A recent staff reconfiguration at Condé Nast is sending ripples of angst throughout the media hive at 4 Times Square. But for once, the upheaval isn’t at a high-strung magazine. It’s at the Condé Nast cafeteria, where Felix Tagliarini-the beloved and longtime sovereign of the grill-was recently, mysteriously shuttled to the sandwich station.
Mr. Tagliarini, a suave-ish man in his 30’s with fleshy cheeks and nimble hands, was something of an institution in the Frank Gehry–designed fourth-floor cafeteria. At the grill, he flipped tofu patties with aplomb, had a certain je ne sais quoi with French fries and produced onion rings so crisp and golden they made Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl swoon. Blessed with an abundant memory, Mr. Tagliarini always remembered how many egg whites Condé editors wanted in their omelettes. And his grilled cheddar with tomato sandwich boasted a cult following.
He was also something of a charmer. “He is just the most charismatic guy-he’s just totally friendly,” said Ms. Reichl. “He makes it fun to go down there. Half the people on my staff think that he’s in love with them.”
Another female Condé Nast editorial employee, who asked to remain nameless, confirmed that Mr. Tagliarini was smooth with the ladies.
“Felix says that I broke his heart by just existing and not being with him,” she said. “He just loves everybody, so he’s always hooking us up with a little extra, whether it’s giving us extra fries or telling us where the free cake is.”
The Felix raves kept coming and coming. Said another female Condé Nast employee: “Felix always notices if you have a new hair style or if you’ve lost weight or anything, which is nice because you don’t hear that from too many guys.” And a former Allure staffer added: “I’d assumed that Condé Nast women were generally pretty cold-they have a reputation for not being friendly. But sometimes with Felix, it would seem like a competition-like who could get more attention from him.”
Though his outfit was always limited to regulation black-and-white checkered pants, Mr. Tagliarini could also be fashionable. A while ago, he started accessorizing more, donning brown-rimmed, rectangular glasses. “I think they’re sexy,” said one Condé Nast woman.
Did Mr. Tagliarini’s relationships with Condé women ever go beyond the grill room? Several employees claimed they’d seen him parade a girlfriend around the lunchroom a few times. But others said they’d heard he’d asked out a few of his regulars. And word is that some of the bonny grilled-tofu fanatics acquiesced.
“He’s had certain people at my magazine that he was interested in, and he’d bring them free cookies after the cafeteria closed,” said one employee. “But the other girls complained, so then he had to bring us all cookies.”
Over time, however, Mr. Tagliarini’s doting on female staffers started to wear on Condé Nast men, who joked about his pick-up lines and rolled their eyes about his conspicuously hip shades.
“I think men started to sour on him when they realized that the bulk of his attention was showered on the ladies, sometimes to the point where it led him to forget what your order was,” said a male fact-checker at one Condé Nast magazine. “If you weren’t female, he wouldn’t really pay attention to you. Meanwhile, he has an incredible memory for girl’s names. ‘Hi, Dawn! Hi Rosemary!’-that’s all you’d hear. So it basically became the consensus after a while that boys just didn’t like going to him. It was too big a production.”
But not every Condé Nast man went sour on Mr. Tagliarini. Some appreciated his knack for attracting female attention in a building where men often struggle to meet mates.
“It’s almost the Israeli kibbutz phenomenon, where people who grow up in the kibbutz tend not to marry each other,” said New Yorker cartoon editor Robert Mankoff. “Working together desexualizes things.” But working in the cafeteria, Mr. Tagliarini was almost exotic, he said. “I think there’s something about sexual attraction that involves mystery. When you work with someone, you see them all the time, but with someone you see rarely, your imagination has more reign.”
Mr. Tagliarini’s charm offensive came to an end in February, when he was suddenly moved from the grill station to sandwich duty. In the cafeteria power map, it seemed like a demotion-the grill role was far more glam than the sandwich station, employees said-and it prompted many to wonder why a man who seemed to love his job was suddenly moved. The media blog Gawker suggested that a bad run-in with Anna Wintour was to blame. Others thought that jealous male Condé Nasters might have led a charge to dethrone Mr. Tagliarini from the grill.
Whatever happened, the powers aren’t saying. Representatives of both of Condé Nast and Restaurant Associates-the company that runs the cafeteria-declined to comment on the move.
As for Mr. Tagliarini, he too was mum. When an Observer reporter tried to talk to him on April 4 about the move, he politely demurred. “Why are you so interested in me ?” he asked.
But some of Mr. Tagliarini’s many fans, who miss him at the grill, tried to put a positive spin on his change of scenery, and may now give sandwiches a chance. Said one of Felix’s friends: “I think he just wanted to do something new.”
-Anna Jane Grossman
We wanted to see if this smoking-ban thing is for real, so we grabbed half a pack of Dunhills, went out on the town on a rainy April 11, and acted like a clueless idiot with no idea there was a ban. Ten bars, 10 smokes. Here we go:
Cigarette No. 1
Cowgirl Hall of Fame, Hudson Street, 11:30 p.m.
Elvis playing. Margaritas and beer are served. I light up.
“You can’t smoke in here,” says the barmaid. “Nowhere in the building. I’m sorry.”
“I’ll put it out-sorry,” I say, pretending to be baffled.
I put it out. A lanky, 6-foot-4 manager stops by table, mentions a “statewide law.”
His name is Aaron Shepperd, and he plays in a glam-metal band called Blind Snatch and smokes American Spirits. He moved here from Nebraska a few years ago, and he tells me that Rudy Giuliani destroyed nightlife and Mayor Bloomberg is doing a lot of “stupid shit.”
“There’s no way to make any money anymore,” he says. “Like all the vibrant after-hours- that’s what I was looking for, the whole, like, cool, crazy parties, performance, happening things that keeps New York New York. The 80’s are dead and gone and will never come back. We’re fucked.”
Cigarette No. 2
Blind Tiger, Hudson Street, 11:47 p.m.
Order beer, light up at bar. Several patrons look shocked.
“You can’t smoke in here,” says bartender.
“I don’t get it,” I say.
“You can’t smoke in the bar . It’s against the law.”
“Smoking and light beer is illegal now,” says a guy next to me.
“I don’t know where the fuck you’ve been,” says his friend. “It’s been everywhere . City moves fast. One week ago, you could have smoked here. Now it’s illegal .”
“You can smoke outside,” says the bartender. “But you can’t take your beer.”
I go downstairs to the men’s room. Bartender follows. I rejoin my new friends, tell them how I was followed.
“You can’t even piss in bars anymore!” one tells me. “It’s illegal to go downstairs in New York.”
Cigarette No. 3
Ruby Fruit, Hudson Street, 12:03 a.m.
Walk in with cig in mouth. Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun” playing. A good 50 women inside. And one guy: me. Others smoking, too. Order a Bud. Get several funny looks. Bartender says it’s private, so smoking is O.K.
“Until the end of the month,” says a patron smoking Benson & Hedges. Some kind of grace period, she says.
Her name is Anna, and she says she thinks “the Mayor should be killed with Saddam Hussein.” Her friend, Patty, says: “Put Koch back.”
“At least you had a laugh once in a while,” she says.
Cigarette No. 4
White Horse Tavern, Hudson Street, 12:15 a.m.
Packed and loud. U2’s “Beautiful Day” blasting. I light up at bar.
“No smoking, no smoking, no smoking,” a waitress tells me, waving her hand in front of her nose.
“Could I finish it?” I ask.
“No, put it out!” says the bartender. “I’m gonna get pissed. No smoking anywhere in New York!”
I leave without ordering a beer. “It’s a law now,” a doorman says to me as I walk outside. “Where have you been ?”
Cigarette No. 5
Philip Marie, Hudson Street, 12:20 a.m.
Walk in, cig in mouth.
“No smoking in bars,” says the bartender. “All over New York.”
“In New York ?” I say.
I ask if I can finish it. The bartender says no.
“I think it sucks,” says a pony-tailed old-timer next to me, with unopened Marlboro Reds in front of him. “But I don’t think it’s going to last very long. Personally, I think they’re going to repeal the law.”
I order a Heineken. The pony-tailed guy makes a joke about Bloomberg banning Heinekens and continues:
“I think the restaurant and clubs and everybody thought it was sort of a joke, they didn’t believe it was really going to happen. It happened .”
Cigarette No. 6
Cub Room, Sullivan Street, 12:41 a.m.
Sit at bar, light one right up.
“Sir, the cigarette,” says bartender. “You can’t smoke in here. It’s against the law.”
“Can I finish?”
“Sorry,” I say.
“That’s O.K.,” says manager. He explains: “It kicked in a while ago. It’s a sad, sad thing. Nowhere where people have to work, basically-it’s like California. There’s sort of a two-week grace period, but most people are kind of rolling with it. Everyone’s doing the shuffle outside these days.”
I go outside. A woman there, Alexandra (unemployed, former fund-raiser for Greenpeace), says it’s no fun smoking outside:
“Because you get like cottonmouth and then you’re like, ‘Oh, I just want to get to my drink,’ so then you drink really fast. And you get a lot drunker a lot quicker. Overall, it’s just annoying.”
Cigarette No. 7
Raoul’s, Prince Street, 12:44 a.m.
I order two whiskey drinks, say goodbye to a $20 bill. Then I light up.
“There’s no smoking,” says bartender. “Anywhere. In New York. It went through.”
The bartender says there’s a couple places left where you can smoke, but they’re “real dive-bar places.” He says that he doesn’t like the ban because his customers are “less happy,” and that translates into “less money” for him. Still, he says, “it hasn’t really affected Raoul’s.”
A guy is drinking bitters next to me. His name is John, and he’s a multimedia artist.
“I like to be able to smoke while I’m having a drink,” John says. “Society is going this way and it probably should. Frankly, it’s a major societal health cost. In other words, all the smokers in this country actually cost a lot of money.”
Don’t they cost more if they live longer?
“Maybe they do-I don’t know.”
A guy next to us interrupts. “Actually, there were some rather compelling statistics indicating that cigarette companies save society a lot of money,” he says. He says his name is Max, and he’s a lawyer.
Cigarette No. 8
Fanelli’s, Prince Street, 1:05 a.m.
“At the bar, until the end of the month,” says a regular named Simon, who’s smoking American Spirits. “It’s a stupid law.”
“I think he’s a fucking ass. He doesn’t realize how precious that cigarette is to the guy who’s just stopped working for the D.O.T. on a 14-hour shift, and he smells like shit because he’s working in sewage, and he wants to have a Budweiser and a cigarette.”
He keeps going. “It’s also a crock of shit, the second-hand smoke stuff. The only country that ever says it’s bad for you is America. I’ve been smoking since I was 12 years old. I’m 37. Shouldn’t I be dead by now if it’s bad for you? How about the Dutch? They smoke cigarettes. They eat cheese. They drink. They smoke hash. And they eat meat. And they live to about an average age of 88 years old. It’s stress .”
Two women next to him look bored. Simon says he has to “fondle somebody now.”
So it’s O.K. to smoke? I ask the bartender.
“I don’t give a fuck what you do here,” he says. “If you want to smoke, smoke!”
Cigarette No. 9
Mercer Hotel, Mercer Street, 1:20 a.m.
Everyone is smoking-in the upstairs bar, in the lobby and probably in the downstairs V.I.P. room, where I can’t get in.
“Let’s go to the East Village!” I say.
I cab it and get out on Ludlow Street. Can’t smoke anywhere up Avenue B. Outside every bar, there are scores of people smoking.
On 3rd Street I knock on the door of the Hell’s Angels headquarters. A minute later, a fearsome, tattooed badass named Frank opens up.
“We’re not a bar, it’s a private club,” he says. “It’s a private club-nobody comes in here.”
What did Frank think of the Mayor?
“He’s a jerkoff!”
Cigarette No. 10
Paddy McGuire’s, Third Avenue, 1:58 a.m.
But the bartender, Dympnan, says that it’s only until the first of May. She even says that the Mayor is “lovely”.
“Rich bastard!” says a male patron.
“I am not happy with the Mayor,” says Jennifer, an attorney smoking Parliaments. “I think he’s using his position to promote his personal views. I think that doesn’t reflect the views of the people.
Did she want another Mayor?
“Yeah, I didn’t vote for him. Who did I vote for? Who was he running against?”