Ladies Who Lunch

Simply lovely, La Chaumiére, 139 17th Avenue, SW

Karen and I became what I call “Ladies Who Lunch” this week, and we did it at the place I think has the reputation as the fanciest spot on 17th Avenue, SW—La Chaumiére.

I’ve been to this restaurant a couple of times for lunch—back when I had a job downtown—but I don’t remember who joined me or how it came to be that we ventured out of the downtown core to dine in what has the feel of a relatively formal French restaurant.

This week, Karen and I gave ourselves an extra half hour for lunch, and jumped in the car and headed out from the university to the Red Mile.  Without conference, we were dressed almost identically—dark dresses, with light small prints, light jackets, and heels…I don’t think I’ve seen Karen in heels in summer, ever. Pearls and gold rounded out our outfits and the only thing that was missing were out little white gloves.  Kidding about the gloves.

La Chaumiére is in a stand-alone building, two stories high and the colour of sand, and has been in the same location for almost 40 years.  It’s a place for special occasions, longer lunches, romantic dinners, and formal French cuisine.

The main dining room is fancy, but not overly so; the ceiling coffered and sprinkled with subtle lighting.  An outside terrace looked inviting, save for the problem—a problem beyond the control of the restaurant.

Sadly for La Chaumiére, the massive reconstruction work on 17th Avenue has begun (the entire street is being torn up, redesigned and redone--guess it's a good thing I chose to do this when I did), and it’s currently taking place right in front of the restaurant.  The air was filled with dust and the sounds of the bulldozers and diggers and all the efforts to alter the atmosphere aren’t going to change that.  Which means we may just have to go back another time.

In the meantime, we were treated to full, formal lunch service —a pull out of the chair and a napkin in the lap, and crisp, flavourful salad, lobster bisque and “poulet dans une croute des lentilles” and other stuff and nice service by waiters in long white aprons…and the most amazing flowers on the table.

So that’s what it’s like.


When I was little—from the time I was about eight—my mother went to work every day.  She had to because, at 39, she became a widow.

Now that I think about it, all my friends’ mothers worked too; they were teachers and nurses and school bus drivers and waitresses and workers in shops and stores in our village.  I’m sure there were some whose primary work was in the home—and believe me, I have a real appreciation for the work it takes to run a household and raise kids.

But then there was another class of mom—the group I refer to as the “Ladies Who Lunch”—women who were in situations where they didn’t have to work and chose not to, who didn't have to clean and chose not to, who didn't take a shift in the car pool or on field trips, who didn't watch their own kids, because they didn't have to...and who often enjoyed leisurely lunches with others like themselves.

Most of the Ladies Who Lunch I knew were summer people—women who either came from or married into considerable wealth—their homes in my town were sometimes just one of a few they owned with the workaholic and sometimes distant husbands, homes larger than anything I could imagine I would ever set foot in.

But I did, and so did my friends, as we were hired to clean those homes on the ocean, or babysit the children of those women and men. And I suppose for many of us, that was the first time we considered that not all women worked as hard—both in and out of the house--as our mothers.

I was reminded of this about 15 years ago, when I was invited to a beautiful expansive home west of the city, in the foothills of the Rockies, for lunch.

I took the 30 minute drive from my downtown office into the rolling hills dotted with estates, “gentleman farms”, as they are called, and joined a half dozen women who lived in the area.

It was an awkward experience for me; clearly a disconnect in lifestyles and not a lot in common.

So to give in to the idea of filling those heels—even for an hour or two at La Chaumiére, even with a very dear friend, was a little challenging.

Until I got to thinking about it.  It occurs to me that, in our own way, Karen and I, along with quite a few friends, have created our own brand of “Ladies Who Lunch”.  The difference is that we usually do it on a college campus, we do it in 50 minutes, we’re cost-conscious and we regularly split the check, and on occasion, we include the men with whom we work.

It’s guess it’s what you want it to be.

I apologize if I've insulted anyone reading this.  It's not that I envy the Ladies Who Lunch; in fact, I think it's just the opposite.

And that’s not to say that if I won the lottery tomorrow I wouldn’t give the leisurely lunch thing a shot...but something tells me I’ll always be much happier being a “Lady Who Works and Lunches”.

And with that in mind, I'd most definitely have another meal at La Chaumiére.