From the April 13, 1970 issue of New York Magazine.
I wish to introduce M. Martin Decré. His face is pink. His hair is gray. His feet are flat. His cufflinks, by Cartier. He is the sentinel of La Seine Restaurant…a beau monde cloister of drop-dead chic. Martin Decré stands between you and a good dinner in a great restaurant.
Martin is a warm, sympathetic, earthy good fellow. But that is the seven-eighths of the Decré iceberg you may never see. It is not that Martin is a born fascist. He does not eat ground glass for breakfast. He is simply a highly trained despot. A maître among the town’s haughtiest maîtres d’. Let us not hack the tiniest chink in his armor of unshakable arrogance, thus tarnishing La Seine’s snob cachet. If it were a snap to seduce Martin, would it be worth the effort? The canons of haut snobisme are perfectly clear: there are clients who adorn La Seine and clients who pollute its elegance. It is for Martin to court the former and discourage the latter.
It hurts so nice! The card-carrying Manhattan masochist thrives on a diet of flageolets and flagellation, so often the spécialité du jour in the posh Pleiades of restaurants where the snub is often more creative than the cuisine. Nor must one be French to subscribe to the tyranny de gall. The Colony, “21” and Orsini’s serve memorable cold shoulder. And for the discriminating masochist, the chill of Miss Pearl on West 48th Street is a snub with its own scrutable ouch.
Perhaps your ego is as neat as a nicely poached egg. Deep down inside you know you’re more fun on a hayride than Babe Paley. In a pinch you’re more pinchable than the Duchess. You bring money, lots of money, in your Hermès sac or your Vuitton duffle. But mere money will not spring you from the bitter frostbite of Siberia, from neglect, glazed ennui, under-age wines, snarled lectures on gastronomic propriety, and other lessons in humility.
If you are a Machiavellian radical like Saul Alinsky, you slam your glass to the floor and bellow insults right back. If you are Uriah Heep, Pariah Emeritus, you practice absolute submission, take a table at 5:30 if there’s nothing at 8, make like a meek little kipper in your crowded corner, dutifully order the plat du jour and carry your Gelusil in a discreet flask.
When simple everyday snobisme escalates into assault, with intimations of sadism verging on assassination, you may decide to kick the humble-pie habit and abandon the scene. It will be an autocrat’s nightmare if tight money, the ides of April and a growing sea of white tablecloths turn the usual chill positively toasty. Meanwhile, if you have only one masochistic bone in your body, stick it out. Decré can learn to love you. Dedicate yourself to “making it” on the haute eating scene.
a) You write a best seller…get lionized by your publisher… get sued by the Kennedys.
b) You are named co-respondent in a fancy divorce, preferably royal.
c) You are being rushed by Frank Sinatra.
d) Or Truman Capote.
e) Your husband’s renegade conglomerate swallows a major communications empire.
f) Daddy gets elected President.
If instant stardom eludes you, hire a press agent. Call her “my dear friend.” Her name is Marianne (Mimi) Van Rensselaer Strong. She will tell you, “Really chic people don’t go out on Saturday night… only the crumbs go out on Saturday. The chic people go to the country…or a movie. Sunday night has become very chic, very ‘in.’.” She will help you plan “drop-dead little dinner parties” at La Seine. “There are only two restaurants for dinner, my dear,” says Mimi, “La Seine and ‘21’.” She will keep Women’s Wear and Suzy panting for news of your labels and your Longuettes and your lunches with your decorator.
Does that sound too calculated? Too costly? Then go it alone. Try this cram course in humility-and-chutzpah. Essentially the snob maître d’ is somewhat human. He respects fidelity, celebrity and wanton extravagance. Be loyal to your chosen restaurant. Open a house account. Spend lots.
On the Phone
Your secretary calls for a reservation. Your English secretary, preferably. Or your wife, cleverly passing herself off as your English secretary. “This is Mr. Ford’s office. Mr. Ford would like a table for two at lunch.” When the cagey maître d’ asks for Mr. Ford’s initial, cagey wife answers “E.” Roosevelt and Vanderbilt are also good names. As Mimi Strong observes, “Not every Vanderbilt is a Vanderbilt, you know.”
If you are Miss Nobody lunching with Ava Gardner or Dorothy Schiff or Happy Rockefeller, say so boldly, or slyly: “By the way Martin, I am meeting Mrs. Rockefeller. Please watch for her in case I’m a few minutes late.” And you are late, to insure getting a Rockefeller table instead of a nobody table. If your family name is Orlovsky, change your first name to Prince. I have a friend who has vowed to name her next son Count. “Count Kaufman’s table, please.” If he is stabbed by the petit pain boy, he needn’t bleed blue—merely profusely, muttering darkly about hemophilia.