The view of this restaurant, from behind its giant windows, was breathtaking. It was indeed A View To A Kill as the James Bond movie filmed in San Francisco was so appropriately called. Beyond the main bar of the 52nd floor, there were also portable bars spread throughout both floors, one right by the staircase against the window. This allowed the bankers to toast the world in front of them while strolling down to the game room. Times were good during the eighties.
One day, during a large luncheon in the main banquet room, I saw Tip O’Neill, then Speaker of the House, addressing the bankers. There was lots of laughter as Tip O’Neill, a very fat and ugly appearing man, kept talking about President Reagan, but I didn’t understand any of his jokes as I was too busy clearing empty dishes. Strangely, all the curtains were closed during this luncheon, blocking the outside view, and I remember thinking: Who needs the outside view when one could look at a real Speaker of the House?
Another political star who visited the Bankers Club was Senator Ted Kennedy, though I didn’t recognize him at first when he was being seated in Ricardo’s section, a section right behind the maître d’ desk, at a table-for-two by the window. The Senator was seated across from another man, and the two seemed to be having a serious discussion. Ricardo, the fatherly waiter from Spain, whispered to me: “Do you know who that is? That is Senator Ted Kennedy.” When I looked again I recognized him, but his face appeared much bigger, rounder and redder than what I remembered from television and the Time magazine pictures I had seen of him when living in Holland.
As I poured Senator Kennedy a glass of ice-water, I noticed that many of the bankers were looking at him from afar, but pretending not to. Senator Kennedy was a whale of a man and wore a shabby suit that appeared too tight for him. He was shifty eyed and seemed uncomfortable and awkward. At first I was excited to see him, thinking: “Less than a year in America and I’m in the presence of a Kennedy.” But then I remember feeling somewhat disappointed. I thought that the brother of JFK would’ve been more of a charismatic man with a happy and optimistic American style aura. Senator Kennedy appeared quite the opposite. I remember thinking it must have been a curse being JFK’s brother, and it looked as if it had taken a toll on Senator Kennedy. There was something uncouth and grimy about him. I later learned that these traits were common among all US Senators.
Thankfully there was a view of a large swimming pool beyond and below Senator Kennedy’s window. Seeing this pool always cheered me up. There was something refreshing and reviving about it. It was on top of the Hilton Hotel in Chinatown. This pool was made famous in the Dirty Harry movie, where in its opening scene Scorpio sharp-shoots a pretty girl to death while she’s swimming in this pool. In the subsequent scene, Dirty Harry walks up to the rooftop of the Bank of America building, right above Ricardo’s workstation, and finds the slug from Scorpio’s sniper rifle.
Frequently, before the bankers arrived for lunch, I would stand by this window and look down on the pool and wonder what the reverse view would look like: swimming in the pool and looking up at the top of the Bank of America building. And I would always ask myself: Would I be able to see a person behind the tinted glass where I now was standing?
Moreover, the food was incredible. It was orchestrated by a French chef and the presentation of it seemed no less spectacular than its taste, especially to me. In Holland I had never seen an avocado before, let alone tasted one with crab meat topped with a creamy vinaigrette house dressing or spooned chilled papaya soup out of a papaya buried in a large silver bowl with crushed ice. I was merely a boy from the small Dutch town of Franeker from the northern province of Friesland. But now I was eating some of the best foods in the world and had the horizon of the world around my feet. And the way I saw it? If bussing some plates and wearing a bow-tie was part of its dues, it was a measly little price to pay.
SUBSEQUENTLY: The Bankers Club Carnelian Room closed its doors after serving its last dinner on New Year’s Eve in 2009.