Three martini lunches are legendary in the ad business. Among the account executives. We creative people had to fare for ourselves, without tax-deductible beverages.
When I was starting out in Chicago, we often went for waffle lunches at the counter in the drug store. They were cheap, and sometimes my friend Ashley would step it up to an ice-cream-waffle-sandwich, instead. That was about as scandalous as we could afford to get. My friend Dennis always tried to get us to go with him to Hoe Kow for fried rice, also cheap. If there were people in line, Dennis would burrow ahead saying "excuse us, we're more important than you". That saved us 20 minutes.
Later, in Detroit, we were more regimented. Every day the same five of us would run across the street to the Normandie, owned by the father of one of the writers in our group, Jane. Jane went on to New York to create the "I'm a Pepper" campaign and other great work for Mary Wells. The rest included Carol, the writer on FTD flowers by wire; Marv, who came up with the iconic "it's a tasty meatball" commercial for Alka Seltzer and later became vice-chairman of Doyle Dane in New York; Marty, who started his own agency in New York and wrote "The Ultimate Driving Machine" ads and commercials for BMW; and me. We helped each other with ideas and headlines until the fried fish arrived. Then we dove head-first into advertising gossip and buzz. Occasionally we'd invite guests, but they became uncomfortable with our inside jokes and remarks and never came back.
When I moved to Chicago, and was a "boss", people started guarding what they said at lunch. Several on my staff often invited me to a place they loved, the Bohemian. It had stuffed game on the walls, and was known for their buffalo burgers, tiger steaks, and pool tables. I started going to lunch with clients more often.
The most memorable advertising agency lunch I ever had was at the famous "21" Club in New York. Very fancy, very exclusive. Members have their own wine cellars in the basement, where they accumulate a good supply for their daughters' weddings. The Chairman of our agency was a member.
I was in New York with my art-director partner Marty, to make a new business presentation to a big insurance company. I presented the creative work, Marty's job was to make sure the ads were face up if I fainted. Then the Chairman of our agency introduced our new hire, a very experienced account supervisor with an insurance background, who would be our top guy on the account if they chose us. There was applause, smiles on all faces, and handshaking. Then the Chairman invited everyone to "21" for lunch.
Once there, the new, experienced account supervisor had too much to drink, and started raising his voice. He told our potential new clients that he knew more about insurance than they ever would.
Then he passed out, face-first, into his Caesar salad.
Obviously, we didn't get the big insurance account. Marty and I couldn't stop laughing all afternoon and through dinner, and ended up hopelessly depressed at the Monkey Bar on 54th Street.
Today, my lunches are much quieter. And probably, so am I.