interior landmark

From The New York Times:

A shabbily dressed man walked into an opulent restaurant. It was the 1970s, when people still made a sartorial effort for a night out in Manhattan. Alone, he took a seat in the lounge.

The restaurant’s owner, Laura Maioglio, wasn’t wearing her glasses, so her vision was blurry. She didn’t think much of the visitor. But her widowed mother, Piera Maioglio, who was with her, did. “Oh, that poor person, he doesn’t look like he can afford Barbetta,” Piera told her daughter.

Together they observed the man from their usual table in the back of the 100-seat dining room, lit by a majestic chandelier built in 1775, acquired from a palazzo in Turin, Italy.

A Barbetta menu from that era, at the New York Public Library in the Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Book Division, lists roast rack of lamb for two for $14.50. There was an additional 75-cent cover charge. Back then, it would have cost at least $20 a head for dinner with wine, plus an extra $2 to $3 for shavings of white truffle flown in from Piedmont, in Northern Italy. Dinner would easily cost about $150 for two today.

Piera, who was extremely beautiful, Laura recalled — “a cross between Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo” — instructed a waiter to bring the man a menu to alert him what he was in for. Once he saw the prices, she thought, he could make a face-saving excuse to leave and not have to skulk out after being seated in the dining room.

The Maioglio women had been watching over the theater district Italian restaurant, at 321 West 46th Street, since 1962. That was the year Piera’s husband and Barbetta’s founder, Sebastiano Maioglio, died at the age of 82. Laura was their only child.

The man didn’t budge after glancing at the menu, contending that he was waiting for three friends.

Laura went to take a closer look. It was Mick Jagger.

“Who’s Mick Jagger?” Piera asked.

“He’s with the Rolling Stones,” Laura said.

“Who are the Rolling Stones?” asked Piera.

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The Rolling Stones and Andy Warhol were regulars at Barbetta in the ’70s. More recently, the Clintons and Lin-Manuel Miranda have stopped by. Credit Dina Litovsky for The New York Times

These days at Barbetta, most guests dress casually. On a recent evening, Rick Miramontez, the press agent for “Hello, Dolly!” and “Springsteen on Broadway,” sat tie-less in the lounge, something he would not have dared to do when he visited for the first time in 1979. “It was very dressy, very starched, a necktie place through the ’80s, no question,” he said.

Indeed, from its townhouse exterior to its brocade chairs and swag curtains, Barbetta is a throwback to the days of the fancy restaurant.

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Disclosure: I have never been to The Four Seasons. Besides being way out of my budget, not to mention my (logistical) orbit, I figured the sort of people who ran and patronized it would take one look at working-class me, and unceremoniously tell me that as someone obviously neither rich nor famous, and as a woman unescorted, I had no business being there.  Then I started seeing online voucher deals offering meals at The Four Seasons to the great unwashed, and reading stories that said The Four Seasons would be closing. Initially dismissing the latter as rumor, I put “two-and-two together” figuring that in spite of continuing media coverage (I followed the new accounts of the “Picasso War” with interest) and presumably continuing cachet, for some mysterious reason, this bastion of privilege was facing hard times. Their landlord decided not to renew their lease, a fate they shared in common with a lot of smaller, less famous New York based businesses of all kinds.   It’s nice to think such an institution as The Four Seasons metaphorically puts its pants on one leg at a time, but oddly unsettling as well: if it could happen to them, how much worse the fates that face the rest of us.  Here are the actual facts, as presented by Eater, in “57 Years of The Four Seasons“. While this article says that plans are in the works for the restaurant to change location to a space in 280 Park Avenue, it remains to be seen whether the restaurant itself will last, how the new restaurant moving into the space will operate, and whether the interior landmarking in the Four Seasons’ dining areas will be respected by the new owners and tenants. The current edition of Curbed, written by someone whose grandfather sent away for samples of The Four Seasons graphic design identity back in the day, and preserved the envelope with them for posterity, also believes both the post-Seagram Building Four Seasons and the new restaurant will not offer customers the same experience following The Four Seasons’ move and movable property auction :

“When they are dispersed to those who can pay, this orchestral design project, in which Antonucci only provided the string section, will be broken up forever. The Four Seasons was a miracle of design care, miraculously intact for its age, and new owner Aby Rosen’s actions are the equivalent of me throwing that envelope in the trash—but not without peeing on it first.

 Courtesy of Wright

When Curbed wrote in 2015 that the Four Seasons was “safe” from an over-ambitious planned renovation by Annabelle Selldorf, we did not realize that everything not nailed down by the interior landmark status would be removed, literally hollowing out the victory. (The glamorous downstairs lounges, with their book-matched marbles and upholstered walls, are not even part of the landmark designation.)

And for what? For different chairs (possibly also from Knoll) and different glasses, fresh menus and contemporary silverware. Will it be as nice?…

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Friday, July 17, 6:30 p.m.
Candlelight Ghost Tour
Doors slam, floorboards creak, voices call into the dead of night. Venture into the shadows of history to see the house where eight family members died (and The New York Times called “Manhattan’s Most Haunted”) by flickering candlelight and hear true tales of inexplicable occurrences from the people who actually experienced them. 50 minutes. Tickets: $20, $10 MHM Members.

June 20 – Interactive Tour for Families
Saturday, June 20, 3 p.m.
Special Interactive Tour for Families: A Child’s View of Life in 19th Century New York
29 East Fourth Street was home not only to the eight Tredwell children, but also to two young granddaughters. Come tour the house and learn what life was like for children (and adults) in the 1850s, from schoolwork and chores to games and play. Could you carry a bucket of coal up steep stairs? Do you have a calling card? A top hat? What, no hoop skirt? How did you take a bath? And penmanship really, really mattered.
Best for children 8 to 12 years old. Order Tickets: $15, one adult, one child. $20, one adult, two children (max.).

Reservations at Merchant House Museum

You may pay by credit card or PayPal. (Note: you do NOT need a PayPal account to purchase tickets online.) Call 212-777-1089 for information or to reserve over the phone.

Cancellations for a full refund accepted up to 48 hours in advance.

Tickets will not be mailed; name(s) will be placed on the event list.

Event Tickets…

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