Friends and I recently dined at a spot located an hour away from my city in what used to be called “horse country.” The entire restaurant harks back to an era when horses ran this area, and the people who owned the horses ruled. This was a time when the social calendar was marked by hunts and cups and shows, and the individual leaders of these events–not corporate sponsors–were courted and revered.
I am sure a few horses still graze in these parts, but they are vastly outnumbered by the townhouses, apartment complexes, gated communities, and strip shopping centers that boast names like “Fox Hollow” and “Meadow Run.” This is the kind of area that prompts one to say, when they see the rare expanse of land encircled by wood fencing, a farm house plunked in the middle, “I guess it all looked like that at one time.”
The restaurant does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of these almost-bygone days. Fireplaces are everywhere, and many of the fireplaces are adorned by paintings that celebrate horse country.
As we sipped a glass a wine and waited for our table, I overheard an older gentleman ask one of the hosts, “Can I sit at the table next to the painting of my horse?” The host clearly was taken aback, but she did an admirable job of keeping her game face on.
“Which painting is that?” she asked.
“The one in the dining room back there,” the man gestured. “Have you got a table in there for me? I just love that painting, and it’s my horse, you see.”
The host looked at her reservation sheet and pondered her computer screen as the gentleman patiently waited.
“Sir, I don’t think I have any tables available in that room right now,” she told him. “Would you care to wait?”
“Oh, no table there? Well, can I take my guest with me to see the painting of my horse? You can seat us where you like.”
“Sure,” she replied, then turned to another host. “Sarah, why don’t you walk these guests around that room, and then seat them at an open table as close as possible to it.”
The three wandered off, the older gentleman standing tall and walking at a brisk pace.
A few minutes later, Sarah returned to the podium. “They wanted to sit at the bar,” she told the other host.
“What? Why? Did they really want to sit there? He wanted a table,” she asked, clearly surprised.
“Yeah, he was really happy. At the one end of the bar were two empty stools, right under the painting of his horse,” Sarah said.
“But I thought he said his horse was in the dining room?” The other host was now thoroughly confused.
“Oh, it is. We looked at that one, too. But he said four of his horses are in paintings all around the restaurant. The bar stools were open, so…”
“He has FOUR horses in paintings here?” the host laughed. “Crazy. Kinda awesome, though.”
Wow, four horses–all memorialized in oil on canvas, all right here. I would bet two silver cups, three pewter bowls, and a dozen blue ribbons that he chaired various horse events for decades in that county. I would bet a gold cup that 20 years ago, he had a table at the ready for him, every night of the week.
The young hosts at the podium clearly didn’t recognize him. They were cute teenagers who cruised the cul de sacs that now hid the grazing fields–a million miles away from horse country. But, in their way, they were very respectful toward him.
We were seated soon after, in the same dining room the man had pointed toward. The ambiance was warm and cozy. Lots of plaid fabric in greens and reds and, of course, a roaring fire. And so many oil paintings of so many horses.
Which one? I wondered. Which of these long-ago horses belonged to the gentleman now seated in the bar?
Indeed, where had all the other painted horses gone? And where did their owners now reign?