Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The night Elvis Costello met Minnesota Nasty

Considering we Minnesotans have a reputation for being over-the-top polite and accommodating (it's "Minnesota Nice," not "Iowa Nice" or "New Jersey Nice" or "Nevada Nice"), this true story from my friend Lilly Schwartz, director of pops and special projects for the Minnesota Orchestra, will raise a few eyebrows.

On Friday evening (July 3rd), I went with my colleague (and one of the Minnesota Orchestra’s conductors) Sarah Hicks to Origami for dinner. We were sitting at the sushi bar reminiscing about the time we had dinner at Origami with Elvis Costello a couple of years ago, after he had performed with the orchestra.

That occasion had been particularly fun, as we (Elvis and his band and a few Minnesota Orchestra folks) were the only ones in the otherwise closed restaurant. We ate lots of sushi, took photos, drank sake, and at some point during the evening Elvis signed a plaque for the Origami staff, which they have since hung with the many other famous signatures on their walls.

About twenty minutes after our Elvis conversation, I turned around, and to my amazement, there was Elvis. I said to Sarah, “Either I’m hallucinating, or Elvis Costello is standing at the door.” (When I lived in the tropics, we would have believed that we conjured Elvis up by talking about him, but here I knew it was pure coincidence. He would perform the next night at Taste of Minnesota, but I wasn't expecting to see him so soon.) Sarah turned, looked, and said, “Yep, that’s Elvis. Let’s go say hello.”

As we approached them and exchanged greetings, we realized that the staff was refusing to seat Costello and his four band members. The reason? "No room."

“But we called a half-hour ago and asked if we needed reservations, and you told us to come right in,” Elvis’ road manager, Robbie McCloud, was saying.

“Yea, well, obviously, we filled up,” answered the restaurant's general manager.

We could see a four-top open directly behind the host stand, which could easily have accommodated five. Also, Origami had closed its upstairs dining room not ten minutes prior to Elvis's party walking through the door.

Both Sarah and I were incensed.

"Do you know who this is?" we asked.

"We don't give preferential treatment to anyone," the manager said.

"But they called ahead to let you know they were coming, and you just closed your upstairs--couldn't you turn on a light and seat them? You clearly have the wait staff."

"No," said the manager.

“Well, guess that answers it,” Elvis said as he walked out the door.

"You are an idiot," I told the manager, "and I am embarrassed to be a resident of Minneapolis at this moment."

The sushi chefs were also mortified and insisted on paying for the sushi Sarah and I had eaten, which was very kind. Then the hostess gave us our check for our sake and appetizers, saying "This is your lucky day." Uh, not really. Witnessing rude behavior toward a musical icon is not what I call a lucky day.

Soon after, Elvis and his party were able to find a more hospitable spot for dinner, McCormick & Schmick's on Nicollet Mall. The next evening, after Elvis had performed at Taste of Minnesota in St. Paul, we were riding back to Minneapolis when I asked, “So, what’s the plan for dinner this evening?”

Elvis grinned and said, “Anybody up for Origami?”


  1. I agree that the story casts a bad light on an individual's ability to accommodate a great artist but I don't think personal humiliation is your goal. You should block his name, just leave General Manager. Know what I mean?

  2. Like Choie, I don't believe in preferential treatment either, but I certainly believe in being a representative of "Minnesota Nice" to out-of-towners. If those out-of-towners happen to be music legends, then the reputation travels further and faster.

    It sounds like you and Hicks were at the right place/right time to salvage our friendly reputation, so thanks from all of us!

    Blue skies,

  3. When Lilly Schwartz told me this story (this is her story, not mine), I thought--why wouldn't a restaurant owner give a star preferential treatment? Unless the star is being a jerk. It's good for a restaurant when celebrities dine there, and the other people would have enjoyed having Elvis Costello in their midst. And let's remember that Origami has autographed photos of stars on their walls. They haven't asked for my photo, so maybe that's a form of preferential treatment?


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