If I had some serious money and was visiting this city, I would stay at the Clift Hotel. As soon as you walk into the place you just want to say, "Ooh la la, Sassoon!" It's classy, and not in a Ritz Carlton way, but more in an old-money-but-with-hip-taste sort of way. You can tell the place has a certain je ne sais quoi by the fact that you can scoot right past it on the 38L and not even notice it. (Perhaps if you were in an Escalade it would "pop" better.) It's a simple white slate façade with the words "The Clift" way down on the lower lefthand side. No one ever appears to go in or come out, like Willy Wonka's factory.
But let's talk about the bar in this place, because it's a doozy. It's called The Redwood Room and whoever designed it must've graduated at the head of the class at Rhode Island School of Design. It's art deco combined with digital art, all suffused with warm reds and golds. It's also huge. Could it use some Oompa Loompas? Hell yes. But that's a given.
Normally I get off on showing up at fancy-pants places looking like a vow-of-poverty nun on her day off. It's my deep, dark secret that I am actually a middle-class heiress who stands to receive a valuable estate in east central Illinois upon my father's death that will include half of a two-bedroom house and a Honda. Fiddle dee dee. But in a place like this, my feet immediately feel under-pedicured, my hair under-conditioned, and my teeth insufficiently veneered. I see the hands of several Southeast Asian children fluttering about my Old Navy pants with spools of thread and needles, like the mice in Cinderella. My tore-up Converse no longer appear "street," just beat. This is a club in which I shall never gain entry.
The Redwood Room is filled with sofas, and for once I decided to sit on one instead of at the bar. I piled up all my stuff to save the seat, just like at Starbucks, which lent me a bag lady vibe that only added to the effect.
I went up to the bar to order and was, as expected, treated like a queen in a gracefully detached sort of way. I came back and settled in, metaphorical bowl of popcorn on my lap, ready for entertainment. I decided to pretend that I was a nanny, taking a valuable break from a long day of chasing after a Saudi prince's kids. It helps to have a narrative in your head in situations such as these.
The first thing I noticed is that men preferred to sit on stools or chairs, not sofas, and definitely not two men on the same sofa. There were men and women together on sofas, though.
There was one young guy sitting by himself, legs apart in a commanding sort of way, drinking what looked like a pisco sour. He'd been here before or was perhaps halfway through a week's stay. After a night or two, a hotel can start to feel like home. He kept checking his phone, taking a sip, checking his phone, taking a sip. He had to have just turned 21. His shoes look like they cost more than my six-month Trader Joe's budget.
Suddenly he rose up and smoothed his pants, looking expectantly at a very tall, leggy blond woman who could've been his mom but obviously wasn't, judging by the look on his face. He took her hand in a "let's shake" kind of way, but she pulled him in and let him kiss her cheek. They had never met before. So, if you are following, I am a nanny enjoying her downtime and this is a trust fund kid who has just hired himself a high-class, middle-aged call girl. That's right, I think she's a hooker.
At that point my attention turned to a group of women who had been shopping all day or something and were now crowded onto some sofas nearby. They were all size zero. They all performed simultaneous self-primping as they settled in, smoothing hair, adjusting straps, perfecting jewelry placement. When I worked in Marin I saw a lot of this stuff — beautiful women who have married some rich guy and don't have jobs. They might work at a foundation a few days a week or something, but the rest of the time is spent shopping and having watercress salads. I thought all of this was just a stereotype until I saw it close up. Did I envy them? Oh hell yeah.
Back to our hero, the strapping, well shod youth. He was leaning back and he had his arm behind his date on the couch. She was acting demure yet authoritative. I couldn't understand what they were talking about, but I've seen enough lip-reading videos on YouTube to fill in the details:
Her: So, you are a trust fund kid who would like to pay for my services?
Him: Oh yes, I have a lot of money and I am ready to spend it on various sexual acts. I have a "mommy" fixation. Ha ha.
Her: I think we can work something out. Ha ha. Is orange juice your normal metric when rotating tires, or are you from Islamabad?
I don't know what she meant by that last part. Maybe I am not a good lip reader after all.
As for the kept women, they all ordered whiskey and Diet Cokes, so freaking predictable. I am, like, so much cooler than they are. I scooched down farther into my comfy seat and pulled my coat up around my neck. I could have sat here for days. Or at least until the concierge caught on.
The boy and the mama stood up, but instead of the boy offering his hand to her, she offered her hand to him and helped him up off of the couch. That's gonna cost extra. Oh yes. A deal had definitely been struck.
"Shall Ben Gazzara kayak the rue de Rivoli?" she asked him on the way out.
"Only if a wombat jet skis," he laughed, slowly moving his hand down her back and leading her out.