PaperCity Magazine

March 2019- Dallas

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Page 39 of 87

38 I remember hearing the phrase "ladies who lunch" at a very young age — and almost every day since. But it wasn't until I began penning this column that I pondered the meaning of those words and their origin. Most research pointed to Women's Wear Daily for the first appearance of "ladies who lunch." Some say it was publisher John Fairchild who coined the term. He would later go on to write a spirited little column in W magazine under the pseudonym Countess Louise J. Esterhazy, so this seems probable. Others cite a 1970 issue of New York magazine as home to the phrase's first appearance. Then, of course, there's the song "The Ladies Who Lunch," which debuted in Stephen Sondheim's musical Company. How could one forget Elaine Stritch famously singing: Here's to the ladies who lunch. Everybody laugh. Lounging in their caftans and planning a brunch on their own behalf. Off to the gym, then to a fitting, claiming they're fat and looking grim 'cause they've been sitting choosing a hat. My first introduction to the expression came at a refined clothing store named Rheinauers, located in my southern hometown of Tallahassee. On the second floor was a popular lunch spot called The Bird Cage — ablaze in yellow. To get there was quite a bit of fun: Women became pretty little sparrows, riding in an ornate rattan birdcage elevator situated smack- dab in the middle of the store for all to see. I remember trips to Rheinauers as a boy, accompanying my mom as she shopped. (Bill Blass for day suits; Victor Costa for evening looks.) I fantasized that the women who frequented The Bird Cage were the types who drank coffee for breakfast, ate pot roast for dinner, and thus needed some sort of light sustenance in the afternoon (tiny sandwiches sans crust; anything with pimento cheese; an early-era garden salad with dressing definitely never on the side) to fuel their retail therapy. Thus, they were, obviously, The Ladies Who Lunch. My late-'70s reminiscence of the ladies who lunch at Reinhauers is not much different than the luncheon scene of 2019. Generally, we find ourselves in a well-appointed room, beautifully lit or filled with natural light and dotted with tasteful flowers. Food is always light, lest one stray from a perfect size four, which our ladies have maintained since their college years. The menu might include en vogue salads with dressing now firmly on the side, quiches, and some variation of a vegan, cream-less soup. Music is hushed in the background — so as to prevent anyone from missing the details of a country-club dalliance gone wrong. Cliques of these ladies who lunch exist in all corners of the U.S., and we have numerous sleeper cells in Dallas. Our city's set is perhaps stronger than ever, I might add, with millennial protégés filling in the gaps left by octogenarians. They used to congregate at gone-by institutions such as the T-Room, Calluaud's, and The Magic Pan at NorthPark Center. Today, the Dallas flock can be seen at Cafe Pacific, Le Bilboquet, Mirador, or Neiman Marcus Downtown's storied Zodiac Room. Scandalous stories are sometimes shared, delivered sotto voce with an air of surprise. But inevitably lunch conversations lead to topics that truly shape Dallas. Unlike the scene in 1970s Wasplandia, the modern ladies-who-lunch club is no longer a lily-white membership. Much like our city, the dining-room scene is diverse. Names on the reservation list are not restricted to preppy country-clubber Madisons and Muffys. You may even spy a dandy Malcolm or two in the mix. Alas, however modern the lunch scene becomes, PHOTOGRAPHY: MARTIN TRAN PHI VU BY BILLY FONG IN DEFENSE OF THE LADIES WHO LUNCH (continued on page 40)

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