Speaking to Senator Charles Schumer, Restaurateurs Propose Citywide Tax Cut

On Oct. 1, New Yorkers paused to mourn and remember the employees of Windows on the World who were lost in the terrorist attack of Sept. 11. On that same day, a group of the city’s restaurateurs met with Senator Chuck Schumer to discuss ways that the food-service industry members could band together and reverse their economic losses.

The group-which included Danny Meyer, the owner of Union Square Cafe and Tabla; Steve Hanson, the owner of Ruby Foo’s and Park Avalon; Alan Stillman, proprietor of Smith & Wollensky’s and Cite; Drew Nieporent, owner of Montrachet and Tribeca Grill; Nick Valenti, president and chief executive of Restaurant Associates; as well as New York State Restaurant Association executive vice president Chuck Hunt-met with Mr. Schumer at his Third Avenue office following the Windows on the World memorial service at St. John the Divine.

Mr. Hanson is planning to open two new restaurants in the next four months. He said the businessmen were “trying to think of universal items” that would benefit the city’s economy in general, and not just New York eateries.

Sources who attended the meeting said that among the ideas kicked around were the citywide elimination of sales tax in the fourth quarter and increasing the allowable tax deduction for business meals from 50 to 100 percent.

The restaurateurs also suggested that some of the better-funded owners could raise money and get matching funds from the government for an intensive advertising and promotional campaign to lure diners to the city. And they talked about supporting eateries with cash-flow difficulties.

Similar discussions took place at a larger gathering of restaurateurs held at NYC & Co., the city’s tourism bureau, on the morning of Oct. 1. Among those at that meeting were Alex von Bidder, co-general manager of the Four Seasons restaurant; Lidia Bastianich, the owner of Felidia, and her son, Joe Bastianich, co-owner of Babbo, Esca and Lupa restaurants; Le Madri owner Pino Luongo; and Balthazar and Pastis owner Keith McNally.

NYC & Co. president Cristyne Nicholas could not be reached for comment at press time.

As for Mr. Schumer, “he’s very anxious to help the business community as a whole, and restaurants in particular,” said Mr. Hunt. “He and his staff have indicated that they want to do whatever they can at the federal level.”

Mr. Nieporent, who said Mr. Schumer was “terrific,” added that now that the immediate safety crisis was under control, “there has got to be a shift to economic recovery. The human cost has been staggering, but there doesn’t need to be further economic victimization. I’m talking about my thousand or so staffers who come to work every day.”

There are, according to Mr. Hunt, more than 20,000 food-service establishments (including fast food) in the five boroughs, which do $9.26 billion a year in business and employ some 225,000 people. Mr. Hunt is currently conducting a survey to see just how hard they’ve been hit in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. “A lot of restaurateurs are reluctant to lay workers off,” he said. “Because, up until this point, one of the hardest things was finding good people.”

Mr. Schumer’s communications director, Bradley Tusk, told The Transom that the Senator and the restaurateurs discussed “a lot of ideas …. Senator Schumer will act quickly on those ideas that do prove feasible.” Though Mr. Tusk said that Mr. Schumer was concerned about the travel industry as a whole-”the hotels, the shows, the retail, the restaurants”-he “understands that restaurant culture is a large part of what makes New York New York, and he wants to do whatever he can to help them deal with the impacts of the crisis and recover from them as quickly as possible.”

-Frank DiGiacomo

Windows

The pews at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine were awash in white on Monday, Oct. 1. The civilians had worn black, the color of mourning, but the chefs and kitchen workers who populate the city’s restaurants wore their white kitchen uniforms to honor the 79 people who had died working at Windows on the World on Sept. 11.

Among the hundreds of mourners were Le Cirque owner Sirio Maccioni; his former chef Alain Sailhac, now the dean of the French Culinary Institute; Beacon chef Waldy Malouf; Gramercy Tavern chef Tom Colicchio; the Russian Tea Room’s Morgan Larsson; and Tim and Nina Zagat.

Mr. Sailhac waited patiently in line to sign a book dedicated to the memory of the lost. When it was his turn, he scribbled something short, elegant and totally illegible. “Just my name,” he said. Then he found a seat behind the rostrum near Henri Viain, who teaches at F.C.I.

After reading from Ecclesiastes and Psalm 23, the politicians somberly took the stage. “One of the three happiest days of my life occurred at Windows on the World,” said Mr. Schumer. “Iris and I were married there in 1980.” He went on: “We think of Windows on the World as a microcosm of New York. This was New York. And it was America.”

Then came Senator Hillary Clinton. “Anyone who had ever been to Windows on the World felt like they could see the entire world. But they also felt like they were halfway to heaven,” she told the crowd. Then she noted the appropriateness of a line from Psalm 23: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies …. ” Her observation elicited some gasps in the crowd. “The workers that morning could not have known that they were preparing a table in the presence of enemies,” Mrs. Clinton said. (Later, when the ceremony was over, a minister came to congratulate Mrs. Clinton. “I’ve been saying that psalm all my life,” she said. “It was like, wow!”)

Several union leaders who had represented the Windows workers spoke. There was a candle ceremony. The Mayor spoke-his presence got the only applause of the afternoon. It was his third memorial service of the day, and he looked tired. He talked about the evils of terrorism and the greatness of the city-especially the Fire Department. “Freedom, the rule of law, the respect for human life-all of these ideas are very dangerous to terrorists,” Mr. Giuliani said.

Then came Windows’ owner, David Emil. “Each of us has seen our own hell,” he said. He was crying. “In the days after the attack, we refused to believe that fate had entirely turned against us …. We prayed that at least one of our people had survived.” He choked back tears. “Our prayers were unanswered.” Still, Mr. Emil said, Windows would be reborn from the ashes. “Although it won’t be easy, I know we can do it again.” His face brightened. “Whether it takes four or five years, we will open another Windows on the World.”

-Ian Blecher

Gotham Gathering

After weeks without a premiere or industry get-together, New York’s nervous film community flocked to the Independent Film Project’s annual Gotham Awards on Oct. 1 and encountered an event that wavered between reflective profundity and balls-out bad taste.

Actors Debra Winger, Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Marcia Gay Harden, Famke Janssen, John Turturro, Fisher Stevens, Glenn Close, Benjamin Bratt, Stanley Tuccio, Helen Mirren and Matthew Modine; directors Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino; Good Morning America co-host Diane Sawyer and boxer Joe Frazier were among those who gamely faced a gantlet of celebrity-starved photographers at the Chelsea Piers in exchange for a little revelry and camaraderie.

Three hours of cocktails and dinner preceded the awards ceremony, which honored New York’s independent-film world and will be televised on the Bravo cable channel on Oct. 5. And by the time the dinner plates were cleared, the well-lubed attendees were anxious to hold forth on the state of their industry and the state of the world.

Christopher Roberts, producer of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize–winning film The Believer , was a little grim. His film, about a Jewish neo-Nazi who blows up synagogues, had been scheduled to premiere on Showtime on Sept. 30, but it had been pulled indefinitely given the film’s controversial content and the tenor of the times. (Nonetheless, the film’s director, Henry Bean, later shared the evening’s Open Palm Award with Hedwig and the Angry Inch ‘s John Cameron Mitchell.)

“At an event like this, everyone is very upbeat about the importance of making art,” Mr. Roberts said. “But it would be Panglossian to pretend that these events are not going to have a real impact on the livelihoods and bank accounts of the filmmakers in this room.”

But actress Famke Janssen seemed cool-maybe because her latest film, Don’t Say a Word , was No. 1 last weekend. “It feels normal to me,” she said of the evening, casually adding that “you never know if people are going to show up, you know? It’s a public place-it might be a target-but I think this feels good.” She went on: “I don’t have the luxury to let it change my life. I’m an actress. I have to get on planes.”

Director Quentin Tarantino was sitting several tables away, looking a bit broad beneath his black velvet tunic. He had just de-planed himself. He’d spent the year in Los Angeles preparing his upcoming film, Kill Bill .

“I came here,” he pointed to the floor of the dining room, “straight from the airport, so I haven’t even experienced what the city’s like yet. After this is over, I’m going to go out”-Mr. Tarantino flapped an arm in the general direction of downtown-”to experience it.”

Glenn Close, seated up front at the Giorgio Armani table, was laughing with her friend, the documentarian Rory Kennedy, and making plans to do a little horseback riding.

Ms. Close said that her definition of “independent film” had always hinged on “risk, passion and sacrifice,” qualities she felt would serve the industry well now. “There’s always been a real spirit of ‘we’re all in this together.’ Everybody sacrifices.”

Ms. Kennedy concurred, pointing out that indie filmmakers are “used to having doors slammed in their face and coming up against obstacles.”

Ms. Close said that the devastation of Sept. 11 “will connect us emotionally to the rest of the world. Europe lost the cream of its youth twice. Its cities have fallen to rubble. For the first time in history, we will be able to connect to that. Suffering is unfortunately the common denominator for humanity.”

Unfortunately, a less noble kind of suffering was about to be visited upon the Gotham Awards audience via the event’s host, comedian Andy Dick.

Mr. Dick took the stage to the strains of Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” Then, as part of his attempt to explain his ties to the independent-film community, he cited a film called Advice from a Caterpillar , in which he had starred with Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon.

Mr. Dick’s work with Ms. Nixon had inspired him to write a limerick, which he then recited to the audience:

There once was an actress named Nixon.

Who was a becoming a real Broadway vixen

To get all her parts

She used all her smarts

Which included the shoving of dicks in.

At least the poem was brief. Mr. Tarantino’s introduction of Uma Thurman, who got a Best Actor Award, included an extremely detailed account of how he had come to cast her in Pulp Fiction . Mr. Tarantino included in his oratory his thoughts about Ms. Thurman’s character, his feelings about agents, and a recap of a 1992 discussion he had with his assistant about where he should meet Ms. Thurman for dinner. He finally brought Ms. Thurman onstage by referring to her as “my actress, Uma Thurman.”

Then Mr. Dick returned and sang a tribute song to “Bobby D.” that he claimed he’d just “pulled from my crack.” But his spontaneity seemed to have caused him to forget who he was supposed to bring up onstage next. Luckily, Diane Sawyer did not need her cue.

“Does Andy make you feel like you’re not taking enough chances with your life?” Ms. Sawyer said to the crowd.

The evening wound down with Martin Scorsese’s highly-caffeinated introduction of Mr. De Niro, who was receiving a lifetime-achievement award. Mr. Scorsese’s thick hair turned stark white while he was in Italy filming Gangs of New York. His Grouchoesque eyebrows are still dark, though, and they waggled anxiously behind his heavy eyeglasses as he introduced the man who had played both Vito Corleone and Fearless Leader.

“If there’s one thing that New York has, it’s energy!” Mr. Scorsese yelled as he invited Mr. De Niro to the stage.

Mr. De Niro, however, didn’t look particularly energetic as he picked up his award. His graying hair was slightly puffy, and his muttering was almost inaudible as he thanked the I.F.P. and Bravo before confessing that the award was “not that important” compared to recent events in the city.

Then, in an unusual move reminiscent of Marlon Brando’s decision to have Sacheen Little Feather accept his 1972 Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather , Mr. De Niro turned over the microphone to Don Pintabona, the chef at Tribeca Grill, a restaurant that Mr. De Niro co-owns. Mr. De Niro congratulated the chef for helping to prepare, he said, over 300,000 meals for rescue workers on the Spirit Cruise boat that was moored off the West Side Highway in the days after the terrorist attacks. Mr. Pintabona thanked his Spirit co-organizers, and the evening came to an anticlimactic close.

As the crowd leapt from their seats to the doors of the dining room, it seemed that everyone sighed with relief. It was tough to tell whether it was the relief of having successfully climbed back on the party horse or, in the words of one exiting guest, the relief of having “the damned night over with.”

-Rebecca Traister