New Clubhouse Rule: No Crudités Sniping at the Whiffenpoofs

Whiffenpoof! Yale Club Suspends Tad Low

Yale Club of New York member Josiah O. Low IV could not conceal his disappointment. In a letter dated May 3, Thomas Fiffer, the chairman of the club’s House Committee wrote to explain that Mr. Low’s Yale Club membership had been suspended for 30 days stemming from charges that he had pelted a Yale a cappella group with cauliflower and cheese cubes. Mr. Low, who’s better know as Tad, the 33-year-old co-creator of VH1′s Pop-Up Video, didn’t dispute the charges. He’d pegged the singers, all right, but he’d expected a much more final outcome. “What’s a guy got to do to get kicked out of this stodgy club?” he asked The Transom.

Mr. Low is no stranger to trouble. In fact, lately, he’s been cultivating a reputation as a media-friendly serial pain-in-the-ass. Most recently, in March, he stormed the stage at the TV Guide Awards and attempted to run away with Carson Daly’s statuette when Pop-Up Video lost to MTV’s Total Request Live .

But Mr. Low was no mere crasher at the Yale Club. He has been a member since he graduated in 1988, a diversion that now costs $1,300 a year.

Mr. Low’s trouble with the club began in the mid-90′s. He and his cohorts from the Yale a cappella group, the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus (the S.O.B.’s), had begun gathering to drink and perform at the club, which still requires nonmembers’ drinks to be placed on members’ monthly tabs. Only a fraction of the S.O.B.’s were club members and, inevitably, one of the members would get stuck with a several-hundred-dollar tab.

Mr. Low said that he approached then Yale Club of New York president, Frederick Leone, and asked if the nonmembers could pay cash at the bar. “I’d read the word harumphed, but I’d never actually heard what it sounds like until [Mr. Leone] did it to me,” Mr. Low said.

Following the encounter, Mr. Low said he decided that the S.O.B.’s would rehearse elsewhere and that he would get himself kicked out of the Yale club by any means necessary.

So, in 1997, Mr. Low said, he smoked pot on the roof of the club (he was chased by guards, but not apprehended); he received fellatio in its spacious lounge; he even beckoned a club waiter while “hanging brain,” an act that Mr. Low described as displaying one’s testicles through one’s open fly. Nobody noticed.

But Mr. Low’s luck changed on the evening of March 29, when the Yale Club held its annual Jamboree, at which all of the university-affiliated singing groups perform. Mr. Low missed the S.O.B.’s performance, but he did see the elite Yale singing group, the Whiffenpoofs, walking into the club in their standard uniform of white ties and tails. This enraged Mr. Low, perhaps because he had auditioned for the Whiffs, as they are known, at the end of his junior year and didn’t get the nod.

“I saw them walking around with their noses in the air, like they were so much better than anyone else there,” Mr. Low said. So he decided to do a little bit of equalizing. Grabbing handfuls of cheese cubes and cauliflower from an appetizer tray, Mr. Low went up to the balcony overlooking the room. While the Whiff’s were in the middle of their final song, “Time After Time” (a late-60′s Whiffenpoof original, not the Cyndi Lauper weeper), Mr. Low unleashed a hard rain of crudités.

“I would say it was a lot of cauliflower. It was a bowl amount,” said Joel Phillips, a Whiff who was on the receiving end of Mr. Low’s fusillade.

Mr. Low fled the club. The next day, Mr. Fiffer, the House Committee chairman, sent Mr. Low a letter informing him: “As a result of your disorderly conduct … the House Committee has determined … that you shall be excluded from the clubhouse pending action to be taken by the Council ….” (Mr. Fiffer directed all of The Transom’s inquiries to William D. Weber, the club’s president.) Before Mr. Low could respond, Mr. Fiffer called him and invited to have lunch with members of the House Committee.

Mr. Low showed up at the Vanderbilt Avenue clubhouse on April 24 and was directed to a conference table on the sixth floor. The club had laid out a spread of sandwiches. “It was actually quite risky of them to fill the table with food,” Mr. Low said.

Mr. Low’s recollection of some of the concerns that the House Committee members voiced at lunch mirrored Yale Club president Mr. Weber’s remarks to The Transom. “There’s an issue of safety,” said Mr. Weber, who had neither witnessed l’affaire chou-fleur nor attended the summit lunch. “Suppose you hit somebody in the eye? You can’t have random things like that going on in the club.”

“If I was really out to hit somebody in the eye I would have used an egg,” said Mr. Low.

At the lunch, one of the House Committee members, Kathy Edersheim, asked Mr. Low why he’d stayed a member of the club for 12 years, given his dissatisfaction. “‘That’s a good question,” Mr. Low told her. “I’m not just going to just leave. I want to make a difference.”

Before the meeting was over, Mr. Low said he took the opportunity to tell the assembled members that he wanted to save the Yale Club. He said he thought the club was “constantly on the verge of insolvency” and needed a reformer. He then cited the club’s 1996 decision to open its doors to any University of Virginia graduate, who could afford the dues–what some Yalies perceived as the equivalent of inviting the Clampett family to tea. (Mr. Weber took umbrage at what he termed Mr. Low’s “misperception” of the club’s fiscal health. “The club is financially completely sound now,” he said. “Membership is at a nine- or 10-year high.”)

From his seat at lunch, Mr. Low then outlined six things that would make the Yale Club of New York relevant again. Among them, according to Mr. Low: “Lower the lights in the club; people who got into Yale got there because they were smart, not because they’re good looking.” And “lose the corny clip art in the newsletter.” For his sixth suggestion, Mr. Low prevailed upon the group to let him book the Yale Club’s spacious top-floor dining room one night a month with performance artists, singer songwriters and comics.

The meeting did not end well. “As I was shaking everybody’s hands, a bottle of Perrier fell over and crashed on top of the glass table top,” said Mr. Low. “It made quite a racket, so I had to be like, ‘Relax everybody.’”

On May 3, Mr. Fiffer sent Mr. Low another letter. Describing the meeting as “informative,” he continued : “It is with some regret that I am writing to inform you that the council voted at its 26 April meeting to suspend for thirty (30) days your privilege to use the facilities of the Yale Club of New York City … Principally for safety reasons, the club cannot tolerate the throwing of food or any other material at members, guests or invited performers …”

So Mr. Low has to stay away for a few weeks. But he plans on going back. “It doesn’t say anything about throwing food at the actual staff members, so there’s still some things I can do,” he said.

Plucked Violinists Sue R.T.R.’s LeRoy

Russian Tea Room owner Warner LeRoy has already endured a scathing zero-star New York Times review and reportedly run through 25 chefs including his once-prized executive chef, Fabrice Canelle. So, what other trouble could befall the flamboyant restaurateur?

How about a couple of pissed-off Italians with violins?

On March 20, a lawyer on behalf of two musicians, Alberto De Meis and Luca Marigo, filed suit in New York Supreme Court. The lawsuit alleged that after importing the two guys all the way from Venice with promises of molto money, Mr. LeRoy summarily canned them for no discernible reason two weeks into their run playing gypsy classics to patrons in the Tea Room’s second-floor dining room.

According to the complaint, in October 1999, before opening the Russian Tea Room, Mr. LeRoy visited the Café LaVena on the Piazza San Marco in Venice and heard two violinists he couldn’t live without. Mr. LeRoy signed them on the spot, promising the duo $15,000 each in moving expenses and $1,000 a week after taxes. Mr. De Meis and Mr. Marigo said, ” Ciao, Italia” (and, according to the complaint, were told never to return to Café LaVena as long as they lived).

The pair started work on Nov. 3, 1999, but, the court papers claim, on Nov. 17, Mr. De Meis and Mr. Marigo “were suspended from performing for four days without explanation.” Then, on Nov. 22, LeRoy Adventures president Alan Garmise told the pair arrivedérci for good. According to the complaint, “No explanation was offered … for termination.”

The men are seeking $49,000 each, which is the balance due on their contract–enough to buy a couple of very nice Fiats and a suit or two. (According to Harvey Mars, their attorney, Mr. De Meis and Mr. Marigo are in Italy seeking new employment, and could not be reached for comment).

Mr. LeRoy’s attorneys did not return calls, but a spokeswoman for the restaurant, Shelley Clark, told The Transom that the musicians were no choirboys. She said that the pair would often show up late, and that they were not so careful with some of the cose that they kept around them in the musicians gallery, which overlooks the second-floor dining room. “Apparently some violin cases and drinking glasses from that gallery … were landing on customers’ tables and laps with some degree of regularity,” Ms. Clark said. “Now whether the things fell, or whether they were lobbed purposely, no one knows.” Replied Mr. Mars: “My clients were never advised as to the reasons they were terminated. What Ms. Clark is saying is news to me.”

The Transom Also Hears …

The International Center of Photography Infinity 2000 awards ceremony on May 11 was supposed to feature a silent auction of one of the 10,000 copies of Helmut Newton’s Sumo , a 66-pound collection of Mr. Newton’s work that comes with, believe it or not, a Philippe Starck table. But now the event’s publicist Ted Kruckel informs The Transom that potential bidders may have to cool their heels until autumn. Mr. Kruckel has been traveling the country asking Mr. Newton’s photograph subjects to sign the book. So far, he’s collected about a dozen John Hancocks including that of Hustler founder Larry Flynt, Cindy Crawford and Playboy czar Hugh Hefner, who told Mr. Kruckel that a photo in the book featuring him and his ex-girlfriend Carrie Leigh, who’s dressed as a dominatrix, “typified our relationship.”

Anyway, Mr. Kruckel said that a number of the auction houses have gotten wind that he’s been dragging the book around and are now offering to include the book in their fall sales. Seems another signed copy of the book recently brought in more than $300,000 in Berlin. “We’ve got to make a decision fast,” said Mr. Kruckel, who added that the book will be on display at the awards ceremony at the Regent Ballroom (formerly Cipriani Wall Street) so that additional celebrities can sign it.