the night before. Imagine; all of this freezing weather in early January! We were just getting spoiled; that’s all.

Meanwhile back to Lady Mendl. We posted a message on Tuesday from a reader asking us about the furniture arrangement in the very fashionable and chic Lady Mendl house in Beverly Hills.

Reminder, the reader: I enjoyed the article ‘When stars collide’ but in … the living room of Lady Mendl, Elsie de Wolfe, I cannot understand her philosophy of furniture arrangement. Here is this massive living room with a large rug on the floor, but with nothing but two legs of a stool on it. All the furniture is pushed up against the wall as if to either create dance space (but on a rug?) or to vacuum?

There are two small settees crammed up in separate corners. Why she did not use this space to create smaller conversational groupings I cannot figure out … I guess there’s no one living that can explain it.

The living room in question.

Ahh, there was. I asked our friend Charlie Scheips who wrote a beautiful book in 2014 (Elsie de Wolfe’s Paris: Frivolity Before the Storm) on Elsie’s chateau if he could explain. And he did. That room was actually a grand hallway, Charlie explained. It was built onto the house in the 1920s by Anne Morgan, the daughter of JP Morgan, who had befriended Elsie and her partner and became a frequent full-time housemate. When it wasn’t in use for parties it was a perfect space that led to the outside where much of Elsie’s last party before the World War II stopped everything.

This past Tuesday, the 31st of January. Marc Rosen, along with Arthur Houghton, Margo Langenberg and Elizabeth Kabler hosted a birthday dinner at Doubles for Susan Gutfreund and ten guests (including the aforementioned).

Susan Gutfreund’s birthday dinner at Doubles, l. to r.: DPC, Marc Rosen, Shinning Sung, Vanessa Noel, Margo Langenberg behind the Birthday Girl, Elizabeth Kabler, Dr. Joel Kasimer, Arthur Houghton, Peter Psaras, and Kathy Sloane.

First of all, there’s the menu. It’s a buffet at Doubles. Always. And it’s one of those buffets where the selections are specially presented and the kind of menu where you want to try everything.  It is presented with an accompanying dessert table that you want to start helping yourself to even before you get to the main course. It’s enough of a good reason to join the club just for lunch and dinner.

I rarely get to Doubles and so when I do, my first obsession is having dinner. It doesn’t always, most always, work out that way, but it nevertheless is something to persuade anyone to attend.

Susan, of course, has enough friends to fill the club but this was the hosts’ party for their friend so it was more intimate. Nevertheless, the conversation was at the table, around the table, left/right; across, and down; and very animated.

Although Doubles is a beautifully decorated and spacious club that is hospitable to the chic, the buffet takes even the chic-est down home. And as a result a dinner party of good friends of the birthday girl had movement (back to the buffet/and don’t forget the desserts). The staff is excellently attentive but the buffet brings out the homey side of the chic-est.

Susan has been a persona and a subject of interest and conversation for as long as I can remember back into the ‘70s when she was first married to John Gutfreund. Back then they were living at the River House (where coincidentally she is now in residence) where they had the penthouse. On the first Christmas Susan arranged for a tree that was so large and tall that it required a crane to lift it the 20 stories.

Susan Gutfreund with husband John trailing behind, 1989. Photograph by Mary Hilliard.

This holiday celebratory symbol immediately became the talk of the town; the stuff of rumors and gab and social columns. The implication remains unclear to me but at the time it was regarded as slightly scandalous. The River House, majestically overlooking the East River with its spacious and grand apartments was arrivée plus.

Furthermore she and John also had a house on the Left Bank in Paris where they entertained tycoons, dukes, duchesses, moguls and models with the kind of informal grandeur that is only Paris.

She was a girl from Texas, the oldest of five and the only girl. Her father was in some kind of business that required his presence in Europe and that undoubtedly is where her European sensibility (and a good dose of the down home girl) gave her charm and hospitable sense.

The birthday girl at the head of the table remains the hostess she naturally is. I don’t know who was responsible for the concept, but the birthday cake was extraordinary. It was a piece of art. In fact it was modeled after 18th century French porcelain (Saint-Cloud perhaps?). It was so perfect, it seemed wrong to even cut into this piece of (pastry) art. But alas, we sang Happy Birthday to the birthday girl. She quick blew out the candles, and the cuuuutt into this precious piece of cake.  And so it was.

The custom “porcelain” cake by Lauren Resler.

However, the “cake” itself was SO good, a very special recipe (Devil’s food and Swiss meringue buttercream) provided by its creator Lauren Resler. I happened to be seated next to the birthday girl and I easily noticed when I finished my cake that she hardly touched hers. I think she had two small pieces leaving the impression that she stays away from the sweets. So, after finishing mine — absolutely delicious — I asked if she were to finish hers.  I’m still not sure I heard her reply when I dug my fork in, although I repeated the lurch twice more and she said nothing.

The perfect hostess even as the honored guest. Happy Birthday Susan! And thank you letting a guest “take the cake.”

The birthday girl takes the cake.

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