February 08, 2009

The Damn Boomers Are Ruining All the Fun!

In the midst of all the bad news”€”political, economic, and military”€”clustering around the memory of 2008 and the first few weeks of 2009, this writer received several shocks which”€”trivial as they may seem”€”have as great significance as anything else to hit the headlines. In this past year, the nearby French restaurant, La Parisienne, closed.

“€œSo what?”€ you may ask. It is the end of an era. Farewell to turtle soup”€”not the admittedly delicious pureed variety to be found in Louisiana and the Florida Keys, but a delicious clear broth with great chunks of turtle meat and julienned vegetables! Good-bye as well to Caesar salad prepared with great flourish tableside, announced with the cracking of an egg; to Steak Diane, likewise done at a cart by your table, its signature sauce enriched with heavy cream! No more shall we see such flaming crepes suzettes and cherries jubilee, all done tableside! Before its fall, La Parisienne was preceded in death by Monty’s, Pasadena, a classic heavy-food house, whose neon sign promised its aficionados steaks, seafood, and cocktails, and whose enormous bar, red leather banquettes, and twice stuffed potatoes fulfilled all such raised expectations. The Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City shut its doors on New Year’s Eve, thus shutting off one of the last remaining preserves of Lobster Thermidor in the Los Angeles area.

But the reign of terror has not been confined to California’s Southland. The same day that the Sportsmen’s Lodge ended its life, so too did London’s Café Royal. The 143-year-old Regent Street establishment, frequented by Napoleon III, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, Edward VIII, and many more luminaries, is to be replaced by a five-star hotel. Gone is the antique elegance of its Grill Room, where this writer spent a number of happy afternoons and evenings. Closed too, though for alleged remodelling, is the fabulous Savoy Hotel; being remembered by the head bartender of its “€œAmerican Bar”€ by name was a sure sign of something or other. Whatever reopens on the site, it will not be what we knew.

New York, too, has been hard hit. The collapse of Chumley’s chimney was an act of God; but the old hangout’s reopening is dependent, if it happens, on human whim. Accompanied by a flock of cousins in October of 2008, I discovered that our old family hangout, the Minetta Tavern was shut, a victim of the same process that has claimed the Savoy. All of these things are disturbing; but the fact these closures are as much the result of cultural as economic trends is revealed by perhaps the most annoying news yet. Last month, “€œ21“€ ended its jacket and tie for admission rule.

Why is this so horrifying? Because it is the culmination of a process of which the closures mentioned and many more besides are but the symptom: the extinction of civilized fun, in which formality and pleasure are combined in a heady brew of enjoyment”€”the sort of cultural our own professor Taki has spent his life diligently studying. To be sure, this descent has been a long time in preparation and execution; although their “€œGreatest Generation”€ fathers (remember their characterization of the dinner jacket as a “€œmonkey suit”€) began the downward voyage, it is the Boomers who perfected it and have brought it to near fruition. Events at “€œ21″€ simply reflect the spirit dominant wherever Boomers gather”€”most especially at the White House.

This can be most easily measured by inaugurations. Up to and including JFK’s in 1961, this was a morning-coated affair. Obviously, LBJ was rather less formally attired while taking the oath the first time; the second time, his unique aesthetics (who can forget his toilet-side meetings and scar revelations to the press) precluded anything more dressy than a suit. Nixon, despite his weakness for Ruritanian-style Guard uniforms, was in essence a mug from Whittier. Of Carter’s inauguration, the less said, the better. Reagan’s first inauguration was a restoration, like that of Charles X in France and James II in England; it was just as unsuccessful, and the Great Communicator returned to the regulation business suit for his second go-round.

But it took the Boomers to destroy Presidential evening formality. Clinton and Bush junior, whom historians will doubtless see as being much closer to one another than their contemporaries do, each offered only a single white-tie banquet in their respective eight year reigns: significantly, both were for foreign Monarchs, as though that was the only occasion these superannuated adolescents felt the need to behave as grown-ups.

Obama, like this writer, is a junior Boomer, both of us having been born in 1960. With him, the process took another turn. Only one of his inaugural balls was white tie”€”and that one was strictly “€œvirtual,”€ staged for a press photo-op. In any case, the new President of the Republic now conducts regular business in the White House in shirt sleeves; at least, should he be helicoptered into Manhattan for lunch, he will be received at “€œ21.”€

Still, one age’s radicals are the reactionaries of a new era. It may be that some of today’s young people are revolting against the dreary informality of their elders. Perhaps the rebirth of cocktail culture and pre-War music, in such venues as Washington’s Gibson and Los Angeles”€™ Cicada Club, to say nothing of the proliferation of Art Deco Societies around the country may presage future victories in the ongoing struggle. Certainly, the recent legalization of absinth gives this writer the courage to carry on.


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