Michael’s: A Chopped Salad Drama

Now that the smart set has embraced chic arrivistes like the Waverly Inn, what's old-guard New York to do? Our intrepid—and always anonymous—investigative duo revisits the power lunch at Michael's.

Daytime in New York. Interior of Michael's. John and Jane wait near an empty hostess stand. The restaurant is bustling. Zoom in on a series of people, ID'ing them in freeze frame: jolly weatherman AL ROKER, media mogul BARRY DILLER, ubiquitous society chronicler DAVID PATRICK COLUMBIA, Viewmaster BARBARA WALTERS.

JOHN
They really still pack them in here, don't they? I can't stop staring at Barry Diller.

JANE
The point of being here is to stare at Barry Diller. If Barry Diller didn't want people staring at him, he'd be eating at the diner around the corner.

A PRETTY, BLONDE HOSTESS approaches.

PRETTY, BLONDE HOSTESS
May I help you?

JOHN
We have a reservation for Smith. We'd like to sit in the front room.

The PRETTY, BLONDE HOSTESS looks at her computer screen, frowns, then silently leads JANE and JOHN to the back room.

JANE (whispering to JOHN, once they're seated in the Garden Room, much farther than a stone's throw from STONE PHILLIPS)
What was that about?

JOHN
Apparently the restaurant keeps an obsessive database of VIP customers and their preferred tables, plus their favorite dishes, occupations, birthdays, spouses' names, favorite coffee sweeteners, frequent dining companions and—most important—how many times they've been here. There's a guy named Joe Armstrong known as the mayor of Michael's, a former advisor to ABC, who's been here something like 394 times. You're nobody until you hit triple digits.

JANE
Supposedly the Cobb salad is the thing to get.

JOHN
But you have to order it weird. Like with no bacon. Or with the blue cheese crumbled in the shape of the NBC peacock. That way you'll seem important. I plan to order all the ingredients separately, on individual plates. That's going to be my signature.

JANE
I will divorce you right here in front of Les Moonves.

Five minutes later. Two somewhat oily $33 Cobb salads have arrived. They manage to seem even less healthy than the average Cobb.

JOHN
The salad is fine, I suppose. But hardly addictive. I can't fathom why all the people in this room eat it nearly every day. Is it possible that Liz Smith's tastes better than mine?

JANE
Oh, John—the food is beside the point! Michael's wouldn't be Michael's if the food were too good. Because then the place would be about the food and not about Ron Perelman and Michael Ovitz.

JOHN
But why this place? There are tons of Midtown restaurants.

JANE
It's the perfect storm. It opens in the eighties, features eighties California cuisine, attracts a few media types. Then it's just self-perpetuating. People come not for the menu or the decor but because it's Michael's. You know, they have a Michael's in Santa Monica, too.

JOHN
Is that where you go when you can't get into The Ivy?

A YOUNG, HANDSOME WAITER, who is obviously just biding his time until JEFF ZUCKER notices him and casts him in a new prime-time drama, approaches.

YOUNG, HANDSOME WAITER
Can I get you any dessert or coffee?

JOHN
Do you have a signature dessert? Like the Barry Diller Chiller, with gelato? Maybe the Barbara Wal-nuts?

JANE (to the waiter)
He's very sorry. Just the check, thanks.

Ten minutes later. At the hostess stand JANE puts on her coat and impatiently waits for JOHN, who is leaning over the computer and whispering conspiratorially to the PRETTY, BLONDE HOSTESS.

JOHN
Okay, so really, how do we get table one?

PRETTY, BLONDE HOSTESS
I am sorry, sir, but that table is reserved. Forever.

JOHN
What if I told you I'm the president of Viacom? Or maybe of a small central African republic? Okay, I'll tell you the truth. I'm Matt Lauer.

PRETTY, BLONDE HOSTESS (smiling nervously and reaching for the phone)
Okay, Matt. Great to see you.

JOHN (as JANE pulls him out the door)
Remember, John Smith takes his Cobb on individual plates! He's very demanding! Very important!

THE END