Monday, November 19, 2018

Ladies Who Brunch

Except for having to explain what a fern bar was to one of my girlfriends, we chose the ideal spot to reconvene after a year.

As for how three long-time friends who'd met through a shared love of music could let a year go by without breaking bread, well, I blame myself. Between my low period and the whirlwind of meeting my match, I'd not been pushing for get-togethers like I used to.

No surprise, today's overdue brunch happened because of music, too. Earlier this week, I'd heard from Xtina after she'd spotted me at a show and we'd decided a rendezvous was in order. Naturally we folded in Em, which made running into her Friday night even more unlikely.

Surely my moon must be in the seventh house or something.

These two always defer to me about picking where to eat and though I tried to suggest our usual place, 821 Cafe, they were hankering for something new to them. That was simple enough because neither had been to Laura Lee's, a shame given the fabulous food and decidedly female vibe, and it took no time for Em to jump on making a reservation.

Good thing, too, because the place was mobbed by mid-day.

Walking in to find I was the last to arrive, a fact which thrilled Xtina who'd made it one of her life goals to arrive before I did at one of our dates, led to a discussion of punctuality. For most of my life, I can safely say I was always on time, but that changed a decade ago when I stopped holding myself to that standard. It was hugely liberating, a fact I shared, and both friends marveled at my willingness to go easier on myself.

"Women have such a hard time with that," Em noted. "I wish I could relax about it." Give it a decade or so, my dear, and see if you don't soften all kinds of self-imposed rules.

I watched as they ogled the joint and made suitably appreciative comments about the decor: the soft green curved banquettes, the beguiling art that doubled as sound baffles, the glass garage door that let in loads of November sunlight.

Then I explained to the young 'un that bars were once bastions of male dominance, news to her. So I shared that fern bars were created in the happenin' days of the sexual revolution in the '70s as a means to attract young, single women to drink in public, something many had been reluctant to do  - more likely explicitly forbidden to do by their mothers - in seedy, smokey dives full of men.

The ones I remember from the '80s were indeed full of ferns, along with Tiffany lamps, plenty of brass railings and as many women as men, so it never occurred to me that bars hadn't always been crowded by both sexes. Fast forward to the 21st century and Laura Lee's nods to the fern bar Version 2.0, combining the best of what originally set those bars apart with a more contemporary sensibility.

Of course they were enchanted once they knew the history and, as the senior member of this trio, it's my job to inform them.

First on the conversational docket was the development of Xtina's stage presence, a  subject brought up because Em had recently seen Xtina's band perform and had been wowed at how much more comfortable she'd become on stage. I'd noticed myself the last few shows.

"She was dancing and wearing a crop top onstage, Karen!" Em explained, seeking to share her surprise with a like-minded friend. Who was this person inhabiting our friend's body? We reminisced how when we'd first seen her performing in a band, she'd sung and played guitar while keeping her eyes closed and pretending that the audience wasn't there.

Shyness had prevented any sort of audience rapport.

But no more. Her new attitude, she said, was to have a good time and not worry about messing up a line singing or with a goofy dance step. She was far happier for letting go of unrealistic expectations.

When we finally got around to ordering, the orders broke down along party lines. Xtina got her usual huevos rancheros, while Em was a shoe-in for the enormous chocolate chip pancakes. What I really wanted was the fried chicken for two, but since I had no partner-in-yardbird, I made do with avocado  toast with tomato jam, bacon and part of the biscuits we ordered for the table.

Also for the table was a hot toddy with chai spice, which arrived in a black glass that resembled the intricate designs on milk glass. We agreed that it tasted like Christmas - or Thanksgiving at the least - and Xtina especially dug the lemony warmth of it.

And while I don't need to rhapsodize about Laura Lee's biscuits, let's just have a moment for biscuits with enough fat baked into them (Em: "If they're made with lard, I don't want to know about it") that slathering butter on them isn't essential. That said, I did slather cherry jam over every available biscuit surface.

I gave props to Em (and her cute husband) for having DJ'd the Abigail Spanberger victory party - that's right, I'm friends with the brilliant woman who played Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" - and really gotten that party started. That led to her telling us about how often a guy will approach them when they're DJing together, but direct every question, whether about equipment, music choice or just DJing, directly to her husband as if she were invisible.

The struggle is real.

Much of today's extended brunch talk was about Xtina's new dating life now that she's recently out of a two-year relationship. She's torn about going forward with a nice drummer she met and looking forward to meeting up with a handsome NOLA transplant who used to live in Richmond and will be back soon. Meanwhile, we watched as our server made eye contact with her every chance he could and she debated whether or not to leave her phone number on her bill. Should she, shouldn't she, how do you know who's right for you?

It must be exhausting to be young, beautiful and single.

Of course, we couldn't dissect their lives without touching on mine, meaning I got to hear both telling me how much I deserve this new reality of mine, even if it does keep me out of the widespread circulation that used to define my life. I'm still out an awful lot, but often now it's with my biggest fan.

Which sort of makes me the poster child for hanging in there until the right person shows up. You just never know how long it'll take or how worthwhile the wait will be. Patience, not necessarily punctuality.

Try telling that to someone who doesn't know what a fern bar is.


  1. Your Laura Lee’s brunch sounds delish. I find that you’re drawn to the “meal for two” often. What’s that about? Too bad you’re not a twin.

    ; )

  2. Like the crab and corn soup for two the other night? maybe I just want permission to eat more?