My Lunch with Jackie

by

06/08/2024

Neighborhood: Featured, Upper East Side

One of my first jobs in the city was as a hostess at Coco Pazzo, a very hot spot at the time on the Upper East Side. We had a famous clientele, and I truly loved when the A-listers would roll in. I would stand the whole night of my 8-hour shift behind a podium, usually in my black flats for comfort. But if a celeb was coming in, I would race to the bathroom and put on my heels that I kept hidden in a purse under the sink. It became a bit of a thing. Was this celebrity heel-worthy?

One night in October of 1993, I was working with John, the maître d’, and he flipped the page in the reservation book and pointed at the lunch section for the next day.

“See that name for lunch tomorrow at 12:30?”

“Yes?” I said. “Ganz-Cooney? “

“Yep.” John said, knowing I would soon freak out. “Ganz-Cooney. And their guest for lunch is Jackie Onassis.”

The wheels immediately started spinning. I did not work lunches and it was too late to try to switch shifts. But I did have to work tomorrow night. What if I came to Coco Pazzo and pretended to be a customer? I would sit and have lunch, and Jackie would roll in and I could just BE there. In the room.

The plot was afoot. I put my name in the reservation book. Me. Table for one. Noon.

The next day I got up early and put on what I deemed an Upper East Side ladies who lunch suit. I took the subway up to 77th and Lexington and walked to the restaurant on 74th for my lunch at noon. This was how slick I was. I would arrive BEFORE Jackie and be at my table when she entered the restaurant. Completely innocent. Just a girl and a plate of risotto on a regular normal day and in walks Jackie O. Who knew? I was innocent as a lamb.

When I rolled in, the day receptionist and day maître d’ were surprised to see me that early. But I told them I was there for lunch and had made a reservation. Normally the day maître d’ was a rather mean-spirited creature, but on this day, she was nice to me and sat me at the very closest table to the one where Jackie and friends would nosh.

I got to my table and the waiters came over and were curious, of course, to why I was eating lunch. I told them, “Just act like you don’t know me. Pretend I am a regular customer.”

I ordered water and some veggie risotto. In walked Joan Ganz-Cooney and her husband Pete Peterson. They were seated at the table next to me.

And. Then. In walks Jackie Onassis. She was in tweed slacks and a brown sweater with the sleeves pushed up closer to her elbows. She was alone. I wondered if she had just hot footed it down from 1040 5th Avenue. It was only 11 blocks. Had she walked the streets by herself? Did she take a cab or car service? Was there a bodyguard outside?

I was facing her, but with the configuration of tables, she was at an angle to me. I tried not to go mental and stare at her every move. It was virtually impossible. But I would occasionally look at my food and move it around my plate sometimes just to focus on something else.

The waiters did not know who she was. They just took her order and brought her food and water. And I am not sure many in the restaurant figured it out either. I mean, she was JACKIE, but unless you were planning on seeing her perhaps you wouldn’t realize it was her. Let’s say you are at an event and know she is coming; you will be on the lookout. But if you aren’t expecting it, you might see her and just think oh, there is a nice-looking lady. Honestly, it was all hard to comprehend.

I tried to listen to the conversation, to get some sense of what they were talking about. They were friends and ran in the same social circles. Joan Ganz-Cooney had created Sesame Street. Pete Peterson was an investment banker and former Secretary of Commerce under President Nixon. It was all very New York and sophisticated.

The only thing I clearly heard Jackie say the entire lunch was this bon mot. She leaned into the table and said in that fabulous Jackie whisper voice, “That’s not fair.”

And the word “fair” was drawn out and longer than normal with extra syllables. “Faiiiirrrr.” It was exquisite.

Lunch was over. I let them get done before me and drank my coffee and messed around with my complimentary bitesize cookies. They got up to leave, and I sat there coyly sipping my java looking up at them. Just another New York gal having lunch. No big whoop. Jackie did not look at me. She was known for sort of glossing over people and never making eye contact. It was how she survived the nonsense.

They left and the waiters came over to clear the table and I whispered to them, “Get me something off the table!” They were confused as to why I would want some artifact from Table 40. I knew that if the day maître d’ saw them slip me something or me put something in my purse, I would be in huge trouble for stealing restaurant property. I did not want the waiter to get in trouble either. I was aching for Jackie’s spoon. I mean…after all…she had eaten with it. She had held it. The Jackie Spoon! The Holy Grail of Jackie-ness!

But the waiter managed to get me something I prize much more. He got me Jackie’s cloth napkin! I quickly put it in my purse and then examined it later in the bathroom. It had JACKIE lipstick stains on it. Jackie DNA. It was a lovely coral shade, and there were little smudges here and there all over the napkin.

I paid for my lunch, getting the employee discount, and left a nice tip.

There were a few hours to kill before my shift began at 4:30, so I strolled up 5th Avenue to the Guggenheim Museum at 89th Street, walking right by Jackie’s place. I wondered if she was home already. Had she just walked back up these streets a few minutes before me? There was a huge exhibit of the artist Roy Lichtenstein at the museum that I had wanted to see, and this was the perfect chance. I headed up the museum ramp at and took in all the pop art. I loved the crying girls with their big cartoon teardrops. It was glorious. I splurged in the gift store after and bought a box of stationary with Lichtenstein prints on the cards.

I went back to Coco Pazzo and punched in right on time. John the maître d’ asked me how lunch had been, and I told him it was fabulous. I never told anyone that I took a napkin. It would have gotten me into lots of trouble.

When I got home that night, I folded up the Jackie napkin and put it in the box of Lichtenstein cards. And there it remains to this day. Perfect with the lipstick smudges.

Jackie died seven months later in May 1994. I was home that night watching TV, and they broke into the show with a special report. I wanted to hop in a cab and go up to 5th Avenue, but I just sat in my bed and tried to absorb it all. I knew she had been ill; it was all over the news that she had cancer.

I mailed a sympathy card to her children John and Caroline after Jackie died. They sent back a printed thank you, and I treasure that memento as well.

When I look back on that time, the lunch I had with Jackie was one of my very best New York days. It was perfect – sitting next to Jackie Onassis and then getting her napkin and then strolling up 5th Avenue to the Guggenheim for a brilliant Lichtenstein exhibit. What can compare? To steal an expression from Walter Winchell, it was one of the New Yorkiest days I ever had.

***

Laurie Joachim is writing a book of essays about her experiences in New York City entitled “Lucky.” The title is based on the E.B. White quote, “No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”  She lives in Manhattan and is indeed, lucky. 

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§ 18 Responses to “My Lunch with Jackie”

  • KLC says:

    Great story! Love celebrity sitings in NYC!

  • Lynn Landry says:

    Amazing story! Loved the detail. Felt like I was right there!

  • Beth Caron says:

    Only in NYC! I feel like I was right there dining with you. Can’t wait to read your next story!

  • Melinda says:

    Hi Laurie, thank you for this lovely story 🩷 when does your book come out?

  • Connie says:

    Oh how fabulous!! I felt as if I were there! What a treasured memory! Thank you for sharing ❤️

  • Aaron Pattillo says:

    If you think about it, you were able to have your own intimate moment with her. It’s the preparation you took beforehand that got me. How many people have a Jackie O story. Not many.

  • JoAnne M says:

    Oh, what a fun story. The title alone grabs the reader. Leave it to you to turn an everyday NYC event into fresh entertainment. This native New Yorker hopes you have many more stories to tell!

    P.S. I wish I could have watched YOU watching Jackie!

  • Jim O’Donnell says:

    A little gem of a story and well crafted. I raced from paragraph to paragraph and felt a slight twinge of sadness when I finished the essay. The author has a
    gift. Thank you Ms. Joachim for brightening my day.

  • Tee says:

    I was in college with her son, and they came to have dinner at the restaurant where I worked. I told her the desserts and she replied in that whispery voice, “Kiwi cheesecake? Will that make me throw up?” (Seriously!)

  • DANFVENICE says:

    What a terrific story Laurie! Thank you!
    Here’s mine: It was a hot and humid NYC day in July 1987, and I was working my first job as an assistant account executive at WELLS RICH GREENE. A co-worker and I went out to grab a bite for lunch at one of the many delis on Madison Avenue in the 60’s. On the way back to work I needed to stop in a newspaper/convenience store (on Madison). As I was about to open the door, the smoke-glass door suddenly opened toward me and there I was face-to-face with Jacqueline Onassis, who was exiting the store. I was standing in her way, and she politely said, “Excuse me” and smiled–she smiled because I must have looked like the village idiot as I tripped over myself to get out of her way. As she walked past me and continued down the sidewalk on Madison, heading south, I told my co-worker, “We’re following her!” The temperature was in the low 90’s and humid yet Jackie was wearing dark slacks and a black form-filling sweater/top and her trademark sunglasses. She had a distinct walk/gait that was elegantly causal and confident. It was wild to see the most famous woman in the world walking alone on a semi-crowded sidewalk. But the best part was watching the other pedestrians’ expressions as they passed her; everyone looked the same: part stunned, part “I can’t believe it”. No one bothered her. We continued to follow her as she turned right on 53rd Street toward Fifth Avenue. She crossed Fifth and entered 666 Fifth Avenue where Doubleday Publishing, her employer, was based and disappeared into the building. It was a wonderful brush with greatness. but it was even more wonderful that she could travel freely on the sidewalks of NYC, her city.

  • Jack Szwergold says:

    Wonderful memory!

  • Harry Mavromichalis says:

    I absolutely loved this article. I was brought back to the old New York. The imagery so good. And what an incredible story. Where can I find more stories from this writer?

  • T Cain says:

    Loved this – So glad Laurie got to share lunch with Jackie. She deserved it!

    Any more celebrity encounters from Ms. Joachim?

  • john Vassallo says:

    I love this! A charming and very entertaining piece about people and places I know .
    Fabulous Laurie

  • Mr. Ron says:

    Great story Laurie! I have never known anyone who is more at home in New York than you. No one takes better advantage of the amazing opportunities that town offers. Keep observing, keep writing.

  • J Stein says:

    I feel like I was there watching Laurie watch Jackie. I can feel the energy in the room! Great story.

  • Karol Keane says:

    Masterpiece! I want to read an entire book of these! Your enthuiasm jumps off the page. I live vicariously through you!

  • abbie says:

    Fabulous story doll!!! Hope to read Lucky!

§ Leave a Reply

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