So attention must be paid. Thursday night a group of about 50 friends and sinister types surprised Tony Bourdain in honor of his half-century on earth. Lured to Siberia on the pretext of an interview with Rolling Stone, Tony had little inkling of the party, judging from the unseemly blubbering that followed the revelation. The heroic drunkenness for which he is highly esteemed, however, was not long in waiting. He’d been out with Mario the night before until dawn; presumably Mario was sleeping it off, but Bourdain himself was as ever in fine form.
Laurent Gras showed and I learned the hopeful news that he’s close to signing on a Manhattan space where he can hang his own shingle. Those who ate at Fifth Floor in S.F. or at Peacock Alley in Manhattan know why this is good news. Gabrielle Hamilton appeared, babe attached like a lamprey the whole time and unfazed by the deafening jukebox. I’d been eager to meet her because she’s that rare creature, a genuine cook and chef who can really write. I love her restaurant Prune and am eager for her memoir. However, she was deeply skeptical of me when I introduced myself, and clearly could not be swayed even by enormous amounts of charm, so I cut my losses moved on to…Bigfoot. Bigfoot, the restaurant guy described in Kitchen Confidential, and Tony’s trauma scars remain raw and sizzling. “To this day I wake at 6 am because of this guy, no matter what country I’m in,” he repeated in front of the man. And Tony’s mom! His mom was there! Gladys. She’s a copy editor on the Metro desk at the Times, clearly suffers no fools, and was unabashedly proud of her son (and surely thrilled that he was here on his 50th rather than in jail, which is what she would have predicted twenty years ago). A delight, actually to speak with her, very elegant lady.
Lots of media folks, his publisher and publicists, his show’s production crew, zeropointzero, finer folks there never were, I worked with them on Tony’s Vegas show, they’re pros and bring some genuine originality to TV food and travel.
And a man named Bulldog had come up from Maryland. Bulldog has a talk radio show there from 6 to 10 am and was due back at what was now this morning. Before catching his limo south, Bourdain insisted on being on his show the following morning. Now Bourdain is a well-known media magnet and resists no opportunity to flog his books (he considers being on book tour to be like running for public office). So it surprised me little that he was angling, drunkenly, for more media even at his own party. And it is exactly at such a moment when I am most eager to loathe the scoundrel—our relationship has been schizophrenic from the beginning owing to the lies he has spread about me in public (people along my street here in Cleveland have actually whispered to my neighbor Betsy, “I didn’t know Michael had a drinking and gambling problem”; I’m totally serious, this is what I put up with)—he turns around and undoes me with an act of unabashed generosity. It wasn’t himself he wanted on the radio, he wanted both of us on and he wanted to extol the virtues of my book. As I learned later from Bulldog, Tony had privately insisted, insisted, that not a single mention of his book be made on the air. The call from Bulldog came at 9:45 the next morning, and so it was to be.
And I didn’t even bring the guy a present. It was very late when I had the good sense to zigzag toward Ninth Avenue and raise my arm for a taxi, leaving Tony, the formidable Grillbitch who’d organized the night’s festivities, and Tony’s Noam-Chomsky-quoting fascist Milan consort, in a giddy haze of cigarette smoke and garbage fumes…. Ah, to be Bourdain at 50…seems he’s having quite a time of it, but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.