The Four Seasons restaurant has been in the Seagram Building since 1959. (My first New York City job was a host there in 1980, btw) Now the power lunch institution apparently has an end in sight. Aby Rosen purchased the landmark building in 2000 and has had it in for the restaurant ever since. He stirred up a battle with preservationists (and others) last year when he pushed to have the restaurant’s iconic Picasso curtain removed and proposed changes to the landmark interior (he was denied any changes except replacing the carpet). Rosen said at a press conference, according to the New York Times;
“We are not desecrating. I think we are respecting and celebrating. Their lease is up in July, so they’re out…If something was designed in 1958 and it’s not as functional in 2015, you ask for a change…I’m going to restore the Four Seasons back to its glory. I love the guys but their time has passed, and sometimes something great needs to go. It’s not a museum.”
He has now struck a deal to replace the Four Seasons with a new restaurant from the men behind downtown hipster hot spots Dirty French, Santina, and Carbone. This news isn’t exactly a surprise. Rosen had made it clear that he was unlikely to renew the restaurant’s lease when it expired and was asking $3.68 million a year in rent! Now, Rosen will be a partner in the new restaurant from chefs Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, and their business partner Jeff Zalaznick. They’ll reportedly take over the space when the lease in July of next year.
The chefs have tried to assured the crowd of regulars that the new restaurant would continue to suit their power-lunching needs. Zalaznick said;
“We’ll make them that salad. We’re not trying to upset the standard. We’re trying to improve it.”
This may just end up being the beginning of the end for the space. Perhaps it will attract a hip new crowd but might also be that no one can make a success where there once was one of the most celebrated restaurants in the world. Rosen bought the building from the Seagram’s family who built it. Edgar Bronfman, son of the Seagram’s founder said in a statement:
It is fitting that one of the greatest cities in the world is home to one of the greatest modernist buildings ever built, the Seagram building, hailed by the New York Times as the single greatest building of the 20th Century. Central to the greatness of agram, is the space known as The Four Seasons restaurant. I have proudly been a part of its ownership for the past 25 years.
At the Four Seasons, we have sought to carry on our commercial operations while always respecting and preserving Philip Johnson’s vision for the space. That has been extremely challenging for the past decade or so as our restaurant first dealt with the economic consequences of the financial crisis of 2008-9 and then with our landlord, RFR, who refused to indicate its willingness to renew our lease, making our investment in capital improvements impractical at best.
I acknowledge RFR has the right not to renew The Four Season’s lease. But what is at stake here today is not the fate of a restaurant. What is at stake here is whethe ownership trumps preservation, whether deceptio riumphs over transparency, nd whether the wealth, power and influence of a building’s proprietors an trample oth h fundamenta integrity of an historic space and the commission created to protect and preserve such spaces.
I submit that not only are RFR’s proposed changes wrong, but they are most assuredly only the beginning of the changes RFR will make. Why do I say this? Why should we distrust RFR? Well, if past is prologue, we need look no further than the episode of Le Tricorne. Why is that great Picasso stage curtain no longer hanging? imply because Mr. Rose of RF wanted “that Schmatte” out of “his” building. To justify its request for its immediate remova, RFR laimed falsely there was an urgent, critical need to repair the travertine wall behind the urtain. As we all kno by no, no such repairs have commenced, because no such repairs are, or ever were, necessary. If that weren’t enough to compel great caution if not outright skepticism regarding RFR’s plans, RFR, displaying utter contempt for both architecture and due process, recently cut into the bronze pillars in Seagram’s lobby to facilitate the hanging of Mr. Rosen’s personal artwork. capricious and disingenuous owner for whom the end justifies the means, makes for a very dangerous owner.
Mr. Rosen and RFR have demonstrated they will do whatever they want and say whatever it takes to obtain whatever they seek. Which is why this commission is so necessary and vital, and why today’s hearing is of historic importance.
Mr. Rosen has said he wants his successor restaurant to be ‘a really cool place.’ I hope it is, and that Philip Johnson’s original vision plays host to another successful restaurant for the next 56 years. But whatever establishment commences its operations in the future, it is critical that this commission ensures that its owner does not sully or compromise a space that for almost six decades has remained true to itself; true to the original, extraordinary and I pray, enduring vision of Philip Johnson’s great masterpiece.