Bowties and Blazers Brothers Brunch
Brunch is for Jerks
Brunch Is for Jerks:
By DAVID SHAFTELOCT. 10, 2014
It’s over. I’m through with brunch.
It’s gone way too far. Saturday and Sunday mornings in New York’s West Village, where I have lived for nearly 20 years, used to bring an almost pastoral calm. Now they’re characterized by the brunch-industrial complex rumbling to life. By late morning, crowds of brunchers — often hung over and proudly bedraggled — begin to assemble, eager to order from rote menus featuring some variation of mimosas and eggs Benedict.
But discontent is simmering. In an interview last month in GQ magazine, when pressed for an answer on why he left New York City for an unnamed “upstate” locale, Julian Casablancas, the lead singer of the Strokes, said, “I don’t know how many, like, white people having brunch I can deal with on a Saturday afternoon.”
His statement was picked up by New York’s tabloids and made headlines in London, signs of a percolating brunch backlash that comes not a minute too soon: The meal has spread like a virus from Sunday to Saturday and has jumped the midafternoon boundary. It’s now common to see brunchers lingering at their table until nearly dinnertime.
And for what? In his recent book “The Trouble With Brunch,” Shawn Micallef, a Canadian writer and academic, writes that the meal brings out the worst in restaurants and their patrons. “Chefs bury the dregs of the week’s dinners under rich sauces, arranging them in curious combinations,” he writes. “Brunchers treat servers uncharitably and servers, in turn, view them with contempt.” It’s as if everyone feels entitled to wring as much out of this bad deal as possible.
I admit that I’ve found myself among the hordes on plenty of occasions. A particularly memorable fondue brunch in Chelsea that began at noon and broke up in a dive bar 15 hours later comes to mind. And there was the hedonistic all-day affair in Dubai, where I topped off courses of Japanese, Chinese and Lebanese food with a full English roast beef dinner, all consumed while hovering above the desert in an air-conditioned five-star hotel restaurant and guzzling a jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot. Nor am I immune to doing a little brunch legwork — I’ve been known to travel great distances for well-prepared grits.
But now that I have a young daughter, brunch is completely impractical. By noon I’ve been up for hours and am ready for an actual lunch — although that meal is an increasingly endangered species on the weekend. For most restaurant owners, serving brunch is mandatory. It’s a revenue stream that also exposes restaurants to diners who might become regular customers. Even our local Thai restaurant insists on topping every dish with a poached egg on weekends and offering an ambiguously Asian mimosa.
There’s something more malevolent at work than simply the proliferation of Hollandaise sauce that I suspect comes from a packet. Brunch has become the most visible symptom of a demographic shift that has taken place in our neighborhood and others like it. As rents have gone up, our area has become unaffordable to much of the middle class, and to young families who want more than two bedrooms — or can’t even afford one.
This leaves an increasing number of well-off young professionals who are unencumbered by children — exactly the kind of people who can fritter away Saturday, Sunday or both over a boozy brunch. Our once diverse neighborhood now brims with the homogeneity of an elite university. (Julian Casablancas, I imagine, will be disappointed to discover the same crowd of white people brunching in Phoenicia, Hudson or Beacon upstate.)
“Brunch,” said Mr. Micallef, the author, over the phone, “is a visible sign of the changes that sometimes feel out of our control.”
For me, having a child — and perhaps the introspection that comes with turning 40 — made me realize what most vexes me about brunch: Once the domain of Easter Sunday, it has become a twice-weekly symbol of our culture’s increasing desire to reject adulthood. It’s about throwing out not only the established schedule but also the social conventions of our parents’ generation. It’s about reveling in the naughtiness of waking up late, having cocktails at breakfast and eggs all day. It’s the mealtime equivalent of a Jeff Koons sculpture.
In neighborhoods like mine, where everyone seems to be from somewhere else, people are increasingly alienated from their extended and nuclear families. While Sundays were traditionally reserved for family, we now have crowds of unfettered young(ish) people with no limitations on their pursuit of weekend leisure, who seem bent on making New York feel like one big rerun of “Friends” or “Sex and the City.” Here, and many other places, friends have become family and brunch the family gathering.
The friends aren’t the problem, of course. Brunch is. Seasoned with the self-satisfaction of knowing the latest and hippest brunch boîte and the pleasure of ordering eggs Benedict made with jamón Ibérico and duck eggs, something so fundamentally conformist can seem like the height of urban sophistication. Worse than adolescent, it is an adolescent’s idea of how adults spend their time.
I recently saw a man in my neighborhood wearing a T-shirt that read “brunch is for” — well, the last word was an epithet more forceful than “jerks.” In a piece about Mr. Casablancas’s statement and stance, The Guardian called brunch, which the British invented but Americans took to another level, “a symptom of the soulless suburban conformity that is relentlessly colonizing our urban environments.”
Mr. Micallef suggested in our conversation that a growing brunch backlash was an early indication that brunch was falling out of fashion, comparing it to “an old pair of bell-bottoms.”
I’m getting out, too. It would be unreasonable to say that I’ll never again eat a meal that blurs the lines between breakfast and lunch (especially if grits are involved). What I can’t do anymore is live the brunch lifestyle, which has become a parody of itself. Now that I see brunch for what it is — conspicuous consumption disguised as urbanity — I can’t enjoy it.
And I know how to poach an egg at home. It’s just not that hard.
David Shaftel is a freelance writer in New York.