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
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 &
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
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
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
“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
She said that she has heard from legions of dismayed friends and
“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
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
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
“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
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
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”
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
“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
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
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?”