I could think of no swankier place to ask Victoria to marry me. Her tastes run to the particular, and ever since we visited The Ivy Baltimore a year ago for a press visit, the question had endured: “Darling, when can we return?”
Firstly I must explain what makes The Ivy so luxurious. The property is a renovated Gilded Age mansion that, after an $18 million renovation by Garrett Hotel Consultants, opened in 2015 in one of Baltimore’s most historic neighborhoods. It is a 100-percent no-tipping hotel, and from the instant you arrive to the moment you depart, the proprietors of The Ivy aim to extricate guests from their stressful workaday reality and into a relaxing escape meant to rejuvenate and pamper. Service is first-rate, whether it’s the front desk, afternoon high tea, massage treatment or even the affable security manager, Tom.
Unsurprisingly, The Ivy boasts an astounding AAA four-diamond rating.
You never want to leave, and indeed, neither did we. So when the question of engagement began to become not just theoretical but imminent, the venue for popping the big question was without question. It would be a weekend getaway, capped with a song-and-dance proposal in The Ivy’s piano lounge.
While driving last fall, Robbie Williams’ rendition of “It’s De-Lovely” came on my iTunes, and Victoria mentioned how much she loved the tune. The idea was born then in my mind to sing it to her, dropping to one knee in the coda, which begins: “We settle down as man and wife to solve the riddle called married life.”
I had the song and the venue. With a local pianist hired and a video crew helmed by freelancer Chris Mariles employed to film the proposal—under the ruse of being there to make a documentary about the keyboard player, Michael O’Connell—the blocks were rapidly falling into place a la “Tetris.”
As Hannibal used to say, I love it when a plan comes together.
Victoria and I checked in on Friday afternoon, with the customary VIP valet treatment as the staff took my car to its temporary living quarters for the weekend. In the piano lounge itself, the daytime desk manager poured us two glasses of champagne and welcomed us back.
“Will you be wanting the same morning papers as last time, ‘The Baltimore Sun’ and ‘The Wall Street Journal’?” he asked, promising tomorrow’s editions will be in a tote bag hung from our door.
Instantly I could see the stress begin to melt from Vicky’s shoulders after some rather difficult recent times at her job. Being English, she’s a firm believer in “unplugging” and leaving work at work. The more refreshed you are, the better your productivity will increase when back at the job.
We checked into Room 16, a comfy affair with a four-poster bed with actual bed curtains that remind me of Ebenezer Scrooge’s chambers. A writing desk is nearby for me to spin magic from these fingers (ahem), and on a small table at the foot of the bed is a welcome bottle of wine, cheeses and some other snacks. A fridge and cabinet also was stocked with snacks and candies to get the weekend started off right.
We hadn’t even been there 15 minutes and already we felt like royalty.
Afternoon tea at The Ivy is an absolute must. As an Englishwoman, Victoria takes her tea-drinking extremely seriously — if you’re ever in the UK, watch as the entire country simply stops at 4 p.m. for a cup — and we settled down at a table in the lounge for afternoon tea.
We were presented with a tea menu offering options as varied as jasmine, chamomile citron and a darjeeling, which bears more than a hint of gunpowder. They also provided a rather fine iced tea made in house, which was both refreshing and satisfying to my palate. Biscuits and tea cakes were also part of the divine presentation.
Victoria and I returned to our room, and I then conjured a reason to steal away from her for a few moments—to check on “Project X.”
Down at the front desk, the night desk manager, Grace, smiled knowingly when I inquired if she will be able to let me know “where my suit for the thing” will be situated for the big event tomorrow.
“We’ve had a lot of proposals at The Ivy before,” she says, “but this is absolutely the most creative.”
A week prior, I dropped off my tux, top hat, tailcoat and tap shoes with the security chief, Tom, so that I could show up with Victoria without the giveaway of unpacking such formal wear in front of her and thereby tipping my hand. Tom assured me the “costume” would be kept safe for the week within The Ivy.
Grace filled in the blanks: There’s a staff washroom just off the piano lounge, and she said the tux would be moved there tomorrow just before Vicky and I entered the room itself.
“Are you excited or nervous?” she asked.
The answer was both. While I’ve had no doubt whatsoever this is the woman to spend my life with, ensuring that all goes according to plan—to say nothing of trusting that the entire hotel staff won’t ask me something in front of Victoria accidentally—was definitely upping my blood pressure.
But I felt in great hands with Grace and everyone else at The Ivy. Thus far they hadn’t said a word in front of Vicky, but perhaps a knowing wink here or there found its way to me.
“It’s going to be great,” Grace said.
Later that evening, after a waterfront dinner along the Inner Harbor, Victoria and I retired back to The Ivy. Whereas the common area on the old mansion’s floor by day bears a parlor feel, after dark one gets the sense of entering quiet Old World elegance. The tea room was empty, but the nearby bar is open for guests to sample as they please — scotches, vodkas, wine and craft beers galore, along with the accoutrements to whip up a cocktail if you’re so inclined.
Vicky and I made some drinks—vodka for myself and gin and tonic for her—and then ambled next door to the billiards room to shoot some pool. Elegant chairs surround the table, and there’s even a carafe of Madeira from Spain just in case the bar in the nearby tea room is simply too far of a walk.
I tried to keep my wits about me, once again running the lyrics of “De-Lovely” in my head for the thousandth time while doing my best not to imagine everything that could potentially go wrong with the proposal the next day.
If Vicky had any idea what was about to happen, she didn’t let on.
“You got this,” I kept telling myself.
On Saturday morning the two newspapers were awaiting us on the doorknob just as expected. Sometimes, in hospitality, it truly is the small things.
We took the papers down to the restaurant for breakfast. The eggs Benedict did not disappoint, and I dare say may be the best possible version of that dish to be found anywhere in the region. Vicky dined on the all-American breakfast platter, and we complemented our morning protein with pastries and the house iced tea once again.
As this is one of her favorite hotels, Vicky had promised to treat us to a couple’s facial treatment. At The Ivy, the therapists come to your room to escort you up to the spa, and so two lovely professionals escorted us to the spa floor. The therapist who worked on my face was incredibly attentive to my temperamental skin—at one point she removed an elixir that stung with another sensitive skin formula that was far more soothing—and gently worked away the blackheads, acne and other blotches dotting my visage. At the conclusion she and Vicky’s therapist together recommended a skin care regimen for us to take home to continue to keep our faces as effervescent as possible.
First-class all the way.
The staff managed to turn down our room in between our various dining and spa appointments, not only turning over the towels but also refreshing our supplies of cheese and wine meantime, and even helpfully collating our used clothes into neat little piles. (My reputation about strewing here and there clearly preceded me.)
Taking leave of Victoria again, I snuck downstairs to find Grace. She showed me the staff bathroom next to the piano lounge where my tuxedo will be stashed. So as to leave nothing to chance, I took quick videos with my iPhone to send on to Mike, Chris and the secondary cameraman, Randall, so that when they would be setting up their equipment in my absence, they would know precisely where Vicky and I would be sitting, how far from the lounge I would be changing and where the staff would be moving out some of the lounge furniture to give me more room to perform.
Grace had also agreed to wrangle some of the staff for some surprise props during the song. During the song lyric “to the pop of champagne,” she would have a fresh bottle opened and two glasses poured. Furthermore, for a lyric about cake, Grace said she would set down a piece in front of Vicky for me to taste.
“You’re so close,” Grace said. “Have a nice dinner and we’ll be ready for you at 8:00.”
During dinner in the downstairs restaurant, Magdalena, I was basically a nervous wreck, chugging wine and beer to calm my nerves. I was texting my confederates constantly, which began to seriously annoy Vicky. I quickly came up with a ruse that my cinephile friends were messaging about some new flicks. Couldn’t it wait until after dinner, she asked.
Meanwhile, a thoroughly raucous thundershower had developed. What if the camera crew couldn’t get through flooded streets? What if the pianist’s car wouldn’t start? What if the piano suddenly decided to fall victim to entropy and simultaneously elbow out of tune every single one of its keys in unison?
To throw Vicky off the trail, I’ve told her we’re going out “somewhere special” after dinner. But first, I said, I had learned from the front desk that there’s a professional pianist who will be playing in the lounge, so let’s maybe go check that out after supper. Good idea, she said.
Chris, Mike and Randall texted me to say they’ve gotten all set up. One snag: Mike has lost his voice! I told him we’ll roll with it. He can just play and not sing the intro of “It’s De-Lovely.”
If that’s the worst that could happen, so be it.
Grace texted to say all the props are ready. She cheered me on one final time.
Meal paid, I collected my unwitting partner and walked her upstairs to the bar room to refresh our glasses. I could hear the strains of Cole Porter tunes from 20 feet away. It was getting more than real; it was imminent. It was now.
Vicky and I walked into the piano lounge and I feigned surprise at the three cameras. I asked Chris “what they are doing,” and he dutifully responded about making a doc about the musician. He offered us a prize seat at a two-top table. I note that the large table usually stationed in the center of the dance floor has been removed, giving me ample room to dance.
Outside, the heavens roared as sheets of rain pissed it down. My mates had beaten the storm here. All was set.
My legs shook and I kept squeezing my hands together nervously. Months of preparation had all led up to this. Like the roller-coaster atop its first drop, I was peering into an uncertain future that depended wholeheartedly on taking this plunge.
At an appropriate moment I excused myself. Chris followed me to the nearby staff bathroom, where my change of clothing awaited. As he filmed the costume swap and wired me up for sound, I repeated aloud a mantra I had found earlier on the internet: “I’ve done my best; I don’t have to be perfect.”
I texted Mike to start “It’s De-lovely.” Just then, another text came in from Vicky: “Are you OK?”
I had listened to those opening bars hundreds of times. I knew them so well I didn’t need the lyrics, which Mike couldn’t sing today anyway. At the appropriate moment, leading into the first verse, I sprang forth back into the lounge and began:
“The night is young, the skies are clear, so if you want to go walking dear;
“It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely.”
There were hiccups. I forgot one lyric and so substituted in another, which then reappeared in its rightful place in the third verse. When I sang “to the pop of champagne” I expected said pop but heard none. Oh well.
However, the chocolate cake was placed before her at just the right moment; I took a bite of it and said “it’s delicious!”
Vicky smiled throughout—either in incredulity or awe.
At the end of the final verse I turned my back so as to reach in my jacket’s breast pocket to get the ring. The box was larger than I’d reckoned and I hadn’t had a chance to practice its removal. It was stuck! For what seemed an entire minute but must have been seconds, I yanked on the box emblazoned with “Brilliant Earth” from the diamond sourcer in Georgetown until it came free.
I turned. I sang, “We settle down…”
I knelt. “…as man and wife to solve the riddle called marriage life. It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely,” ending on that high E right in the green of my tenor’s power range.
“Victoria Sandra Cooper, will you marry me?”
She said yes.
Cheers and applause erupted as we kissed. Mike the pianist played us another song as we danced as a newly engaged couple, with the cameraman Chris asking her, “So what just happened?”
I told Vicky that the camera guys, the pianist and the hotel staff were all in on it. My parents, my siblings and even her parents were advised.
“My parents knew?!” she exclaimed, amazed that, even across the ocean in England, they had nonetheless kept it quiet for an entire week.
Ivy staff and patrons offered congratulations and champagne was poured. I hugged my musical and AV confederates in the plan and the Ivy staff for their extraordinary work—and for keeping such a huge secret in an age when seemingly absolutely nothing is immune to leaks.
Vicky and I returned to our room with our bubbly, where I promptly passed out after a day of anxiety and worry that it might not go according to plan and slept for 10 hours.
But it had. And our life together will be great.