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Ladies Who Lunch


Carrot Top
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In Manhattan and perhaps in other large cities (San Francisco? London?) there used to be a social contingent of those who were described as "Ladies Who Lunch".

Ladies who lunch have their own style, generally, in clothing and deportment, and they have a somewhat predictable pattern in the places they choose to dine.

I remember reading of when the doors finally closed on one of New York's fine old establishments that was a gathering place for ladies who lunch. A new era was heralded and along with that new era, a new fashion sense was being developed.

Babe Paley's Hermes scarf tied ever-so-casually yet perfectly on a strap of her handbag, that subtle accesory that defined her style, her era, was denounced as passe.

Try that look and oops! The Fashion Police might not come to your door, but indeed you might be marked by Those in the Know as. . .well. Rather passe yourself, darling. :rolleyes:

Do ladies who lunch still exist in the numbers they used to?

Where do they gather in your city, if you have space for these rare birds with their defining feathers of finery?

What sort of dining establishment draws ladies who lunch - what are the things inherent in the ways the restaurant is run that makes it comfortable for them?

What defines their new style - are there any focal points in their fashion displays that have become a mark of who they are in this era?

Or have ladies who lunch blended into the environment so as not to be noticed today?

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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Do ladies who lunch still exist in the numbers they used to?

Where do they gather in your city, if you have space for these rare birds with their defining feathers of finery?

What sort of dining establishment draws ladies who lunch - what are the things inherent in the ways the restaurant is run that makes it comfortable for them?

What defines their new style - are there any focal points in their fashion displays that have become a mark of who they are in this era?

Or have ladies who lunch blended into the environment so as not to be noticed today?

In Edina, the toniest section of Minneapolis, there's an establishment best described as a "deportment" store named "Alfred's grand petit magasin". www.alfredsgpm.com

Alfreds' owner was inspired by Barney's New York and Los Angeles' Fred Segal. The store fearures designer furnishings, antiques, housewares, clothing and jewelry, and much more, dramaticly arranged throughout small rooms over three stories. It would take weeks to see everything they offer.

The last time I was there I had a nice conversation with a stylish elderly woman about a reproduction 1830's brass French railway station clock. It was mounted high on the wall and she asked me to read the price tag for her. It was $325, but I'm sure had it been $1,325 or $3,250 it would hardly have mattered.

There is also a indoor and outdoor cafe where such "ladies lunch". (I wouldn't be surprised to learn some of them even "have tea".)

I haven't eaten there yet. The menu looks interesting, but I'm afraid I don't know any "ladies" to "lunch" with.

SB :sad:

Edited by srhcb (log)
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When my mom is in town from California, we always do a little shopping (usually Saks and Barneys - she lives in Fresno now and is deprived of high-end, ridiculously over-priced department stores). Before or after the shopping (or in the middle of it all), we have lunch at La Goulue, at 65th and Madison. It is a quintessential "ladies who lunch" spot.

We both go for the steak tartare every time - I love the little pile of toasts and pot of mustard it comes with! We have a glass (She usually has two - I love my mom!) of Cotes du Rhone or Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and generally enjoy ourselves.

We are usually surrounded by European men and New York ladies. The ladies range in age - some of them are definitely the old-school types (defined as above by Karen), and some are younger, decked out in designer jeans faded just so, and the like.

It's also a great spot for celeb-sightings. The last time we ate there, we were two tables from Ivana Trump (now THERE'S a lady who lunches). The time before that, Renee Fleming was seated in the banquette opposite us (though she really doesn't fit the lady who lunches mould).

I work right next to another popular spot for this crowd - La Grenouille. Always plenty of older ladies in Chanel and pearls enjoying a midday repast in there!

It does seem that, in New York at least, popular spots lean more toward French lines, be they bistro (La Goulue) or formal (La Grenouille). Also popular, for its fries and convenience, is Fred's at Barneys.

I was actually thinking about this last night, too - "The Ladies Who Lunch," from Company, shuffled onto my iPod as I was walking from the subway. Nothing better than Elaine Stritch and her bourbon and cigarettes voice, singing about the emptiness of life. Sigh.

Edited by Megan Blocker (log)

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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Wonderful contribution, Megan! :smile:

Postscript:

You mention the BEST song...and singer, surely. However, there's also a Cole Porter song, not a favorite of mine, "Miss Otis Regrets" ["....she's unable to lunch today" is the first line] about a woman who cannot fulfill her social obligations having just shot her lover dead.

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Neither my mother nor I was ever a lady who lunched, but it seems that one of the blows to that demographic -- at least here in DC -- has been the demise of the department store restaurant. The big old department stores -- the 7-story downtown Woodward & Lothrop and the tonier Garfinkles -- has what passed for decent restaurants back in the day. Megan and her mom wouldn't have even have had to leave the store. DC being less rich and more button-downed than New York, I wonder if the ladies would have gone to La Grenouille even if an equivalent had been available.

I notice that certain restaurants in upscale neighborhoods, Black Salt, for example, seem to be extra hard to reserve at lunch, though they are far from the business crowd. Perhaps that's where the ladies are today.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Before kids, I too was of the 'ladies who lunch' crowd. My mom and I used to 'do lunch' downtown at 'the' department store. It literally WAS 'the' department store, because there were no others!: Well, not if you count Sears. And no one bought clothes at Sears, not womens clothes anyway. It was all about the shopping, for prom, or homecoming. Later I lunched with friends, but would drive to Houston and make a day of it. I miss those days.

Hopefully, if I live long enough, I'll hobble back into what ever of the old up-town resturants are open with a blue haired bunch of ladies and look ever so prim. We will slice and dice with such percision that it'll be undetectable. A southern woman never would allow herself to be in a position where her manners were questioned, so we would be perfectly discreet and rely on body language to seal the deal. Lovely, dear...just lovely.

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Neither my mother nor I was ever a lady who lunched, but it seems that one of the blows to that demographic -- at least here in DC -- has been the demise of the department store restaurant.  The big old department stores -- the 7-story downtown Woodward & Lothrop and the tonier Garfinkles -- has what passed for decent restaurants back in the day.

Interesting point, Busboy.

On that shopping trip with Mom, we noticed that Saks has opened several new bars and little lunch counters (for lack of a better description) throughout the Fifth Avenue store. They've always had a little cafe somwehere (Cafe SFA, I believe), but we saw a cocktail bar near Contemporary Shoes... :shock::laugh:

Wonder if lunching at the store is coming back?

ETA: Garfinkles!!! :laugh: No one knows how to name anything anymore. How fantastic!

Edited by Megan Blocker (log)

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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First time post - eeek!!!

A long time ago, and I mean long, we used to go to lunch at the Bird Cage at Lord & Taylor's across from St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhatten. Perhaps Busboy has a point about the demise of the department store restaurant.

In other musings, there was also McCreedy's, but that was more a restaurant to take children to - not in a Chuckie Cheese sort of way. There was a huge carosaul in the middle and we had to wear gloves.

There was also Schraff's - a now non-existent chain that was a respectable place for women to go by themselves to have lunch.

But above all, ladies who lunch has always meant The Bird Cage to me. :wub:

Edited to add: I didn't actually answer the question though...The Zodiac Restaurant at Neiman Marcus serves a mandarin orange soufflé salad plate that seems to fit the bill. There are a few of them around (Atlanta, GA; Troy, MI). The plate comes with a bit of chicken salad, a slice of some sort of nut bread, and fruit salad. Had with a glass of something light and fruity and a ball of ice cream rolled in pecans and then served with a lava flow of chocolate sauce, it makes for a lovely afternoon lunch. (Though not as upscale as Megan's! :sad: )

Edited by gini (log)
Eating pizza with a fork and knife is like making love through an interpreter.
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I remember my grandmother taking me and my younger sister to lunch in NYC at Schraft's on Fifth Avenue. Even the ladies sitting at the counter were decked out and lunching with gloves on. Gran had decked us out as well, patten leather shoes, dresses, hats and gloves! She treated us like two little dolls. There was a separate "Grill Room" which Gran explained was for men only. The servers all seemed to be from Ireland and wore fancy uniforms of black and white with some sort of headpiece.

The closest I've seen in NJ is what I call "museum ladies". The seem to go to NYC or possibly a museum in Montclair and then go dining with their little museum shop bags. The conversation is very "museum like" with some of them being docents or some other sort of volunteers. They are dressed and coiffed in a way those of us going to work can not match. They appear to have shopped, primped and dressed just for these particular outings and their follow-up lunches or even dinners. They are not as old as I seem to remember the ladies at Schraft's, but maybe thats because it's over 40 years later and my perception of age has vastly changed. One thing that hasn't changed is the amount of face makeup and powder they seem to wear.

KathyM

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Here in San Francisco, the LWL contingent can be found at The Rotunda restaurant at Neiman Marcus. No one I know, of course, has ever been part of that exalted group since, well, all of my acquaintances have to work for a living.

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The closest I've seen in NJ is what I call "museum ladies".  The seem to go to NYC or possibly a museum in Montclair and then go dining with their little museum shop bags.  The conversation is very "museum like" with some of them being docents or some other sort of volunteers.  They are dressed and coiffed in a way those of us going to work can not match.  They appear to have shopped, primped and dressed just for these particular outings and their follow-up lunches or even dinners.  They are not as old as I seem to remember the ladies at Schraft's, but maybe thats because it's over 40 years later and my perception of age has vastly changed.  One thing that hasn't changed is the amount of face makeup and powder they seem to wear.

Heh. All my older female relatives are museum ladies! The restaurant in the Art Institute (Chicago) is always full of them. I love 'em to pieces but they must drive the servers crazy. At lunch with two of my aunts recently, they kept complaining that the food was too "spicy." (It was not at all spicy; no idea what they were on about unless they were trying to fool people into thinking they still had taste buds.) The waiter responded by bringing them free ice cream. What a saint. I would have been telling them to stuff it.

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I am almost certain that the restaurant in NY that was referred to at the beginning of this topic was Mortimer's. It was owned by Glenn Bernbaum. Here's a link to an article about the place, the owner and the leisure-class clientele.

http://newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/food/industry/features/3157/

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Dare I admit this? I suppose I would fall into the category of Lady Who Lunches.

Currently I am a stay-at-home-mother of a toddler, but had a really active life prior to his birth. Prior to moving to London 3 years ago, I worked a really demanding job in SF, and my hobbies were shoe shopping, food and wine. Luckily, my friends here also have a similar profile as me (ex-career women who really enjoy food and wine, but have toddlers which really put a brake on our favorite pasttimes). Saturday-Thursday, I live the life of a typical mum, but Friday is my day off. Several of my friends also have their Fridays off, and this is the day we Do Lunch. This is the day we actually blow-dry our hair, put on make-up, throw on something fun (DVF wraparound dresses typical), and put on a piar of stilettos. This is the day we ditch the diaper bag and use a properly tiny pocketbook. We may meet earlier to do a spot of shopping (always something completely frivolous)or get mani/pedis. We usually choose a good to very good, buzzy-ish restaurant conveniently located (recent examples are Aubergine, Foliage, Greenhouse, Sketch, Zuma, Maze). We start with Champagne, and get 3 proper courses and definitely drink wine. After dessert, we have coffee and petit-fours (if available), and decide where to meet the next week. Lunch usually lasts 3 hours (sometimes longer!).

For us, the point of the day is enjoying adult time at a lesiurely pace with enjoyable company. It is also a time to not be mummy and wives, but ourselves. Even if I went back to work, I would make a day as often as possible to do lunch with my female friends. I suppose for me, it's like an upgraded version of university dining hall experience. I went to an all-womens college and our relaxation time would be spending hours in the dining hall discussing whatever. I prefer my current version (much better food accompanied by something better than diet coke and bad coffee).

Perhaps this isn't the lunching of the Babe Paley set, but I think that my experience is more in line with today's woman.

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What do lunching ladies eat these days?

Glass of iced tea or Perrier. "Drinkers" have a glass of chardonnay or white zin, with ice cubes in it.

Salad, salad, salad, with dressing on the side. If one is feeling decadent, something from the bread basket, with a little olive oil.

Any protein is lean -- broiled fish with lemon.

One dessert per six lunchers, and it is NEVER to be finished. Anyone who eats pasta, anything with fat in it, or (horrors) orders her own, separate, dessert, is talked about behind her back when she goes to the restroom.

The above meal takes at least 2 1/2 hours.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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In Honolulu, the ladies who lunch do so at Alan Wong's Pineapple Room in Macy's (formerly Liberty House -- definitely a "ladies who lunch" emporium), Mariposa in Neiman Marcus, or the café in the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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Dare I admit this?  I suppose I would fall into the category of Lady Who Lunches. 

Currently I am a stay-at-home-mother of a toddler, but had a really active life prior to his birth.  Prior to moving to London 3 years ago, I worked a really demanding job in SF, and my hobbies were shoe shopping, food and wine.  Luckily, my friends here also have a similar profile as me (ex-career women who really enjoy food and wine, but have toddlers which really put a brake on our favorite pasttimes).  Saturday-Thursday, I live the life of a typical mum, but Friday is my day off.  Several of my friends also have their Fridays off, and this is the day we Do Lunch.  This is the day we actually blow-dry our hair, put on make-up, throw on something fun (DVF wraparound dresses typical), and put on a piar of stilettos.  This is the day we ditch the diaper bag and use a properly tiny pocketbook.  We may meet earlier to do a spot of shopping (always something completely frivolous)or get mani/pedis.  We usually choose a good to very good, buzzy-ish restaurant conveniently located (recent examples are Aubergine, Foliage, Greenhouse, Sketch, Zuma, Maze).  We start with Champagne, and get 3 proper courses and definitely drink wine.  After dessert, we have coffee and petit-fours (if available), and decide where to meet the next week.  Lunch usually lasts 3 hours (sometimes longer!).

For us, the point of the day is enjoying adult time at a lesiurely pace with enjoyable company.  It is also a time to not be mummy and wives, but ourselves.  Even if I went back to work, I would make a day as often as possible to do lunch with my female friends.  I suppose for me, it's like an upgraded version of university dining hall experience.  I went to an all-womens college and our relaxation time would be spending hours in the dining hall discussing whatever.  I prefer my current version (much better food accompanied by something better than diet coke and bad coffee).

Perhaps this isn't the lunching of the Babe Paley set, but I think that my experience is more in line with today's woman.

This sounds like a wonderful way to spend a Friday off. I love to get into town and meet up with friends for lunch, but we all work, so it's never that leisurely. The newest favorite place in Boston is Juries, the restaurant in the hotel. It gets a mix of ladies who lunch, tourists, and business people. We like it for the relaxing, yet hip environment, and the lobster bisque.

:) Pam

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What do lunching ladies eat these days?

Glass of iced tea or Perrier. "Drinkers" have a glass of chardonnay or white zin, with ice cubes in it.

Salad, salad, salad, with dressing on the side. If one is feeling decadent, something from the bread basket, with a little olive oil.

Any protein is lean -- broiled fish with lemon.

One dessert per six lunchers, and it is NEVER to be finished. Anyone who eats pasta, anything with fat in it, or (horrors) orders her own, separate, dessert, is talked about behind her back when she goes to the restroom.

The above meal takes at least 2 1/2 hours.

That would be a rather hearty lunch for the social x-rays. I remember reading about the ladies pretending to eat, but really spitting the food into their napkins. The linen and laundry bills for restaurants "catering" to the social set were enormous.

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What do lunching ladies eat these days?

Glass of iced tea or Perrier. "Drinkers" have a glass of chardonnay or white zin, with ice cubes in it.

Salad, salad, salad, with dressing on the side. If one is feeling decadent, something from the bread basket, with a little olive oil.

Any protein is lean -- broiled fish with lemon.

One dessert per six lunchers, and it is NEVER to be finished. Anyone who eats pasta, anything with fat in it, or (horrors) orders her own, separate, dessert, is talked about behind her back when she goes to the restroom.

The above meal takes at least 2 1/2 hours.

That would be a rather hearty lunch for the social x-rays. I remember reading about the ladies pretending to eat, but really spitting the food into their napkins. The linen and laundry bills for restaurants "catering" to the social set were enormous.

I will admit to doing a bit of spying at La Goulue (since I always get the same thing, I like to check out everyone else's lunches), and people definitely ordered heartily. Cassoulet was everywhere, as was the stew of chicken, olives and lemon. I saw a few pieces of flaky white fish that looked pan roasted.

However, I did not keep a good eye on how empty the plates were when taken away. The food there is so good (and kind of overpriced) that I can't imagine not eating it when it's in front of you. :laugh:

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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Wow. I am surprised at the places everywhere with ladies all lunching!

(No - actually I *never* get out, so you all will have to tell me all about it. . . :smile: )

The Ur-Place of Ladies Who Lunch, to me, is The Colony Club. In season, of course. :rolleyes:

Interesting about that definition of the style of the younger set, Megan. I admit I am curious about the shoes. Do tell. Does the height of the heel define a woman? :biggrin:

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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Hopefully, if I live long enough, I'll hobble back into what ever of the old up-town resturants are open with a blue haired bunch of ladies and look ever so prim. We will slice and dice with such percision that it'll be undetectable. A southern woman never would allow herself to be in a position where her manners were questioned, so we would be perfectly discreet and rely on body language to seal the deal. Lovely, dear...just lovely.

Can't think of a better reason to re-build, myself.

Why, really. . .if it were the only reason it would be enough to inspire. :wink:

And it is a good reason to get old, too. :smile:

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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We usually choose a good to very good, buzzy-ish restaurant conveniently located (recent examples are Aubergine, Foliage, Greenhouse, Sketch, Zuma, Maze).  We start with Champagne, and get 3 proper courses and definitely drink wine.  After dessert, we have coffee and petit-fours (if available), and decide where to meet the next week.  Lunch usually lasts 3 hours (sometimes longer!).

This sounds absolutely lovely. Do you think the older ladies who lunch might still do so at Browns or The Savoy or have those places become overrun with tourists rather than locals?

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Interesting about that definition of the style of the younger set, Megan. I admit I am curious about the shoes. Do tell. Does the height of the heel define a woman? :biggrin:

Of course! The higher the heel, the more likely she is to have both a driver and a podiatrist on call.

I wear flats. :wink:

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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:biggrin: Yeah. Absolutely.

I wonder what the percentage is though of high-heelers to low-heelers. :laugh:

Sorry. Can't help myself. It's a fashion thang.

Ivana I would imagine wears heels.

I also think that some cities might be prone to higher-heels than others in this atmosphere. Paris - high heeled. New York - more low heeled I think.

I wonder about other places.

How about colors? Is classic black still "in"? Any other fashion notes from around the world scene of Ladies Who Lunch? :smile:

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For the younger set, it's all about Manolos, Manolos, Manolos. For the older, Ferragamo...and lower heels.

I actually wear pretty high heels to work these days, but can't be bothered to spend my weekends in them. Too much of a pain.

I wore 3 1/2 inchers for a friends wedding (all three b-maids wore the same shoe), but they were so painful (not the heel so much as the pinchy toes) that we ended up taking them off during communion and recessing barefoot. :shock:

Don't worry - our dresses were too long to show our tootsies!

Paris is definitely the land of the high heel...and of the ballet flat.

And, of course, black never goes out of style in New York or Paris!

Edited by Megan Blocker (log)

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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