Bring Back the Power Lunch

The three-hour, Don Draper–style steakhouse extravaganza is long dead. Instead, writes GQ columnist Chris Black, today’s health-conscious creative class is breaking away from the laptop to gossip and close deals over light lunches at restaurants rich in people-watching.

Bring Back the Power Lunch

This is an edition of the newsletter Pulling Weeds With Chris Black, in which the columnist weighs in on hot topics in culture. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.

A few months ago, I was invited to lunch with my friend Marco Velardi, who publishes the interiors magazine Apartamento, and his friend Jonathan Olivares, the SVP of design at Knoll. They had chosen Michael’s, an institution in Midtown Manhattan (a neighborhood I don’t frequent) known for its clubby atmosphere and simple California-inspired fare. It’s also a favorite of powerful media types—I ran into Bravo head honcho Andy Cohen there just last week. The meal was delicious and not too heavy. The conversation was fun, and I headed back downtown feeling energized and inspired. Since then, I’ve been wondering: What happened to the power lunch?

As chic as a breakfast meeting sounds, the morning is precious exercise time, and everyone I know is fasting until noon anyway. I don’t want to eat avocado toast or even a Balthazar granola at 8 a.m.. It’s just unnatural. Dinner, meanwhile, is boozy, goes long, and often you go to sleep right after. Lunch is the best meal, and the perfect time to see and be seen doing business. The death of the power lunch has been reported several times over the years, citing different reasons: 9/11, economic downturns, generational priority shifts, and the pandemic. It’s up to us to change the narrative.

Luckily, I enjoy my work. But I still like a midday break, preferably not one spent hunched over a lukewarm bowl while scrolling my phone. Most people, especially those who work in offices, rush to grab something and come back to scarf it down at their desk, which we all know is deeply depressing. Not everyone has the luxury of taking an hour to sit and dine, but we should prioritize it more. To be clear, I am not advocating for a three-hour martini-soaked Don Draper–style extravaganza at a steakhouse or even indulging in the old-school white tablecloths and fussy food at La Grenouille. I’m advocating for a sensible and fun change of scenery where you can laugh and chat and exercise your brain differently. The modern power lunch is lighter and less boozy, the food is timeless and classic, and people still want to shake hands and make deals. Plus, if you go to the right spot, the people-watching is divine.

When I started working for myself, I shared an office with two friends in the Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta. We would put our pencils down around 12:30 p.m. and head to El Myr for burritos. The fare was a bit heavy (it was a different time!), but those lunches served as a nice reset. We would discuss business, current events, and gossip. When I came to NYC, I would lunch at Cafe Colonial, a long-shuttered Brazilian restaurant on the corner of Elizabeth and Houston streets. The crowd wasn’t chic, but the food was good. I then switched to Schiller’s, Keith McNally’s LES outpost, which is now closed. Then, for years, I ate lunch at least three days a week standing up at Dean & Deluca. I loved the energy there, a true SoHo mishmash of tourists, neighborhood holdouts, and people who would commute in for work. I miss it!

These days, I will take a short train ride to Michael’s or go to Sant Ambroeus on Lafayette Street in SoHo for a salad or The Odeon in Tribeca for an omelet. I always run into a few people I know, leave satisfied, and usually take a much-needed break from the phone. The room is humming with people excited to escape the grip of their laptop or cubicle. It’s contagious. We cannot exist only virtually. Close the computer, and meet someone for lunch. You will be happy that you did.

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