“Reservation for three, please. Under Gavin,” Bud tells the hostess at the restaurant. Her makeup and hair are styled to make her look like something out of a Victorian painting.
The Royal Chophouse is ridiculous! The lobby area is decorated with paintings of Victorian-era royalty. All the fixtures are dipped in gold, and the door that leads into the main dining room is covered with gems. The chandelier above the hostess’s podium is in the shape of a gigantic crystal crown with chains of dazzling jewels hanging from each swooping arm.
The hostess smiles at us. “Your table’s now ready.”
A man wearing a royal blue uniform decked with gilt braids escorts us into the dining room. It’s gorgeous, with distressed-wood tables positioned at discreet intervals throughout the room. The dining chairs are styled like thrones with velvet cushions and a large piercing ruby in the center of the headrest. Dwarfs dressed in blue silk vests with gold buttons and top hats pass from table to table handing out chocolate gold coins to the diners.
Our table is near a stage at the far side of the dining room. I’m excited because one of the main reasons I was so eager to come here was to see their legendary old-style burlesque show. And here I am, sitting right next to where it’ll take place.
“Isn’t this awesome?” I ask Estelle and Bud. I’m grinning so much I know my back molars are showing.
I order the Emperor Strip, medium rare, while they both opt for king salmon even though I tease them about it. “Come on, guys, you can’t come to a steak house and eat fish.”
A few minutes after we order, the lights are dimmed and the sound of classic anthem-style music fills the room. The red drapes around the stage open slowly, revealing an actress wearing a Victorian-style white wig, a purple-laced corset body suit, and a large gallant queen robe. The dwarfs run on stage in unison with gold canes and perform a number with the vibrant actress. The show continues for about 20 minutes, with most of the guests ignoring their sizzling plates to take photos and videos of the spectacle.
Our food arrives shortly before “Queen Victoria’s” number is over.
I reach for my gold-plated knife and fork. “This looks so good!”
Estelle and Bud glance at each other and smile at my delight.
Halfway through our meal, Bud puts his hand on his chest and sighs.
Estelle leans over and puts her hand over his. “Honey, are you okay?”
He nods and lets out a couple of small burps. “Yeah. Just gas, I think.” He stands up. “I’m going to the restroom. I’ll be right back.” He gives Estelle a long kiss on the forehead before leaving the table. She and I look at each other but shrug and continue eating—until a minute or two later when a woman’s voice shrieks, “Help! Someone call 911!”
The woman, one of the waitresses, rushes into the dining room from the area near the restroom. “A man’s collapsed in there!” As the people near us stand up to see what’s going on, Estelle whispers, “Bud—!”
People all around me are grabbing for their phones. I jump up and push my way to the hallway. “Bud?” I shout. “Bud!”
He’s lying on the thick crimson carpeting with his eyes closed, and arms and legs twitching in convulsions as if from an electric shock.
“Bud!” I choke, and drop to my knees next to him.