Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tavern on the Green

I am as down with Schumpeterian creative destruction as the next person -- in fact, probably more so. Nevertheless, even us committed Schumpeterians sometimes feel a tinge of mourning for businesses that fall victim to creative destruction.

Thus my surprisingly reaction to reading about the shuttering of New York's iconic Tavern on the Green. I only went there once -- see the whole being in school until recently thing, and also, the whole being a public interest and then government lawyer thing. It was under odd circumstances, which I'm perhaps too happy to relate here.

It was Christmas break after 1L, between Christmas and New Year's. I'd made plans to take the bus from Allentown to NYC for a weekend to see some friends from college. I was supposed to stay with my friend James Joyce* and his parents in one of the NYC suburbs, and another friend of ours, Elizabeth Blackwell.* Elizabeth is from upstate New York. She was home from med school for break, and she and her parents were staying in a nice hotel in downtown NYC, visiting some relatives and doing some shopping and sightseeing.

James and Elizabeth had a brief relationship in college. They remained friends afterwards, though at various points, it appeared that at least one party harbored hopes of re-establishing the relationship. (Note that I am kind of sacrificing clarity here for discretion, and it is also kind of not going well. But please bear with me.)

On Christmas Eve, James called my cell when I was out shopping for presents. "Isabel, Isabel, I'm really sorry --" and here he sounded half-hysterical -- "but I can't come meet you when your bus gets in. This is really peculiar, but you shouldn't be surprised that things are peculiar, given the group of people that are involved... " He went on to explain that he'd double-booked himself, since he was getting dinner in Manhattan with his parents and the Blackwells at Tavern on the Green the evening that my bus was supposed to get into New York. I told him not to worry, that maybe I could do something with some of my other undergrad friends in the city.

After I hung up, my mom inquired, "So what's up with James?"

I told her and added, "It's not that I'm really upset or mad or anything, but is it me, or is it kinda odd that James wouldn't tell me I could join the Joyce/Blackwell crew for dinner? I mean, maybe I'd be messing with the family-to-family dynamic, but, like, I know both families really well from when they visited in college, and it's kinda... I don't know..."

She replied, "Maybe Elizabeth and James getting engaged."

This remark caused me to nearly have a heart attack.

She goes on to explain, "Well, you said once that James really liked Elizabeth for a long time, right?"

"That's true, but they're not dating or anything... and... Elizabeth's at med school in Chicago, James is a journalist in New York...:"

"But... if you think about it... both sets of parents, getting together, in Manhattan, at a festive time of year... at a nice restaurant... and you're getting the feeling they don't want you there... it just sounds like they could be planning an engagement. And maybe Elizabeth might have changed her mind about him."

I realized I hadn't talked to Elizabeth for about a week or so, but... still... If she were planning on getting engaged to James Joyce, I feel like she might have let me know pretty quickly...

We went back and forth in this vein for about ten minutes. I can't remember everything I said, but I do remember "Elizabeth is going to be a doctor, and I'm sure that would make her very attractive to James Joyce's Jewish parents" coming up.

James Joyce called again, not twenty minutes later.

"Hey, Isabel, so I was thinking... if you haven't firmed up your plans to do something else yet, I was thinking, you're definitely welcome to come to dinner with us at Tavern on the Green. "

Head, meet desk. So there would be no talk of match-making after all.

The actual dinner itself did not disappoint in terms of ridiculousness. First, my bus was about an hour late getting there, as there was a huge accident on I-78, and traffic was massively backed up. Second, I cracked the porcelain veneer on one tooth eating a piece of bread. Third, the Joyces were embracing the Atkins diet at that point (they may be still), and were indignant when Elizabeth offered James a bit of one of the more interesting rolls in the bread basket. I sampled a pineapple martini, which cost the ungodly sum of $12. But really, I needed that much alcohol to get over the ambient absurdity. Especially because Elizabeth Blackwell and I kept looking at each other and thinking of the engagement dinner that this wasn't, and cracking up laughing. Fourth, another of our friends frantically called Elizabeth's cell phone to inform us that she was having a panic attack. Fifth, James inadvertently convinced me that two of our undergrad friends were having a secret affair with each other, even though they were in fact were not, while we were standing around the gift shop. Grand times.

Normal people no doubt have more sane memories of Tavern of the Green. The atmosphere is decidedly elegant, old New York, and perhaps unsuited to the kind of absurdity that our little party of Archers, Blackwells, and Joyces brought to it. Most of the other parties there were groups of grandparents, parents, and little kids in Eton suits and fancy velvety Christmas dresses. They could not understand why Elizabeth and I were gulping down martinis.

Still, perhaps it would have been nice to return to such an iconic institution at a calmer time. Like, after Elizabeth or James have gotten engaged (whether to each other or... not...); when my bus is not an hour late; and when my veneer is not chipped. We could have laughed, maybe, about how young we were then, and how absurd that night was. But now we will not, except, perhaps, in some other place, and in some other way.

*Yes, of course these are pseudonyms. James Joyce = because although this guy has never written a sentence that is 12, 931 words long, it sometimes feels like he might someday (and I mean that with the warmest possible affection.) Elizabeth Blackwell = because she's an aspiring doctor.

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