Monday, October 31, 2011
Smith & Wollensky: I May Be a Mirage, But Then, So is Smith
I am a professional journalist, and I do not fake photographs.
When I need a photograph faked, I get someone else to do it.
So I got someone else to fake this photograph, which I wouldn't have had to do if I had triumphed in the Smith & Wollensky "Take the Pledge" contest, which I did not.
The faker did a masterly job. But it's a hollow victory. On the day the sign above should have been real, the real sign said "Kilkelly & Wollensky." Supposedly, I didn't win because my name wasn't randomly chosen. But I think it was personal. Maybe the management knew I've been sneaking steaks at Keens.
As I reported, Smith & Wollensky deleted Smith for a month and promised to replace his name with that of a different patron every day. To be randomly chosen, you had to make reservations and pledge never to eat at other steakhouses. It probably wasn't worth it if your name was Smith.
The contest mirrored tradition: When Alan Stillman founded the restaurant thirty-four years ago he randomly chose its two namesakes from a phone book. Stillman also founded T.G.I. Friday's, in 1965, and it is said that he randomly chose that name from a calendar.
The contest winners were treated to an elaborate fantasy; the sign and awning makeovers were just the beginning. Their names also appeared on the business cards, cocktail napkins, matchbooks, and waiters' jackets. They virtually owned the place, though not enough to rate free cheesecake.
Allison Good, the restaurant's spokeswoman, told me that the winners were very happy. They came to eat with their friends and families, and some came for both lunch and dinner. She also told me that some people were even more desperate to win than I was. "There's been lots of money offered," she said. "We did not take anyone up on it."
Still, she offered no condolences, and little hope of a second chance. "I would have to say this was a once in a lifetime opportunity," she said. After all, it was a lot of work changing those signs and that other stuff daily, not to mention making sure that all traces of Pompliano were gone before Mugavero arrived.
That's why I got the picture faked. A hollow victory is better than none. And outside of my name on the signs, I have everything else that matters. My name is already on business cards. I can write it on matchbooks, napkins, and jackets. And I prefer to see my name standing alone anyway, because, frankly, Wollensky has never pulled his weight.
Just be yourself at Smith & Wollensky, Third Avenue at 49th Street, New York City.