A Power No More, The Four Seasons Restaurant Is Fading Away

The Four Seasons restaurant, where New York’s business and media elite went to be seen as part of the power scene, will be closing after lunch tomorrow, less than a year after it reopened in a new location on East 49 Street following decades in the nearby Seagram Building  on Park Avenue.

“When the restaurant first opened in 1959… it was a game-changer in New York, if not the nation, for its design and food. The space, which was designated a local landmark in 1989, was the work of the architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson…. Every element, including the bread bowls, was the product of an important American designer,” Florence Fabricant writes for the New York Times.



“Forty years ago, The Four Seasons became known as a go-to destination for Wall Streeters, publishers, movie producers and other executives who would hash out business deals amid the lavish decor and seasonal dishes. A 1979 article in Esquire magazine used the term ‘power lunch’  to describe the midday meetings; the phrase and its association with the Four Seasons stuck around for decades,” writes  Jackie Wattles for CNN Business.

“In 2016, on the brink of the Four Seasons’ ejection from the Seagram and the auctioning of its contents, a sale which raised $4.1 million, the critic Jason Farago rhapsodized for the Guardian: ‘The restaurant’s heyday was the 1970s. Outside, the city came within days of bankruptcy, and the streets were choked with crime. Inside, tycoons and socialites conducted a choreographed spectacle of dining and table-hopping worthy of France’s ancien régime,” recalls  the Guardian’s Martin Pengelly.

“New York’s world of publishing gravitated to the Grill Room, as did magazine editors with expense accounts larger than the entire budgets of today’s viral content abattoirs,” Farago observed.

“If the Four Seasons can’t make it, what does it say about the state of the industry?” Arlene Spiegel, a New York-based restaurant consultant, rhetorically asks  the Wall Street Journal’s Charles Passy.

“Restaurant professionals cite rising rents in the city and increases in the New York state-mandated minimum wage to up to $15 for non-tipped employees -- and a spike for tipped ones -- as key factors making it harder for fine-dining establishments and other restaurants to stay afloat,” Passy continues. 

“Alex von Bidder, The Four Seasons managing partner, noted that the cost of running a restaurant in New York City, using the best ingredients possible continued to be a challenge despite best efforts,” reads  a statement released to Gothamist’s Jen Carlson by the restaurant’s PR firm.

“With a group of investors footing the $30 million price tag, Mr. von Bidder and his then-partner of many years, Julian Niccolini, opened a newly built version of the restaurant three blocks away from the original location last August,” the NYT’s Fabricant writes. “In mid-December, Mr. Niccolini was removed from his position related to allegations of sexual misconduct. Asked whether the forced resignation of Mr. Niccolini might have had an effect, Mr. von Bidder said, ‘That’s hard to measure,’” she continues.

“Few New Yorkers under the age of 50 will care much …,” posits  the New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo. “The plodding revival two blocks south of the once-great institution’s original home … never had a chance. Its formal style and cuisine were long past their expiration date and its clientele had since moved on. A festering sexual-harassment scandal lent the killing stroke. But the demise of its name should sadden anyone who cares about New York City.”

The New Yorker’s food critic, Hannah Goldfield, was decidedly unimpressed when she dined at the establishment for the first time last fall.

“I thought of a scene in ‘The Shining,’ in which Jack Nicholson’s hotel-caretaker character enters an empty ballroom to find it suddenly occupied by the ghosts of a Roaring Twenties grand soirée. ‘Good evening, Mr. Torrance,’ says the maître d’, with easy familiarity,” she writes.

"There were ghosts here, too, or at least fading fixtures: Henry Kissinger, perhaps the Four Seasons’ most notable loyalist, dining with Fareed Zakaria; Charlie Rose, another regular, looking rather rumpled; Dover sole, delivered by rolling cart and deboned tableside. Once, I might have found the scene romantically retro, even thrilling. Now it struck me as dark and sad, the power lunch diminished by abuse of power. The food, never the establishment’s greatest draw, despite astonishingly high prices, was sad, too.”

And  -- like Mad Men, three-martini lunches and the bar car on the 5:53 to Greenwich -- soon to be departed.

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