Since opening in 1959, the Four Seasons restaurant has been the unofficial lunchroom of Manhattan’s business and media elite. Bill Blass described it as being “like a private men’s club,” in W in January 1996 (female diners have always been in shorter supply), and Oliver Stone was quoted in the same article as saying, “It reminds me of my high school cafeteria. I know all the boys here.”
Now, 50 years after its debut, the Philip Johnson–designed eatery remains the epicenter of the power lunch. And while patrons “don’t come just for the food,” as co–managing partner Alex von Bidder admitted in the 1996 story, one’s order is telling. As W reported in October 1994, insiders know to ask for the baked potato with truffles, though it doesn’t appear on the menu.
Another sign that you’ve joined the ranks of regulars like Mort Zuckerman and Edgar Bronfman Jr. is when you’re chided by co–managing partner Julian Niccolini, who plays the impish sidekick to von Bidder’s straight man. “Alex and Julian function like a left brain and a right brain,” Sandy Weill said in 1996. “They can get a bit off-color,” added Blackstone Group honcho Pete Peterson. Responded Niccolini, “If they can’t take it, they can go elsewhere,” and von Bidder quickly clarified that the ribbing is directed at “only the people we care for.”
But the greatest gauge of status has always been one’s table. The beautiful Pool Room, perfection at dinnertime, is Siberia at lunch compared with the hopping Grill Room. Though top tycoons occasionally do request the quieter space: “When [Sumner] Redstone was buying Paramount, he was in there wheeling and dealing,” Niccolini revealed in the 1996 profile. And the choicest banquettes must be earned. “You cannot demand to be seated constantly at one particular table,” he added. For many, however, the rules, the teasing and the pricey tabs are worth the payoff. “This is like a beautiful car,” said von Bidder of dining in his restaurant. “This is a reward in life.”