Sure it’s October, but there’s an extra chill in the air around East 63rd Street between Park and Lexington avenues. That’s because the war between two of that block’s neighbors, billionaire mogul Ron Perelman and the popular boîte Le Bilboquet, just keeps escalating. Mr. Perelman, who has long complained about the restaurant’s noisy crowd, has been waging a one-man campaign to prevent it from opening a sidewalk café. Now, the restaurant has drafted its own army of supporters, including art dealer Mary Boone, Hotel Plaza-Athenée manager Bernard Lackner and Lalique president Daniel Barthand, who’ve written letters to defend the boîte.
A fixture on the block, Le Bilboquet (don’t bother looking for a sign) is owned by Philippe Delgrange, a 52-year-old Frenchman who rose up through the ranks at Le Relais to open all 450 square feet of his own at 25 East 63rd Street in 1986. Over the years the tiny space has built up quite a following among celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, Tom Hanks, Stephen Spielberg and first daughter Barbara Bush, several thousand well- heeled locals and Euro-trash regulars, who smoke their Gitanes and engage in impromptu dancing out on the sidewalk. But Mr. Perelman, in his double-wide townhouse, is not one of them.
On July 29, the day that Mr. Delgrange’s license for a sidewalk café was approved by the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, Mr. Perelman’s law firm, Friedman and Gotbaum LLP, filed a lengthy opposition to the application, alleging that the restaurant’s clientele, with all their late-night boisterous revelry, were a threat to the well-being of East 63rd Street’s quiet residents. References were made to the “unremitting and unrepentant attitude of the operator, which as in times past, set tables far out into the sidewalk, permitted motorcycles to be parked on the public sidewalk, permitted its patrons to sit and drink on the stoops of the neighboring homes and has resulted in numerous visits from the police to quell the noise and direct the removal of outdoor tables and chairs.”
Elsewhere in the complaint, Mr. Perelman’s attorneys used Zagat’s restaurant guide to bolster their case. “We also observe, admittedly on a sardonic note, that even Le Bilboquet’s customers find the intolerable level of noise and attitude unique,” referring as it does to the Zagat’s description which refers to the waitstaff as “noisy” and “rude.” Shelly Friedman, Mr. Perelman’s lawyer, emphasized the legal point in a conversation with The Transom: “Do you know how many times the word ‘rude’ appears in Zagat’s? Once!”
Mr. Perelman went so far as to hire a private investigator, John Donovan, to monitor Bilboquet’s activities through video surveillance on July 22 as follows:
8.31 p.m. — Ten to fifteen people congregating in front of café
8.39 p.m. — Larger crowd drinking and congregating in front of café
8.56 p.m. — Crowd drinking in front of café
9.08 p.m. — Patrons now cover most of the public sidewalk
9.43 p.m. — Strolling couple has to maneuver to pass through the crowd
10.18 p.m. — Waiter serves drinks to patrons on the sidewalk
11.30 p.m. — Group continues to drink and café raises music volume
12.00 p.m. — Patrons continue to drink in front of café
12.52 a.m. — Surveillance ends
And Mr. Perelman has enlisted some allies of his own, including Andrew Stein, the former borough president of Manhattan, and Tosano Simonetti, former first deputy police commissioner, who have also filed letters of complaint. Granted, Mr. Simonetti currently works for Mr. Perelman as the head of security at his holding company, MacAndrews & Forbes, of which Mr. Stein is a consultant.
According to Mr. Perelman’s legal team, the community had not been apprised of Le Bilboquet’s intentions, the requisite letters never sent, and the notices never posted—therefore, despite the fact that Le Bilboquet already had their license, Community Board 8’s approval was retracted. So the boîte was forced back to square one. At a community-board hearing on Oct. 6, over a dozen fervent Bilboquettes came out in support, trumping the opposition, and a second hearing is scheduled for Oct. 13.
“The dog didn’t bark on time,” quips Ken Fisher, one of Le Bilboquet’s consultants, explaining that Mr. Perelman’s opposition was too late and excessive. “In my mind, the biggest problem on that block is un-ticketed double parking!”
This isn’t the first time that the restaurant has feuded with its well-heeled neighbors. In 1988, Dina DeLuca made the film A Table and Two Chairs, a fictional account of the restaurant’s struggles with certain neighbors opposed to its outdoor seating. At the end of the movie, Le Bilboquet is forced to remove its chairs from the sidewalk. Currently, Mr. Delgrange’s wife, Isabelle, is filming her own sequel, wandering the restaurant with a movie camera and interviewing its customers and neighbors, hoping for a happier ending.
There He Goes Again
“Good evening. Thank you all for coming. I wish there were a few more of you,” author Bob Colacello told the 22 people who’d gathered at the Barnes & Noble on 66th Street and Broadway on Oct. 6 to hear him talk about his book, Ronnie and Nancy: Their Path to the White House, 1911-1980.
As Mr. Colacello discussed his 608-page opus—the second volume of which will come out in 2006—a lady in the back was muttering, “Pfffhht!”
“I don’t like that man,” she told The Transom, meaning Reagan. “He killed people in Latin America, and what Bush is doing now—Reagan started it. I’ll tell you what he is: a Constitutional killer.”
Ronnie and Nancy began as an assignment in 1998 from Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who thought it was time to look at the Reagans again, from a personal point of view, as a couple, and to examine their social lives.
“Everybody said this couple was joined at the hip,” he told his audience. “You can’t talk about one without the other. I think that’s been the big mistake of most Reagan biographies, especially Edmund Morris’ Dutch: He left Nancy Reagan out. This man was so dependent on this woman.”
After some polite applause, Mr. Colacello signed a few books.
There was a much more enthusiastic reception the next night at Neue Galerie on East 86th Street, at a party thrown by Jo Carole and Ronald Lauder, who invited a mix of political, media, social and art-world swells, among them Carroll Petrie, Happy Rockefeller, Richard Meier, Sandy Gallin, Nan Kempner, Phyllis George, Ahmet Ertegun, Aileen Mehle, Ross Bleckner, Agnes Gund and Arnold Scaasi, along with some younger socialites and Condé Nast writers.
It must have felt like old times as a strolling violinist played the Reagans’ favorite songs, among them “Our Love Is Here to Stay” and “California Here We Come.” Mrs. Reagan approved the list and added a few tunes, including “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.”
For the next two hours, Mr. Colacello signed books in a room filled with decadent German and Austrian art. “I was trying to think of the connection between Klimt and the Reagans,” he said behind a Hans Hoffman desk. “And I finally figured it out: beautiful ball gowns.”
“Reagan’s great,” said Pat Hackett, who put together The Andy Warhol Diaries.
“Andy didn’t impose his will on anyone,” Ms. Hackett said. “Andy loved Reagan as a movie star. He thought he was so handsome, and that was Andy’s ideal look. He loved Irish guys.”
“Hail to the Chief” was playing now. Another detractor in the midst: Sandra Bernhard. “The Reagans were light, fanciful and airy compared to this era,” she said.
Host Ronald Lauder recalled meeting Ronald Reagan at his mother Estée’s home in New York, right after he became governor of California.
“I remember meeting him and not really knowing who he was, exactly,” he said. “I realized that there was such a strong quality about him. And I said to my mother, ‘Who is that?’ And—I’ll never forget it—she said: ‘That’s Ronald Reagan; he’s going to be President of the United States.” He added that his mother had always told Nancy Reagan to wear red.
“I just think he was a hero,” said theatrical producer Terry Allen Kramer. “I see him riding off in the sunset. He was the one guy that came from the media that made a great President.”
Any comparisons to make with George W. Bush?
“I know I’m not allowed to say it, but I happen to like Bush and I’m all for him,” she said. “I don’t think Bush can get his message across for one reason: He’s a bad public speaker. I think he should get up and say he’s a bad public speaker—‘and that doesn’t make me a bad President.’ I think everything was fine until the Iraq war. Also, being in the entertainment business, I have never heard such terrible Bush-bashing in my life than when I went out two weeks ago to open Moving Out in L.A. I couldn’t believe it. They just hate Bush. ‘Fascist!’”
Ms. Kramer said she was about to cry after having talked to Judith Miller, who was sentenced that day to no less than 18 months for refusing to reveal sources. “I can’t believe this is my country that I live in,” she said.
Judith Miller, who covered the President as a junior reporter for The New York Times, seemed in good spirits despite the bad news she got that day.
“He was the most gentlemanly of Presidents,” she said. “Once I was covering him, and a reporter dropped a pencil, and he interrupted the press conference and he went across and picked up the pencil and he said, ‘Here you are.’ And after that, there were no questions. He was fabulous—a great man to cover. All Presidents have their failings and weaknesses. As a man to cover, he was never dull; he was always interesting.”
Anything Reaganesque about Bush?
“No. No. No,” she said, laughing. “I’m not going to go there!”
It was getting to be dinner-party time. Leonard Lauder was standing by the front door as the guests exited.
He didn’t want to try to make any Bush comparisons.
“Much too early—I can’t,” he said. “If you look at the history, looking at President Reagan at the end of his first term, we forget that he was in trouble, and that many people were saying the same negative things about him that they say about President Bush today. And yet he has emerged as one of our great Presidents.”
“I think people are nostalgic,” Mr. Colacello said a few days later from his Hamptons house. “I watched the last debate Friday night at a friend’s house in East Hampton, and almost everyone there was for Kerry. But there were a few undecided people. And I count myself among the undecided this time around—and the reason being, both of these guys are just so boring and so scripted. Kerry’s obviously more articulate, but ‘I have a plan’—what is the plan?
“It’s cooler to like Reagan now,” he continued. “And it’s especially cooler to like Nancy Reagan.” Then he recalled his good friend Agnes Gund berating him over dinner at Nobu only a few years ago. “She said, ‘You’re a Republican? How can someone intelligent and sophisticated like you, who worked for Andy Warhol, be a Republican?’ And I said, ‘Aggie, part of the reason I’m a Republican is because of a question like that.’ You know, New Yorkers like to think they’re not provincial, but they’re provincial in their own way.”
It’s probably a good thing that Nicky Hilton married a money manager—husband Todd Meister has his work cut out for him. “Growing up, I was always borrowing cards from my parents, and I’d always, like, lose them. Then I’d get in a lot of trouble,” said the Hershey-tressed heiress. It was Oct. 7, and American Express was launching its new IN:NYC card at the downtown space Skylight. The new no-fee card operates on a point system that grants V.I.P. access to concerts at Irving Plaza as well as New York “experiences.” For instance, 50,000 points buys you an hour of D.J.-ing at the Whiskey with 10 V.I.P. passes for your friends and a free bottle of Cristal. As if to prove its point, AmEx had set up a special D.J. booth inside the party and commandeered Ms. Hilton, Nicole Ritchie, and The Sopranos’ Jamie-Lynn DiScala to each have a turn at the tables.
Ms. Ritchie, wearing a mustard halter gown that a friend had designed especially for her, kept turning around to flash the angel wings tattooed on her back. She said AmEx was her first and only credit card. “I’m a goooood customer of theirs,” she said. “Once I was using my mom’s credit card and, like, went crazy with it, so she, like, made me pay for it!” she laughed. “I don’t really hesitate when I buy something—I’m like, ‘O.K., I need it!’ and I always buy it.”
The Transom Also Hears That …
Don’t get too hooked on “Desperate Housewives.” In the entertainment world, it’s that time again—when Hollywood screenwriters wrangle over a new contract with the studio bosses, and there’s a slim chance that the scribes could go on strike as they did back in 1988. After turning down a $32 million three-year offer in June, the Writers Guild of America (W.G.A.) is back and ready to negotiate with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, aiming for a wage increase and health-care deal similar to that recently achieved by the Directors Guild of America.
Most of the studios are ready to cut a deal—except for Disney’s Bob Iger, who runs ABC, say several sources. “Iger’s the only holdout,” says one union member. “Disney often takes a hard line on unions. And [chairman Michael] Eisner is pressuring Iger to stand firm. If Disney refuses to go along, they’ll strike ABC.”
The ensuing fireworks could pose problems for Mr. Iger, one of the favorites to take over from the embattled Mr. Eisner, who has promised to step down by 2006. And it’s a nightmare scenario for the network, which with Desperate Housewives and Lost, is experiencing its best season in years. “Iger is trapped—he’s Eisner’s boy, but if he listens to the big guy, he’ll become an industry pariah, the network would lose their new season, the best one they’ve had in a long time, and he’d ruin any chances of ever being C.E.O.,” says an industry insider.
A spokesman for Disney did not return calls for comment. A press officer of the W.G.A. declined to comment.