Where Everybody Knows Your Name

In this world, we are lucky to maintain a friendship with just one person from our youth or childhood. I consider myself among the luckiest of them all, as I have not one but five close friends, some of whom have been with me from near infancy, others since our teen days.

Many years ago, my close friends and I used to get together at least once a month for dinner in New York City, to stay connected. It’s amazing how many years you can tell and listen to the same stories but find them equally hilarious each time. The love that we six men have for one another is palpable; I know this because my wife tells me that she can feel it when the group gets together with our wives.

The monthly dinners were always sans wives. That way, we could be our childish selves. We spread ourselves around town, dining in many restaurants, but visiting a few of them many times, as they were our favorites. My favorite was named Via Margutta, which used to be located on Minetta Lane in Greenwich Village; it’s veal dishes were superbly done.

Via Margutta had once been the hangout for some of the Village’s mobsters—I believe every seat in the restaurant was situated so that backs were always facing a wall! The mob connection gave me a story to tell over the years.

One time, I carried a brief case from work with me to dinner at Via Margutta and stuck it under the table. After a few hours of wining and dining, and laughing, my friends and I fell out of the restaurant, each to grab a taxi home. No sooner had we stepped outside, however, I remembered the briefcase that I had left under the table.

Back in the restaurant, with two waiters suspiciously eying me, the Maitre d’hotel cautiously asked me if anything was wrong. I told him about the briefcase. He grinned widely and told me to wait; then, he swung around and walked into the kitchen. When he returned, he carried my briefcase, which had some liquid on it as well as the smell of salad.

The man handed me the briefcase and said, quietly, “In this place, we never know what might be inside these things.”

Apparently, the briefcase had been thrown into the dumpster either in case it exploded, or to get rid of the machine gun that might have been inside it.

Over the years, as my friends and I moved to varying distant locations, the regular dinners ceased, but we managed to stay connected, and we gather for various reasons a few times each year. The latest of those reasons has had a lot to do with advancing birthdays. The absolute latest of those reasons is my prostate cancer situation.

On January 20, I’ll be off to New York City for a few days, to meet with a few people. One of the evenings on my trip is reserved for dining with my five wonderful friends. Via Margutta is gone, but we have decided on a place that in the past has been among my favorite restaurants. In a future blog entry, I’ll let you know if the restaurant has held up.

Since the 1980s, after I changed careers and got into the wine business, dinners with my friends have invariably begun with one of them telling the waiter to hand me the wine list. They rely completely on my recommendations. It is both a nice and a frightening experience for me. We’ve known one another for so long that we generally don’t hold anything back. If I pick wine clinkers, these fellows let me know with gusto.

Of course, I’ve had enough time to figure out what each of them likes in a wine, and I can almost tell what each one will order for dinner. Still, I always feel like I am auditioning for a part when the waiter hands me the list.

If I had to make a guess, I’d say that I’ve gotten the part more than not. But that’s probably because I try to go the safest route that I know when in a situation like this: I seek Riesling for white and Pinot Noir for red. If that won’t work in one of the restaurants, I usually go crazy and pick the most outrageous things I can find.

I remember one of those times when a couple of the guys thought I was a genius, and the rest thought I was a jerk.

Par for the course, I’d say.

NOTE: I’ll be offline for the next few days, so comments will remain unanswered until next week.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
January 2011. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author’s permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement–period.

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