Lunching at the Swan Coach House
The week after Thanksgiving, Monica and Julie met for lunch at the Swan Coach House in Atlanta, just as they had for years. An elegant restaurant, gift shop, and art gallery, the Swan Coach House boasted an old-fashioned tea room ambience and was one of their favorite places to catch up with each other before the busyness of the holidays. In a former life, the space had served as the carriage house for the Inman family estate, Atlanta’s iconic Swan House, but today, the coach house was a beautifully appointed restaurant where the Atlanta blue hairs—and women from all over the region, as well as the well-informed tourists—enjoyed having lunch.
The middle-aged woman serving them took their beverage orders—hot tea for Monica, ice water with lemon for Julie—and delivered a small basket of bite-size breads for them to nibble while deciding on lunch.
“Did you see their new silver trays in the gift shop?” said Julie. “I love the one that says ‘Merry Christmas, Y’all.’”
“You must have gotten here early,” Monica said. “With the traffic this morning, I barely made it in time to meet you, so I haven’t more than glanced at the gift shop yet.”
“You better have your credit card handy, because you will go crazy in that gift shop,” Julie said. She took a sip of her ice water and paused to look at her friend. “I know how you are about Christmas decorations. You still can’t resist them, can you?”
“This year, actually, I can,” Monica said, adding a packet of sugar to her tea.
Julie looked puzzled. “This year? What do you mean, this year? Are you and Alan going out of town for Christmas?”
“No,” Monica said.
“Then why are you going to be able to resist the Christmas decorations?”
“Because I’m not buying any more new decorations for Christmas.”
The server returned for their orders, so the conversation paused. “I’ll have the Swan’s Favorite,” Monica said. The restaurant’s signature dish was chicken salad served in timbales—deliciously light pastry shells—along with a slice of their creamy, jewel-toned frozen fruit salad and Swan Coach House cheese straws. Julie ordered the spinach quiche, which also came with cheese straws.
As soon as the server left, Julie pressed, “Spill it. What’s up with this no-new-decorations thing? You like to decorate for Christmas more than any woman I know.”
“I’ve got a bet going with Alan. He bet me a weekend in Chicago that I couldn’t go the whole Christmas season without buying any new decorations.”
“Is it worth it?” Julie swirled the water and ice around in her glass and took a sip.
“Sure it is. It’s not as if I need anything new. Besides, the season will technically be over December 31, and if there’s anything I really want, I can probably find it on clearance somewhere. It’s win-win for me, because I’ll save enough for a real splurge when we get to Chicago.”
“I don’t know. What if you see some Christmas decoration you just love? It sounds risky,” Julie said.
And then their orders arrived on the restaurant’s pretty green china. Monica commented on how the presentation was always absolutely perfect whenever they ate at the Swan Coach House. She said her colorful plate of food had a simple southern elegance she absolutely adored, and Julie quickly agreed.
“So, I guess you’ll be staying out of stores this Christmas?” Julie said.
“Not at all,” Monica replied.
“Isn’t that going to be torture for you?”
“Not really. It’s just going to be a lesson in delayed gratification. That, plus I’ve always found a way to bend the rules a little.” Monica grinned as she took another bite of her chicken salad. “Mmm. I hope they don’t ever stop making this.”
Julie was already halfway through her spinach quiche. “I know what you mean,” she said. “Say”—she tapped the plastic display stand on their table—“are you going to one of their Christmas teas here this year?”
“I haven’t really thought about it,” Monica said. “Why? Do you want to go?”
“Yes. Let’s make reservations for that last one right before Christmas. Besides, you’ll need some therapy after going almost a whole Christmas season without buying any new decorations.”
When the women were nearly finished with their meals, the server stopped by to see if they wanted dessert. As was their custom, both ordered the famous French Silk Swan. A meringue base was topped with a filling of chocolate cream cheese mouse, all surrounded by whipped cream and then embellished with slivered almonds and swan heads made of pastry dough. The desserts had about a zillion calories each, but they were worth it.
After paying their bill and leaving a tip for the server, the women headed out. Julie paused at the entrance to the gift shop. “I don’t suppose you want to shop today, do you?”
“Why not?” said Monica. “You said they had some nice new silver trays.” Monica walked past Julie to a table topped with glistening silver gifts. “Oh, this is darling!” she said, picking up the scalloped-edge tray with “Merry Christmas, Y’all” engraved in the center. “I think I’ll get one of these for Alan’s mother. She’ll love it. And of course I want one for me too.”
Julie shook her head. “So you’re giving up on that weekend in Chicago?”
“Not at all,” said Monica. “Look.” She grabbed a linen tea towel, draped it across the center of the tray, and plucked a glittering ornament of faux grapes from a neighboring display. “There. It’s not a Christmas decoration. It’s simply a pretty silver tray for home decor, perfect for year-round entertaining.”
“Isn’t that cheating on your bet?” Julie said.
“Hey, what happens in the gift shop, stays in the gift shop,” Monica said.
And so, fueled by cheese straws and laughter, the women browsed the beloved local shop, just as they always had—and always would.