The candlelight dinner — let’s face it in the cold light of MasterCard bills — doesn’t produce the return on investment that it used to, back when dimmers and amber sconces weren’t a staple in every Fleming’s chain and going out to eat wasn’t simply the sum of overbooked life plus hungry family. So, nice, you made time for a “romantic” meal in the evening ... that same scrap of datebook in which you data-enter all of your other non-work-essential events: drinks with friends, fetch with the dog, exercise.
This year, if you plan to celebrate the flowers/candy/jewelry marketing trifecta known as Valentine’s Day, show the object of your affection that s/he ranks above your manager and the quarterly report by taking a romantic flyer: Cut out early for a leisurely lunch and let Grey Goose dictate the afternoon’s course. If your beloved can wait until Friday, you can even make a two-and-a-half-day weekend out of it thanks to Oro’s wildly impractical 50-cent premium-martini lunch.
The three-martini lunch was an anachronism by the time I was old enough to comprehend the implications — done in, according to the Wikiverse and other dodgy sources, by changing workplace mores, feminism, and Jimmy Carter’s 1976 White House run. But it’s always fascinated me because while I can follow an agenda just fine after one cocktail, two tip the scales decidedly in favor of frivolity, and three leads to long disquisitions on topics of interest only to me. Who were these people who could negotiate contracts and close deals three sheets to the wind? More than that, a universe in which silver tongues lubricated by spirits reigned sounds like a world immune to the provincial and nihilistic cubicle humor of Dilbert — a world in which work might still be glamorous even if you weren’t a hedge-fund manager or hadn’t licensed a fragrance.
So despite its association with a bygone gender hierarchy, I’m seconding Gerald Ford’s defense of the three-martini lunch, but for romance rather than efficiency: “Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful and a snootful at the same time?”
Oro’s setting, in downtown San Antonio across from the entrance to the Alamo’s palm-tree-bracketed, WPA-era visitor center, has a movie-set quality that suggests a little role-playing: Since you’ll be dining and drinking in the shadow of the Hearst Corp, I suggest channeling either His Girl Friday, if retro idealism quickens your pulse, or Season Four of The Wire if you’re more of a Shattered Glass realist. Quell those workaholic jitters with a dose of the City’s new marketing campaign — set to be unveiled February 14 like a big valentine to the traveling classes — and teased in small doses for the past month: “Whether artist, server, chef, valet, restaurateur, golf pro, or local merchant,” reads the first installment, “the people of San Antonio show passion for what they do, and the roles they play in the city.” Drinking at a bar on a weekday afternoon? You’re not barflies or under-emplyed slackers: You’re part of the great soundstage known as the Alamo City. Act with pride. Seat yourself at the bar if your partnership thrives on the adage “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come and sit next to me,” or cozy into the handsome booths if you’ll be staring only into one another’s eyes.
For a JFK half-dollar, the vivacious bartender will serve you a Grey Goose martini, twisted or garnished with an olive, and several other variations, including a sunny confection known as the Yellow Rose — the name, even, suggestive of double identities and dalliance in the face of duty. Made with Grey Goose, Limoncello, raspberry vodka, and a dollop of Chambord, it’s like a liquid canary diamond on the tongue. The straight-up version is a model of the form: crisp, clean, and cold. The drinks are so cheap, you’ll want to order the $19 American Kobe burger just so your credit-card tab looks respectable, but the sum doesn’t exceed its fancy parts. Try a cup of the earthy and rich potato soup instead, followed by the turmeric-rubbed scallops.
So, there you are, in the elegant, contemporary restaurant of the AAA Four-Diamond Emily Morgan hotel, beneath the avant-garde flora arrangements, basking in the room’s tawny aura, watching hotel guests check in and cars pull up for the free two-hour valet parking (but you won’t be needing your car back anytime soon). It’s time to settle into your alter ego, this charming, spontaneous, idle creature who only has eyes for your valentine and a little wholesome fucking off. When did we become so status- and job-obsessed anyway? Pull out your iPhone and put it to good use: Sign up for Southwest Airline’s weekend-getaway offers and check your vacation-day balance. Sure, we might all be in for a little belt-tightening this year, but at 50 cents a martini, rose-colored glasses are still affordable. •
Emily Morgan Hotel
705 E. Houston
The martinis are excellent. A $20 burger underwhelms, but the potato soup and turmeric scallops are delicious.
The Yellow Rose “martini”
11am-2pm Tue & Fri
Martinis: 50 cents