Can the New $30 Million Four Seasons Restaurant Live Up to Its Design Legacy?

Inside its new $30 million home, the shadow of its past as an American design icon is everywhere you look.

The Four Seasons_Bar Room_ Fernando Guerra.JPG
Photo by Fernando Guerra.

When the legendary New York restaurant The Four Seasons closed in July 2016—having lost the lease on its Philip Johnson-designed space in the Seagram Building after nearly 57 years—it seemed like the end of an era. True, the restaurant’s managing partners, Alex von Bidder and Julian Niccolini, announced at the time that they would reopen in a new space just three blocks south, to be designed by the renowned Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld at a reported cost of $30 million. Still, you couldn’t help but wonder, How could it ever be the same?

The good news: it isn’t. The new Four Seasons, which officially opened this past week at 42 East 49th Street, quotes aspects of its former home and reflects its modernist aesthetic—Weinfeld loved the old space, which he first visited with his father as a boy—but radiates a warmer, though no less elegant, vibe. Von Bidder, urbane as always, and Niccolini (his #MeToo issues presumably behind him), offer their usual warm welcome. The old logo is at the front door, a reassuring sign. Enter through a windowless, marble-lined vestibule, and proceed to the bar room, with its central, square bar—another echo of the old space.

Photo by Fernando Guerra.

Like most of the room, it is wrapped in teak. But the new bar is sunken, with a counter made of a thick slab of acrylic over shimmering gold leaf, and additional glow from the spare brass light fixtures by the London-based designer Michael Anastassiades. The elegant chairs around the bar, a special reissue of a design by the midcentury American master Edward Wormley, were made by Dunbar. Weinfeld took the room’s existing structural columns—which couldn’t be moved—and wrapped them in polished stainless steel with a warm bronze mirror finish. The room’s window wall, which looks directly onto the sidewalk on 49th Street, is screened by vertical rows of Czech glass beads stretched on thin wires. It’s a fresher, craftier version of the swank chain-link curtains in the old space.

Between the bar and the dining room, there’s a passageway lined in oxidized brass panels, with what sounds like faint snippets of birdsong in the air—one of four seasonal recordings of wildlife in Central Park, a reference to the restaurant’s seasonal origins. The dining room itself is an expansive, 110-seat space, with an Italian-made terrazzo floor, teak wall panels, and fixed window shades of a pale yellow metal mesh fabric made in the Netherlands; it lets diners see out, but not vice versa, and lets light in, casting fine, bubbly shadows on the tablecloths. (In a nod to the original Four Seasons’ iconic tableware, the three-legged serving bowls designed by Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable were reproduced for the new space.)

Photo by Fernando Guerra.

Overhead, Anastassiades-designed brass light fixtures look like Minimalist sculpture. The open wood banquettes, with their leather cushions, were designed by Weinfeld; these, and the dining chairs, a design by Jorge Zalszupin, were made by the Brazilian company Etel.

Upstairs, an elegant walnut-paneled private dining room is furnished with Hans Wegner chairs, and a room called The Treehouse, for private cocktail parties, is furnished with more Wormley and Weinfeld designs, and colors and textures by Eve Ashcraft.

Photo by Fernando Guerra.

Von Bidder explained that he and Niccolini looked at a total of 28 spaces before choosing this one, which had housed two separate restaurants. (They chose Weinfeld with the help of the architecture critic Paul Goldberger, who served as an adviser.) Renovating what had basically been two unrelated spaces was not easy, but you’d never know it; the spaces are as comfortable as they are materially sumptuous. They don’t have the grand proportions of the original restaurant—particularly in the bar—but they have a cozier quality that makes them a bit more approachable.

And so far, the reaction from longtime Four Seasons fans has been an emphatic thumbs-up. The day after the opening, von Bidder spotted the superstar chef Daniel Boulud leaving the dining room; it was his third visit. “You’re back!” von Bidder said. “I brought my resume!” Boulud joked. Von Bidder said that the lunch service will soon be extended to 4 p.m.; whether that will succeed at prolonging the heyday of the power lunch remains to be seen.

Related: A Eulogy For the Four Seasons, One of America’s Great Design Icons