An evening at the Appletree, which some have called Washington's most In Place:
8:41 - Sleek young doorman sends away three young men in winbreakers because "you're inappropriately dressed," I'm sorry . . ."
8:42 - We are admitted, our dinner reservation acknowledge but not a honored. "Would you mind waiting a minute at the bar?" Hard to find one's way. The spaces are complicated: dining area, two bars, nooks with tables, islands of vastly overstuffed sofa.
Drinks all seem to have ice cream in them and cost $2.75. Worst-sounding is the Orange Tree, with vodka, orange juice and ice cream. Even the brandy Alexander has ice cream.
Lounging elaborately near the bar are two girls in evening dress: blonde in white, brunette in scarlet. Lots of bosom. They are talking with great animation. Men eye them, no one approaches.
9:02 - We are led to our table, wedging past poorly designed barrier. Two 40-ish men in raincoats stand at bar nearby appraising us. Other diners appraise us. Do they recognize us? Should they? Appraisers a bit anxious: not quite sure.
Dinner is basic: steaks, crabs, shrimp tempura, teriyaki on a stick, duck with orange (marmalade), gourmet burgers," omelettes. Entrees $6.50 to $8.95 Salad bar cost $1.50 extra, an irritating surprise.
With dinner we get something billed as baked apple which turns out to be apple fritter under supersweet, Chinese red sauce. Wine list? Sorry, only in glasses, Almaden at $1.25 a whack. Or provincial champagne for $18. Two sherries: $4.80.
9:38 - Forgetting finiancila annoyance, we study the scene. Girls with bosoms still talking. Lean man with Zapata mustache circles ever closer, ignoring them. They seem a little threatening in their gowns, and they are talking to each other with scuh concentration. They are very young.
Ten feet away, two girls in jeans and casual chich engage the raincoat men, split up. One girl drifts away, instantly is appraoched by young men who looks like Burt Reynolds. "Your first time here?" All the young men look like Burt Reynolds.
Question: What is appropriate dress here? Lots of men without ties, women in worn denims. Amblance apparently the key. By a balustrade stands a whole row of Burt Reynoldses: blow-dried hair, vestss, the pressed look. Movements slow and considered. Aware of being eyeballed.
9:51 - Suddenly much more crowded. Dinner hour over (no reservations after 9). Eyeballing rampant. "No one looks at my face," says girl, newly arrived. Zapata man, at last standing next to bosomy girl, actually says something to her. She turns her back on him, giggles, whispers to pal, fingers over mouth, remains with back emphatically presented to Zapata man. Zapata man freezes. Eye remote. This isn't really me, this isn't happening to me.
Impressions mellowing. First thought: Loser City. Presatory yet asexual. A Lonely Crowd whose dreams are Schlitx commercials. Second thought: WHy it's a Harvard-Radcliffe freshman Jolly-Up, Boys in one group, girls in another, frightened at prospect of fantasy becoming reality.
Remember standing just that way, eyeballing, aware of being eyeballed, aching to walk up and say something charming to that one waithing so casually by the potted palm. Didn't I see you in Sociology 1? She's turning away, doesn't want to be seen talking to a jerk) History, huh? American? (Oh brother. I am a jerk.)
And all the time unaware that she is dying to tlk and doen't know what to say either and the reason she is turing away is she can't let him see how gauche she feels, how frightened of the approaching reality . . .
(But that was a long time ago. Nowadays out idea of a nice evening out is dinner at some quietly sophiscated place like La Fonda, where the waiters are intelligent and the music soft and prices decent. We might go on to a disco, if my gout isn't acting up).
10:12 - The over-30s have all but disappeared now. The pairs of girls have either realized they can only make it alone or have gone home. The chatter has turned into a roar. You almost can't move.
On the tiny dance floor, tow distinct shifts alternate: for fast numbers and slow numbers. Deejay in glass booth plays three of each. Dancing is sedate. Cool. No one says much. Talk around the bar is livelier. Mostly about sollege. Very little laughter. Laughter not cool. Showd nerves. Do they like someplace? Question not cool. This is Where You Come on Saturday night in Washington.