I’ve owned this before: I watch reality TV. More specifically, I’m addicted to a Bravo fan. I’ll concede that I watch more than one of the Real Housewives series; I love Andy Cohen and his late night show, and I even got sucked into Vanderpump Rules. There’s no point in trying to defend my interests; I know how bad this looks. My kids slam me regularly for it, from: “Mom, you’re too smart for this,” (a backhanded compliment if I ever heard one) to: “Seriously Mom? You really like this crap?” I’ve stopped trying to explain; it is what it is. Something akin to “I yam what I yam!” It’s been used against me more than once, when I try to tell them that too much video game use is bad for their brains… Admittedly, I don’t have a leg to stand on, when they start drawing comparisons. But there it is; I watch these shows and I find them entertaining. In the big picture, I’m so much more than the sum of a few shows I watch; so frankly, my kids can bite me.
A few months ago, as my nest was mostly emptying out, and I saw an opportunity to finally do some things I want to do– that don’t include said ducklings or Smart Guy, it seemed like a really fun idea to plan a girl’s weekend in LA, complete with a visit to Sur Restaurant. For those of you who are smart enough not to follow who don’t know, Sur is the chic restaurant, owned and run by RHoBH diva Lisa Vanderpump. It’s featured in both the RHofBH and in Vanderpump Rules, and if you watch the show, you inevitably have a waiter or bar tender who you like best– unless you find them all vapid, narcissistic and shallow– which would not be completely unreasonable, based on what airs. Nonetheless, Peter (one of the managers of Sur) was the guy I wanted to meet. The “was” in that sentence is where things get interesting.
For the sake of maintaining my friendships, I should be clear– four of us went on this weekend, and only two of us are actually regular viewers of the show. The two of us follow the stories, have our favorites and wanted to go to Sur and check it out for ourselves. One of my friends has seen enough of Bravo programming to vaguely know who is who, but she doesn’t follow the shows, and doesn’t really watch Vanderpump Rules. My other friend joined us from Chicago, and had no idea who any of the characters were. She was came for a reunion with me; fun in LA, and a chance to meet my other two friends. Translation: she is a stable, intelligent woman, who was not part of the ensuing silliness. The later two, would want you to know those details. The most important details: we are all old enough to know better; we’re married to men who are very successful and attractive; our goal for the weekend was to have fun. Peter just happened to be on duty and on our radar.
If you don’t watch Vanderpump Rules, let me give you the Cliff Notes™ version: Sur is owned and run by Lisa Vanderpump and her charming husband Ken Todd. It is chic, popular, and anyone who works there has to be young, sexy and a wee bit into themselves. This is not a difficult thing to find in LA, where beauty is king and eternal (with the help of injectables, waxing, surgeons, and denial) and the overriding atmosphere is impersonal and self-absorbed. Coming from a place where things are as opposite to that as they could conceivably be, I find LA amusing and fun. It reminds me of Vegas, but with much prettier geography. So, the staff of VR (as presented on the program) are overly concerned with personal grooming/appearance, generally insensitive to the “friends” they work with, and seem to sleep with anything that moves… or, at least flirty with anything that moves. It makes for constant drama and outlandish TV, but Sur seemed a fun place to visit. One of my friends was hoping to see Tom Sandoval, and I thought it would be fun to see Jax or Peter. We all agreed that on the show, Peter Madrigal, the manager and former bartender, seems to be the most decent, and more mature than his cast mates– and he is undeniably hot. To have seen Lisa and Ken would have made this a star studded bonus score.
Admittedly, our fantasy trip to Sur changed on a dare. I’ve never been one to walk away from a dare easily, and when one of my friends challenged me to use a “line” I’d been playfully throwing out at the table, I called Peter over. “Why oh why did you dare her,” my Chicago friend of 25+ years said. It was a Sunday; the place was not very busy, and our table was in an ideal location for watching the goings on. Peter had passed by us countless times without any sign that he noticed us, and I was dared. Do not hold this against me, I’ve already admitted that we were being silly… and ok, a drink or two might have been involved, but a dare is a dare. I called him over, and I said:
Peter, my friends and I flew all of this way to sleep with you– But since we all know that is never going to happen, we’d be happy to get a photo with you.
I can only be thankful that the restaurant is dimly lit, and I was in the corner; my face was beet-red. And this is where the disappointments began.
He was polite enough to smile, briefly, and say “sure,” but it was not his Bravo, flirty, charming Peter smile. It was a bored smile. A “man, do I have to do this again,” smile, and then… he walked away. Ok, so it’s obvious that this was sexist and totally stupid on my part. If I heard a man say that to a female manager, I’d be appalled; I see the irony and giant double standard– but, this was Peter. This is the guy who flirts with everyone, on the show. This is the guy who posed nude (as in a Bravo TV blur mark over his parts) for a calendar shoot, in the season finale of VR last year. This is Peter: of sexy smiles and seemingly sweet nature. If I was ever going to use such a playful and over the top come-on, with who else but Peter? We had been clear that we flew there to have dinner; we were clear that we were fans, and it should have been pretty obvious that we didn’t really expect him to sleep– though that was clearly stated in the come-on, lest there be any confusion. Instead, he walked away, and we all felt pretty stupid. So what else could I do? I called him over again.
Peter, I’m really sorry about before. It was a dare… We came a long way to see Sur and we are fans. We are all happily married, and were just being silly. I hope you wouldn’t mind a photo?
I might have batted my eyes. I might have been a bit flirty, when I said it. He might have thought I was the same age as his mother… I’m not. Given that the place was practically empty, we thought maybe he’d play along, make a few fans feel special. Nope. Not so much. When one of my friends let him know that her Kir Royale was served with a maraschino cherry and that when she ordered a classic champagne cocktail, they didn’t know what went in it (champagne, a sugar cube, bitters and a twist), he took some interest. At my Oscar party each year, Kir Royale is the drink, and it does not have, nor should it ever have, a maraschino cherry. Perhaps a raspberry, but preferably creme de cassis and champagne. Period. Peter explained that he’s a “mixologist” and knows all of this, and that he was disappointed that we encountered these slips. But, that was pretty much the end of his interest in us, and off he went again.
We’re not gluttons, and we know we have it good at home, so we did not call him over again. We did have a blast with our fantastic waiter Gabriel. He was good looking, charming and not affected. He got that we were there to have an experience and he did his best to make that happen. Take notes Peter. We’re pretty fun ladies, and Gabriel had fun with us. We gave him relationship advice; we got him to put his ring on and took photos, and we all laughed a lot. We didn’t expect a “made for Bravo” encounter, but we thought Peter would be more fun. We thought it would be a little more interesting than it was. We thought he might take a minute and pull up a chair, or charm us the way Gabriel did. Again, the restaurant was very quiet. We expected something that said: “Hey, thanks for watching the show; thanks for flattering me, and thanks for visiting Sur.”
If truth be told (and why not), of all the places we ate that weekend, the menu at Sur was the least interesting, and I’ve written enough food reviews, traveled and dined enough, to know what I’m talking about. My steak was very good, but the menu was surprisingly boring, overall. The experience was a bit underwhelming, given the build up and excitement we felt going there. And maybe that makes us groupies, fans, silly TV watchers– all things that don’t play into our generally respectable and well-lived real lives. Maybe the let down had a little to do with soberly (despite many drinks) realizing that it is after all just a show, not “Reality.”
When we were done eating, we asked if we could still get a photo with Peter, and our waiter went to find him. He appeared near the entrance, and with a visible roll of his eyes, Peter deigned to pose with us. We all saw it, the eye roll, and that’s when we got a little pissy; we got a little insulted; we called the spade a spade, and behaved a little bit… LA– even my solid, totally grounded friend from Chicago.
Peter, we’re really happy that you’ll take this photo, but let me be clear: we were only joking about sleeping with you. It was all in fun. I am married to an extremely attractive man, who is very successful. You’re clearly good looking, but my life is pretty damned good. A photo is all we were really want. A little fun, in a place that makes it look like fun is what you serve, on TV.
My friends piped in, and let him know that all of us are lucky at home. We’re not really groupies, when push comes to shove. We are fun, and we had a pretty amazing night– after we left Sur– to show for it. At this point, Peter relaxed a little and seemed to finally get that. He laughed, genuinely (finally!) and posed for some photos.
The next morning, when we all gathered in one of our rooms at Shutters on the Beach, my wise friend from Chicago put it all in context. Vanderpump Rules is a TV show. From a viewer’s perspective: they make their ratings by behaving badly and putting out an image, that may or may not be accurate, but that’s what they put out there. Their waiters flirt, they make manscaping and lady grooming look like a religion, and they give the impression that if you visit Sur, you can play along too… at least a little. That is what they’re “famous” for, those lovely folks who work there. But working on a reality show, you really should know what side your bread is buttered on, and who butters it. The fans do. Fans watch the show; fans drive the ratings; the fans are what make Bravo TV a success. Andy Cohen (who we all agree is one hot mensch) knows this, and has made a wonderfully entertaining empire out of that knowledge. He is fun, entertaining, and kind to his audience. He knows where reality begins and Reality ends. Peter, as cute as you are, you don’t seem to know who butters the bread. Seems a few photos and some genuine smiles are a small price to pay, n’est c’est pas?
In the end: we had dinner at Sur; we had a good time and we can check it off the L.A. bucket list, for our next trip. We will look at it all a little differently when we watch the show– if it comes back for another season. If. Our real lives continue with or without it and that’s the irony. We went looking for a dose of Reality, and left understanding that it was ours all along. (Yeah, thanks Dorothy)
After notes: Given that George Clooney went and picked our girl’s weekend to get married in Venice, our celebrity sightings for the weekend were not at a premium. We had Joan Jett on our flight from Seattle to LA, which led us to use the phrase “put another dime in the jute box baby” way too much. We saw Peter, and the model Edda Peturdottir. For one thrilling second, I thought I saw Julia Roberts at Shutters, but then realized she was inevitably in Venice too, and it was the bellini talking. We made our own fun. We danced into the wee hours after dinner at Sur; thanks to our charming driver Simon, who told us he was the “Sur driver” (and wasn’t) and charged us 6x what we paid to get to the restaurant in the first place! We shopped at Fred Segals (which was cook beyond cool); we walked to Abbot Kinney, Venice Beach, and all over Santa Monica. We turned our heads every time we saw someone filming or taking photos, until we realized that was everywhere. We fell in love with Lift and met some of the greatest drivers (Michael, Beck, Gabe, Ryan) who were fair, entertaining and fun to be with. We felt free and fun, and laughed a lot. Sadly, I bought a beautiful scarf that I wore to Sur, with my new Johnny Was dress. I took it off for the photos with Peter, and set it on the table near the entrance. Though there were only 2 other tables, and we can see it in all of the photos, when I left it there and called first thing in the morning, it wasn’t there. They promised to ask around and call me back either way, but I never heard back. Maybe Peter kept it as a reminder of those hot ladies he’ll never meet again? Reality bites. (Joan Jett and Fred Segals)
And finally, if you don’t know tongue in cheek, if you think any of this is terribly serious– alas. It was a girl’s weekend, not real life.
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