George Parker: haute cuisine, Salvador Dali and me

220px-2258-NYC-NBC_StudiosWith all the current fuss about NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams being found out for telling “porkies” about everything from being shot at in Iraq to having the biggest dick on TV, I am reminded of the many times I ate at the Rainbow Room restaurant, which still sits on top of NBC headquarters (left) at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in mid-town Manhattan.

And if you have to ask what The Rainbow Room is, you’ve obviously never wallowed in the vicarious pleasures of unlimited “Mad Men” expense account wining and dining. And if you haven’t, read on and weep.

As I’ve pointed out in previous scribbles, I’ve been lucky enough to eat and drink all over the world in many fine restaurants, more often than not with some client, via the agency, unknowingly picking up the tab. This love affair with expensive nosheries started back in the sixties when I was the Copy Chief at DeGarmo.

Yes, back in those days agencies had a Copy Chief and a Head of the Art Department. They also only had one Creative Director. Today, Creative Directors come in all kinds of flavors: Global, National, Regional, Executive, Group, Associate, and on and on. That’s because agencies cleverly realize that creative people are raging egomaniacs who would rather have an impressive sounding title than more money.

When I was made a Vice President at Benton & Bowles, back before most of you were born, I wrote my mother in England with the news. She wrote back to say how happy and proud she was that I had been made the number two person in the agency. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was one of about five hundred Vice Presidents, and it didn’t even come with a token raise.

However, back to DeGarmo. One of our accounts was the Brody Corporation. This comprised a collection of some of New York’s finest restaurants, and was the personal fiefdom of Jerry Brody, one of the founders of Restaurant Associates, who, with his partner and father-in-law, Abraham Wechsler, changed the New York dining scene with the introduction of the Four Seasons, La Fonda del Sol, Tavern on the Green, and the completely over the top, Forum of the Twelve Caesars, which was themed after ancient Rome, complete with servers wearing togas, flaming meat dishes presented on a Centurion’s sword and wine served in gladiator helmets.

In fact, so many of the exotic dishes on the menu were flambéed, the air conditioning system had to be upgraded to an industrial standard.

Jerry and Abraham dissolved their partnership when Jerry divorced his wife, Abraham’s daughter, which for some reason or other ticked off his father-in-law. Abraham carried on with Restaurant Associates, while Jerry started the Brody Corporation with the primary aim of creating restaurants that would make Abraham’s look like hamburger joints.

And he did, with such New York landmarks as the Rainbow Room (below), Rainbow grill, The Oyster Bar, Gallagher’s, Raffles, The Ground Floor, and L’Etoile.

At DeGarmo, the Brody account was not a big one, but, agency president and golfing fanatic, John DeGarmo, or DeGarmo-DeGolf, as he was known in the biz, cleverly negotiated a fee deal that we could take in unlimited trade. Meaning we could eat for free at places that would cost anyone else an arm and a leg.

And, by God we did. Not only was the cuisine extraordinary, you could also rub shoulders with the likes of Liz and Richard, Barbara Streisand, and perhaps my most memorable sighting, Salvador Dali. This happened when my wife and I were having dinner at, since long gone, L’Etoile on Fifth Avenue, when in walked the great Spanish artist.

170px-Salvador_Dali_NYWTSHe was wearing white tie and tails, a cloak, and a top hat. In one hand was a silver topped cane, in the other was a leash, on the end of which was a small ocelot. The hat check girl took his cape, hat and cane; the maître d’ showed him to his table which had two chairs, one for him, one for the ocelot.

He then proceeded to have dinner with his pal the ocelot, who of course had his own plate. He did not however share Dali’s wine.
Can you imagine something like that happening today? The health and safety inspectors would be all over the place. The other customers would freak, and then sue the crap out of you, and the hat check girl would report you to the ASPCA.

Particularly, as the ocelot was smoking a cigar.

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