There were some rich cousins who went there. But not everyone in the family believed them. Drinking champagne and mixing with the swells at the Stork Club -- they had the money for it, but who would let those nobodies slip through the door? In any case, the cousins hailed from Brooklyn, where the idea of the fabulous obviously differed from mine.
As a boy in the Bronx, I saw the Thin Man movies and dreamed of a higher life across the river -- the same glamorous life Fred Astaire led in black tie, hair slicked back, body pressed a bit forward over a polished bar and a chilled martini. I was 25 and had been living in Manhattan for years before I stepped into the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel and felt I had finally landed in the New York of my imaginings. I had never even walked into the hotel before, sure that I was not well dressed enough to be allowed in. The Plaza was made for Jay Gatsby, maybe -- although he was just another bounder like myself -- and Daisy and Tom Buchanan and Jordan Baker -- they were the real belongers, entitled to take a room one hot summer afternoon and order ice and mint for their drinks.
A distinguished English writer and his Savile Row suit first brought me to the Oak Room. I stayed on for a decade. The year Lord Snowdon made silk turtlenecks fashionable, I wore one to the Oak Room, knowing that tie and jacket was the dress code but certain that after Snowdon, the rule would have to be changed. But the maître d’, whom I had long come to know, said politely that he could not let me in.
“You can’t imagine who will come here if we relax the code,” he said.