Shine your city shoes and get your fancy suit pressed. We’re gonna step out in style this week.
I don’t think of my grandfather as a big spender. He, my grandma and great-grandma were stay-at-home sorts, by and large, who didn’t go in for a lot of swank or ostentation.
Once a year, though, my grandpa would open his wallet and spring for a meal somewhere really nice. That annual occasion was his anniversary, which is kind of quietly classy.
This week, we find my grandpa mingling with the horsey set, and digging deep for the privilege:
This meal would have found my grandpa at a particular high-water mark in his life.
In May 1969, he was still employed by Time-Life in Stamford. The older of his two kids was married and out of the house, reducing his stresses and obligations as provider. He had a nice new ride, having purchased another of his beloved Fords earlier in 1969. And, he wouldn’t have his first heart attack for another two years.
So, all things considered, life would have been pretty good for him at that moment in time.
Good enough, anyway, for him to venture into one of America’s wealthiest communities for a spot of dinner. Paul Newman already had a place in town when my grandparents went to Westport to eat. Keith Richards and Martha Stewart would show up a little later.
The Carriage House restaurant, at 1200 Post Road East in Westport, might have boasted its own share of star power.
The Wikipedia entry for veteran actress, producer, playwright and bonne vivante Haila Stoddard indicates that Stoddard founded a restaurant called the Carriage House in Westport in the late 1960s.
(Is there a formal definition for the term bon vivant? Is it pretty much just somebody who laughs a lot and knows how to order in French bistros?)
But a 1979 New York Times restaurant review of the Carriage House described it as “long a Westport landmark,” which doesn’t sound like an appropriate description for a restaurant open a decade. So I’m not sure whether my grandparents went to Stoddard’s Carriage House, or some other, longer-established Carriage House.
A Google search only muddies the matter. There appear to be a bunch of carriage houses in Westport, some of which can be yours for a cool seven figures.
At any rate: Given the moneyed setting of Westport, it’s no surprise that my grandpa annotated his calendar entry with a dollar sign. I’m sure it cost him considerably more than he was used to paying for a night out.
On the bright side, his use of “excellent” suggests that the meal, service and atmosphere were worth the price of admission.
I would love to know what he ordered for his big splurge-dinner, and what it cost.
Unfortunately, I can’t find any traces of the late-’60s Carriage House online — no menu, no pictures, no nothin’.
The 1979 restaurant review — it’s here, behind a paywall — said the restaurant closed for a year due to construction, but had returned with a New Orleans-influenced menu. The Good Gray Lady ripped the place, saying as politely as possible that most of the food didn’t deserve to call itself New Orleans.
(At the time, dinner for four cost $81 — or $254 in today’s dollars.)
Google gives no indication that there’s a restaurant, or even a carriage house, there today. It appears that some sort of multi-tenant retail complex occupies the spot. Even the hottest or swankiest nightspot goes the way of the world, I suppose.
Meanwhile, I wonder what my grandparents had for dinner the week after their splurgey night out. I’m guessing there were some hot dogs or burgers, perhaps, with a bag of frozen veggies or a can of baked beans on the side.
If you want to dance, you have to pay the piper.