Last Friday, after a spin through the Guggenheim and the Upper East Side, I ducked into Bemelman's Bar for a quick cocktail. As usual, it was dark and quiet, save for the Mia and Woody on the other side of the leather banquette, sharing the most Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy exchange about philosophies, dancers and how great the other person was. I ordered a Sidecar, and Tommy, who's tended bar there for the past fifty-two years, whipped it right up, but not without a conversation first.
"You are some lady, you are, ordering that drink," he said, and proceeded to tell me all about the Sidecar itself. Cognac, Cointreau, Lemon. It was a popular cocktail in the 50s and 60s, after the war, but the libation eventually went into hiding in lieu of more complicated mixologies. I smiled, explaining how I've always been a fan of the classics, and after assuring him that his version was excellent, I got to thinking: about history, about class, and about being a lady.
"The Lady Cake" is a miniature lemon chiffon layer cake, topped with a fluffy lemon buttercream. From the outside it's light, fancy and whimsical, something truly dreamy and sweet. But underneath it is sturdy and full of dimension, layer upon layer, building up to be one strong piece of cake.
When I think about the women I admire most, relatives, icons, friends and my mother, what I find in common is a rare mixture of both dignity and courage. She is the one who balances the line of grace and attitude. She is naturally private, always a step ahead, yet completely unafraid to elbow her way through to where she wants to go. She is a gentlewoman among men. She defies time and place. But most of all, she has gumption.
I walked out of The Carlyle that afternoon, back into the gray Manhattan light, and strolled through Central Park back downtown. Across the terrace, along The Mall, and I smiled as I thought about one of my favorite quotes by Katherine Hepburn. She said, "I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man. I've just done what I've damn well wanted to and I've made enough money to support myself and I ain't afraid of being alone." That, my friends, is what it means to be a lady.