We will call her Jane, even though that wasn’t her real name. From many years in news media circles she was known as the “Queen of the Freebies.”
She worked for a small, totally insignificant newspaper that hardly anyone ever saw, but she was able to parlay that into getting free things around town. She and an elderly man who accompanied her could be seen just about anywhere, sitting in the front row of a theater or dining at a fine restaurant, without ever reaching for her wallet.
One night several years ago we took a friend who was moving to California to dinner at Katie’s, a café in Mid-City (now under different management and doing quite well), which at the time was owned by a friend, Kathy, and her family. Katie’s (named after Kathy’s grandmother) was still in its early struggling days, so I tried to support it when I could.
This night I noticed that Jane and her beau were dining at a corner table. I nodded to her, but she was never someone with whom I wanted to get into an extended conversation. We nodded again when they left. They had a show (no doubt free) to catch.
When it came time for me to pay the bill I needed change, so I went to the bar. Kathy was standing behind the counter in tears. Jane, who had arranged for dinner – allegedly to do a review – and friend had eaten well. They had ordered the most expensive items on the menu and the priciest wines. At the end of the meal they left without even offering to pay tax or leave a tip. Kathy, who was trying hard to keep her restaurant afloat, was upset; so was I. I tried to console her, but I knew she had been taken.
That was on a Saturday night. That Monday I got a call at the office from Kathy. She seemed embarrassed to tell me that I had left Saturday night without paying my check. I was stunned. The events raced through my mind and I realized that when I went to get change and Kathy told me about Jane I was so enraged that I forgot about leaving money. Two people had stiffed her that night – and I was one of them.
On my way home I stopped and paid Kathy with both money and mea culpas. She understood.
We honor Best New Restaurants in this issue. We have great respect for restaurateurs, young and old, and for all that they go through. I am not sure if Jane ever bothered to even write a review, but for gumption, determination and a damn good “bronzed trout,” Kathy deserved five stars.