Carlyle Kerfuffle

When Texas company Maritz, Wolff & Co. bought the 72-year-old

Carlyle Hotel for $130 million in January 2001, the new management assured New

Yorkers that it would make few changes to the swank, fraying hotel where John

Kennedy once kept a pad, Brooke Astor celebrated her 95th birthday, and where

everyone from Harry Truman to Princess Diana has stayed.

But last week, the Texans asserted themselves in a way that does

not sit well with New Yorkers who cherish the Carlyle as a symbol of well-worn

Manhattan class.

On March 19, jazz singer Barbara Carroll, who has had a standing

gig at Bemelmans Bar for 24 years, was asked to move her curtain time from 9:45

p.m. to cocktail hour. Ms. Carroll, 77, refused, and on April 2 she was

informed that her services were no longer required. She told The Transom that

she expects never to return.

Ms. Carroll’s departure was a blow not only to her longtime fans, but to

those city dwellers who have been soothed by the wallop of a strong Bemelmans

martini, seduced by its Rick-and-Ilsa romance, ignored by the reliably decrepit

waitstaff, and warmed by its grumpy, perfectly classy jazz divas.

When Maritz, Wolff & Co.-which owns 16 luxury hotels, including the

Mansion on Turtle Creek in Texas-acquired the Carlyle, its president,

Philip Maritz, told The New York Times that no major staff

changes or renovations were planned.

A Dallas-based hotel management company, Rosewood Hotel &

Resorts-which

Manitz co-owns-was hired and last winter, the Carlyle’s elegantly grotty

Bemelmans Bar-which is lined with murals by its namesake, Madeleine author Ludwig Bemelmans-closed its doors for renovations. When it

reopened in February, the murals were intact but the room was brighter. There

were new linens, glassware and cocktail menus.

A redhead with high cheekbones, Ms. Carroll’s

powerful voice and brassy attitude have owned spring and fall seasons at

Bemelmans since 1976, where she is known and celebrated for barking at musty

Bemelmans patrons too busy munching on their latticed potato chips to pay close

attention to her rich, wise delivery of standards by Gershwin, Rodgers, Berlin

and Sondheim.

Ms. Carroll was two weeks into her 12-week stint when the Carlyle’s new

managing director, Peter French, asked to meet with her. She soon learned that

Mr. French wanted her to begin performing from 5:30 to 8:30 instead of her

usual 9:45 to 12:45 slot.

“I am not a cocktail pianist,” Ms. Carroll told The Transom. “There’s

nothing wrong with cocktail pianists, but it isn’t what I do, and I told him that it was

utterly out of the question.”

Ms. Carroll reminded Mr. French, who joined the Carlyle in August

2001, that she had signed a contract in January that covered her Bemelmans

dates through June 29, as well as her fall season.

According to Mr. French, who also spoke to The Transom, “the

contract says we are able to move around various schedules.”

Ms. Carroll soon received what she described as an “ominous”

letter from Mr. French which said that if she did not appear at cocktail hour

on April 2, her contract would be terminated.

On April 2, Ms. Carroll arrived at Bemelmans at 9:45 p.m. There,

she said, she was met by a new barmaid who told her “‘I have to do what they

told me to do. I have to call security and have you evicted.’”

Ms. Carroll remembered asking the woman, “Are you insane?”

“The bartenders started to cry because I’ve worked with them so

many years,” said Ms. Carroll, who denied previously published reports that

there was a shouting match. “I just said, and I wanted everybody to

hear it, ‘If

Mr. French is so afraid of me, why doesn’t he come down with the handcuffs and the

shackles and the chains and lead me out of here himself. He is obviously too

cowardly to do that.’”

“I was not led out by security,” she added. “There’s no way in the world they would have done

that. They’re all my friends.”

The next day, Ms. Carroll retained a lawyer and is suing the

Carlyle for the remainder of her contract.

Mr. French, a 51-year-old Briton who has worked for Asia’s

Mandarin Oriental Hotels and with Cunard shipping lines, insisted that “at no

time was it ever proposed that Barbara should cease to play at Bemelmans.” But

he said, “I

thought to continue in her bar with her piano in a slightly different schedule

was not an unreasonable request.”

Ms. Carroll’s 9:45 slot now belongs to 30-year-old jazz musician Loston

Harris, a protégé of jazz great Ellis Marsalis, the father of Wynton and Branford

Marsalis.

Other entertainment changes have not been announced, but pianist

Peter Mintun, who has played at Bemelmans during Ms. Carroll’s

absences since 1995, will not be returning this summer. His manager explained

that he has been booked at the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia.

Asked whether or not his goal was to get a younger crowd, Mr.

French said, “We just want to make the bar a place that appeals to everybody.”

But does making a place for “everybody” bleach Bemelmans of its New York

identity?

“The Carlyle has always been a last bastion of civility,” said

Ms. Carroll. “People have loved it because of its elegance and for what it has

stood for-sophistication.”

She said that she has heard from legions of dismayed friends and

fans.

“They love going there to hear me and what I represent. They are

outraged that new management would destroy this hotel that they love so much

because it’s been a very important part of New York nightlife.”

Ms. Carroll’s friend Bobby Short, the 75-year-old musician who replaced

George Feyer at the Café Carlyle in 1968 and never left, said “I shall miss having

Barbara around. She is just part of the scene and every night before we go to

work we share a pot of tea together.”

“The lady herself has an innate elegance about her, and a grace

and carriage and all those things that go along with the image of the hotel,” Mr.

Short said of Ms. Carroll.

But some say that all the elegance, grace and carriage-in

the hotel, not the lady-was in bad need of the steam cleaning it has recently received.

“It was like something from the Dark Ages in there,” said

one source who does business with the hotel but did not want to be named.

Mr. Short, whose Carlyle gig does not begin this year until May

7, said that he’s heard that “they’ve done wonderful things” and

that “everything

is so spick-and-span, bright and shiny.”

Bemelmans has started serving lunch fare-steak tartare, crab

cakes, steak frites-in the afternoons. And by night, where there used to be only

chips and nuts, there are now tapas-style munchies.

“We have small little appetizers, like little crab cakes and

little sardines and escargots . . . little portions,” said Mr. French, a

little defensively. “No, we don ‘t do dinner.”

Management has also revamped the cocktail menu. The old martini

is still available, but its been joined by concoctions like the “Millionaire’s

Margarita,” and the “Bemelmans Barter.” There’s also new glassware and linen.

Ms. Carroll is the first to admit that the face-lifted Bemelmans “looks

very pretty. In all fairness to them, they did a swell job and business was very

good.”

In fact, Mr. French said, business has doubled since the

renovations, and increased since Mr. Harris took a seat at the piano.

“I have nothing against the musicians working there now,” Ms.

Carroll added. “I think frankly it’s a question of young, hip, trendy, loud

[entertainment] … that’s the way corporate management thinks.”

– Rebecca Traister

French Knot

“There’s a lot of matters in this movie that we can take with a sense

of humor in our life,” hairdresser Frédéric Fekkai said when he introduced

director Adrian Lyne’s new film Unfaithful

to the invitation-only crowd comfortably ensconced in the screening room at 711

Fifth Avenue.

The crowd laughed and soon after the lights went down, they knew

what Mr. Fekkai was talking about. For starters, there was the movie’s

art-directed take-Mr. Lyne, a master of sheen, directed the almost-camp classic 9 1/2 Weeks and, more recently, Lolita -on New York and its tony suburbs,

including a to-die-for Soho loft and a gale-force windstorm that, save for a

few of a Rudy Giuliani’s press conferences, has never been witnessed in this city.

Then there was the hunky young Frenchman, played by Olivier

Martinez, who seduces happily married Diane Lane to cheat-repeatedly-on

her husband, played by Richard Gere. Mr. Martinez looked like a more hirsute

Mr. Fekkai, which seemed to have something to do with why the stylist was

hosting the film.

There was also plenty of scripted girl talk about affairs and

plastic surgery. At one point in the movie while Ms. Lane is getting into

position for a tryst on top of a toilet in a coffee-shop bathroom, two of her

friends are in the patisserie’s dining room wondering if she’s had

plastic surgery. “That’s when they have it-early-before it all goes to shit,” one

friend says to the other.

Socialites Muffie Potter Aston and Susan Hess, who were sitting

next to each other in the back of the screening room, got a kick out of that

line. They both guffawed. “And they’re right,” Mrs. Hess said.

But then something else happened. Though Unfaithful bears some similarity to another of Mr. Lyne’s

movies, Fatal Attraction , the

director eschews boiling bunnies and shock effects for a more psychological

look at infidelity. “I just wanted to make a movie about the arbitrary nature of

infidelity,” Mr. Lyne said by phone from California, where he is putting the

finishing touches on his film for a May 10 release. “I had long arguments

with the studio”-that would be Twentieth Century-Fox-”who wanted me to make a

movie about a marriage that was failing.” But Mr. Lyne added: “I was

very anxious not to do that. Then there was nothing to put at risk.”

For all of its cinematic eye candy and animal sex, Unfaithful was unsettling. Mr. Gere ends

up killing Mr. Martinez, and worse yet, Ms. Lane forgets to pick up her son-Erik

Per Sullivan, Malcolm in the Middle ‘s

Dewey-from

school because she’s boffing Frenchy. “She had the perfect life and she just

stomped all over it,” Mrs. Aston said when the lights came up.

Perhaps everyone was just relieved not to be talking about the

Middle East or pedophile priests, but the moviegoers, who included real-estate

mogul Earle Mack, WNBC’s Felicia Taylor, writer Elizabeth Wurtzel, socialite Ghislaine

Maxwell, attorney Michael Kennedy, his wife and trial consultant Eleanore

Kennedy, Women & Co. president Lisa Caputo and her date, investment banker

Rick Morris, continued to discuss the picture at the post-screening dinner at

Le Charlot restaurant on East 69th Street.

At a table that included Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy, Ms. Caputo and Mr.

Miller, the question seemed to be whether Ms. Lane was a “flawed”

person because of her actions. Mr. Miller thought so. Mr. Kennedy, who has

represented a few flawed people in his day, as well as Ivana Trump, did not. By

the end of the dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy had also concluded that they

probably could have spared Mr. Gere a murder charge and any real jail time, by

using what Mrs. Kennedy called an “extreme emotional distress”

defense.

When The Transom told Mr. Fekkai that everyone said he resembled

Mr. Martinez, he said, “That’s what I keep hearing, but I never thought about it.”

Though Mr. Fekkai is no wallflower when it comes to beautiful women-he

was holding hands across the table at Le Charlot with his model girlfriend

Brenda Schad-he said he did not see himself in the character Mr. Martinez

played.

“Oh no! Thank God!” Mr. Fekkai said, although he did point

out that “I

love women. I love to make them beautiful and I love to make them feel

beautiful.”

The Transom then took the opportunity to ask Mr. Fekkai, who’s in

his early 40′s, what had led him to part ways with baby-powder heiress Libbet

Johnson, eight years his elder. “It was a very wonderful breakup, if you

could say that,” Mr. Fekkai said. “We remain very close friends. It was time

either to go or to stay.” Mr. Fekkai said Ms. Johnson is “an amazing person,” but he said that “everyone

is a little bit blinded by the money and the fortune around her.”

About a half hour into the dinner, a posse including Governor

George Pataki, his Department of Economic Development Commissioner Charles

Gargano, and the governor’s former spokeswoman, Zenia Mucha, now senior vice president of

communications for the ABC Broadcast Group, popped in to sit with Mr. Mack, a

friend of the Governor’s and former chairman of the New York State Council of the Arts

who reportedly arranged for Ms. Mucha’s boyfriend to attend as well.

Though rough, adulterous sex is actually a lot like New York

politics, The Transom was surprised to see Mr. Pataki in attendance. He said he

hadn’t

seen the movie, but “Earle’s going to give me the blow by blow.”

Meanwhile, when we asked Ms. Mucha in what capacity she was

attending this event, she replied: “As a human being. Do you mind?”

-Frank

DiGiacomo