Charlie spared no expense and, as the evening wore on, he explained, over and over, the method, materials, and madness used to build this palace.
We were seated after having a cocktail at a round table situated squarely in the middle of the restaurant. There wasn't a table in the place with a finer view of the Valley. Nor was there a table in the place without an unobstructed view of Charles Keating (I wondered if our table was chosen for the former or the latter reasons). Charlie sat on my right and my wife was seated on my left. When the waiter came by, Keating made it clear that this evening was for my wife, as it was her birthday. The waiter presented me with the wine list. It was then that I broke out in a cold sweat. A sweat that continued for a record-breaking three hours. I slyly asked Charlie if he would like to select the wine, and he replied, "Your pleasure, sir." Now, I really began to sweat. Could he really be planning on sticking me with the check? I thought. Nah, he's just being nice because it's my wife's birthday. Don't worry about it, order some wine and have a good time.
Charlie was snapping his fingers and yelling at waiters like General Patton issuing orders to his troops. He called for the chef and informed everyone within earshot (a mighty distance, I should add) that it was he who had brought [the chef] to this fabulous place to cook for him, Charles Keating. The chef smiled pleasantly and ran back into the kitchen. What, I wondered, was he going to do to Charlie's food for embarrassing him like that? I worried that, whatever it was, it would miss his plate and hit mine.
Minutes dragged into hours. Story after boring story about the building of his hotel. An exciting moment arrived when his secretary informed Charlie that she had just had a conversation with the manager and, it seemed, Charlie couldn't have the private dining room he wanted for another dinner he was planning there the following month. Someone else had booked it for that date. "You're kidding," he said incredulously, his voice rising like the tide at full moon. "No" she replied weakly, "that's what he said." Charlie just sat there dumbfounded. It was as though he had just been shot and didn't yet know how badly he'd been hit. Here he was, at his place, and the new management just told him to take a flying leap. Charlie just said, "I'll speak to him about it later."
The food, ah, yes, the food. What can I say about the food at Mary Elaine's except that the soup was cold, the service was terrible, the entrée undercooked, and the wine overpriced. This place sold itself on reputation and presentation. I can't imagine anyone actually liking the food there, but then again that's not why you went. You ate at Mary Elaine's because you could. You went to be seen dining at an establishment that is so obscenely overpriced that the thought arises: If you have to ask how much it is, you can't afford it. But, hey, who cares, right? We were having dinner with Good Time Charlie. We were in the "A" crowd.
Dinner came and went, dessert was brought, and afterward, Charlie got up from the table and announced "Let's all go to the bar for a drink." At which point, my friend slapped his hands together and replied, "Hey, is that how it works with your crowd? Fuck the check, we're outta here!"