ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Remember when these places were all the rage, when the spandexed crowds were sweating their way to flatter abs and longer lives. For a while there America, or a certain part of America, anyway--the lifestyle conscious baby boomers--was on a health binge. Someone was always trying to sell you on the latest diet, or at-home exercise device, or tell you what not to eat or drink, or smoke. What a difference a few years makes.
Welcome to Arnie Morton's Steakhouse in Beverly Hills, part of a national chain. Forget the delicate nouvelle cuisine of yesterday. These places are now all the rage. Up scale steakhouses are now the fastest growing part of the restaurant business. After trailing off for a number of years, annual consumption of beef in the country is now way back up to 70 pounds per capita.
So settle back and let the waiter beguile you with a hunk of meat--$30 a pop for the choice steaks. Don't stop there. Throw in the house salad, slathered in Blue Cheese dressing and the crispy fried potatoes. And if you really want to be trendy, be sure to order the over-sized $6.50 martini. For the young, the martini confers sophistication and class, allowing them to rebel against the "just say no" brigade and partake of the rituals and romance of a bygone era. It's no accident that old-time crooner Tony Bennett is considered hip now.
For the aging baby boomers, on the other hand, the re-indulgences stem from the realization that all the sit-ups and diets in the world cannot stay the hand time--the thickening of the flesh--the loss of hair. And with all the talk now of genes there's a sense that one's physical destiny is preordained no matter how good you are. So we might as well have a little fun.
What we're seeing is a pendulum swing. For 20 years in this country we've been on a clean living kick, set off in no small part by the surgeon general's report on smoking, which was followed by warnings against all sorts of other things, from depletion of the ozone to eating movie popcorn. We tried to clean up our act, along with the environment, but now indulgence beckons us back.
Speaking of indulgence, the capper to the meat and martini meal is the after-dinner cigar. Cigar sales, which fell from nearly 11.2 billion a year in 1973 to a low of 2.1 billion in the early 90's, are also making a big comeback, with cigar bars popping up all over town and women lighting up, as well as men. This restaurant now sells a hundred a week, at $7 to $25 apiece, a 300 percent increase over just a year and a half ago, just as martini sales are up 50 percent. No doubt, the health brigade is aghast.
Deaths from heart disease and even cancer have gone down with the decline in the consumption of fat and alcohol. But the nay sayers to the nay sayers would say relax, we're not talking about a steak every night or twelve cigars a day. We're talking a return to moderated indulgence, the occasional steak or stogie or straight up martini. And being out among the retro crowd here it's hard not to be caught up for a moment in the greasy fill of their appetites.
I'm Anne Taylor Fleming.