Note: I sent a shorter version of this story to a few friends via email. The response was so overwhelming I decided to blog it. Here’s hoping you enjoy it as well:
Last week I had an important business dinner regarding a film project. The dinner was at Wolfgang Puck’s outrageously expensive steakhouse Cut which is located in the outrageously expensive Beverly Wilshire Hotel. For the film folks, this hotel has a big pedigree: not only is it where Richard Gere stayed in Pretty Woman, both Warren Beatty and Elvis Presley lived in the hotel, each for a couple of years. John Lennon lived there for a time as well. It’s that kind of place.
I arrive early, as is my wont. Because I’m early, I go into the bar, Sidebar, which is a separate space across a lobby from the restaurant. I sit down at the bar and order a gin martini, also my wont. The actual bar, while long and beautiful, has a terrible design flaw I’ve encountered a number of times in the last few years: the last two inches of the bar slopes down slightly. Perhaps the thinking is that it makes it more comfortable to rest an arm there than a hard right angle? I have no idea but the problem is that if you place your drink on or anywhere near the edge, where most people place their drink, it slides right off. I’d like to know what idiot thought this up. The photo below is of Sidebar. If you click on the photo and look closely, particularly on the bar in the middle of the photo, you can see the tapered edge of the bar:
For the record, I’m dressed in my standard industry casual. Often in the film biz you don’t dress up really fancy unless you’re, say, an agent or lawyer. Let me also say for the record that I know nothing about clothes. Which often shows. My dream is to find something perfect to wear, buy five sets and wear only that, always. Eccentric, perhaps, but I’ll always look good and never have to worry. I haven’t found such clothes yet. For this meeting, I was dressed in my favorite boots, my favorite jeans and a light green button down no wrinkle shirt. Each of these items were handpicked by others, btw. My clothing sense is so bad I get help from a few female friends who do their best to keep me decently dressed.
So I’m sitting at the bar, enjoying my martini, excited for the meeting which happens in 12 minutes. I’m sitting at the curve closest to you in the photo above. There’s a guy standing next to me, close to the very end, with a friend of his. This poor guy gets his order from the bartender, a tankard of Syrah. After taking a first sip, he sets said tankard of Syrah on the bar. You can guess what happened next. Or you don’t have to guess, just look:
When the glass slid off the bar, it literally covered the entire left side of my body, shoulder to boot, with red wine. It was one of those moments you see in a movie when a packed room of talking, laughing people went completely silent. And of course all eyes are on me, standing there looking a bit like a half-body, red wine version of Sissy Spacek at the prom in Carrie. In that brief moment of silence, you could hear me dripping.
We are both standing frozen, this poor guy shocked and horrified at what happened while I’m trying to figure out what the hell to do in the next ten minutes before the people with whom I’m meeting show up. I’ll be immodest for a moment and say that if you need something done, fast, I’m the guy. I may not always make the right decision but if you need a decision made in a crisis, come stand by me. I’m standing there dripping and I go into my ‘action mode’, trying to think if I can salvage the night. Ok, maybe you can make a joke about it, laugh it off and just go to dinner like this. But this won’t work. Understand, I’m not shy. I wouldn’t be embarrassed to parade through Cut covered in red wine. But I am soaking wet. Seriously, not only is the wine dripping off me, it’s everywhere. Every move I make more wine flies around the room. I know the evening is over if I stay dressed like this. You changed shirts on the way, maybe you can get the other shirt. But it’s balled up on the floor of the backseat of my truck, which is under the hotel with the valet. Clothes, you need clothes. I look at my watch. It’s 8:17. Neiman’s is 2 blocks away. Run down there and buy something, anything. Crap, is Neiman’s even open? Do they close at 8 or 9? Let’s hope it’s 9. The men’s shop is on the third floor. If I call them as I run over…
This all goes through my head in a matter of seconds, along with trying to assure the fellow with the Syrah fixation to relax. I’m about to run down the street but before either of us could move, Boom! We are surrounded by staff. I’ve never quite seen anything like it. As two people start cleaning, the bar manager, Albert, pulls me into a small alcove and takes over. He already has a black jacket in his hand. I start to put it on. It’s too small. We also both realize as I try to put the jacket on that without a new shirt, even if it were to fit, this still isn’t going to work. I’m that wet. I remember at one point Albert was trying to assess just how bad the situation was while helping me with the coat and his hands touched my jeans. He said, “Wow, he really did get you, didn’t he?” Even my jeans were dripping.
Being the guy who usually takes over, it was disorienting and wonderful to be swept up in someone else who gets things done. At one point I said I had a shirt in the car. Four minutes later, no joke, the valet shows up with the balled up shirt, shaking it out, trying to make it presentable. In the meantime, Albert returns with another black coat, larger, and a black shirt. Where these come from, I could not tell you. It’s like magic. I grab the clothes and race to the bathroom, colliding on the way, of course, with my dinner companions. They are wonderful and after a lot of laughing, I make it to the bathroom, change clothes (perfect fit, natch) and as I told Albert later, I looked much better than when I walked into the hotel:
I’ve been blessed on occasion to be in some great restaurants and hotels. I’ve experienced great service. This was beyond all that. We end up at an amazing table, hard to get at Cut. Wolfgang Puck himself drops by the table to check in. (I was a bit of a gushing nerd, I’m afraid.) We have a great meal and meeting. This restaurant may be expensive but I’ve now been twice and it has some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. And 2.5 hours later when I leave the restaurant to get my car, my shirt is presented to me dry-cleaned and pressed, looking as if it came off the rack. There is something to be said for outrageously expensive places when they live up to the cost.
Albert? He reminded me of Winston Wolfe in Pulp Fiction. No dead Marvin was involved, sure, but wow was Albert calm, cool and in control. Harvey Keitel must have studied Albert before filming Pulp Fiction. I hope I’m around Albert when The Big One finally hits LA. I know I’ll be okay.
I’m not going to say I’m glad I ended up covered in Syrah. There was an infintesimal moment I absolutely hated right after the spill happened: I stood there, arms out, looking at myself, feeling just how wet I was and I realized Not even you, Tom, can fix this. I hate that feeling. And with all the problems in the world, I don’t mean to suggest that some spilled red wine is any kind of a big of a deal. It’s spilled red wine, the definition of a first world problem. At the same time, damned if Albert and the staff of both the restaurant and hotel didn’t take over, get the job done and make a rather large spill something pretty wonderful.