Robert De Niro, his hair gray and long, lurked in the moody dark of his own restaurant. Around him, flutes of Veuve Clicquot twinkled in the air. Mr. De Niro leaned against a delicate netting of palm fronds, designs that had been woven by Malaysian craftsmen but conceived on a computer.
“This is a construction party,” said Richie Notar, Nobu’s general manager. “Because we’re still training our staff.”
Although Nobu 57 is officially set to open during the first week of August, the curious pedestrians loitering on 57th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues who peered in through the two-story window can certainly attest to the construction’s completion. Entering past a curvy Botero sculpture—which had been hastily installed just before last week’s fête—guests meandered through a downstairs bar, over stone floors whose inlaid curves mimicked the flow of a writhing river.
“Whereas the old Nobu was more interested in landscape, the new Nobu is more interested in fluidity—in the image of a river,” said shaggy-haired architect David Rockwell. He illustrated this idea by running his fingers through the air, as if leaning over the edge of a boat and pulling them through water.
Nobu 57’s lucky diners will beach at the sake bar downstairs. It’s composed of three slices of the same walnut tree, and fig martinis look very pretty on it. Antique Japanese sake jars—$5,000 per—are strung with handmade rope two floors above them. Opposite the bar, low silk couches squat below chandeliers that waver with every clinked glass. “They’re made with baby abalone shells,” a hostess said.
After cocktails, the culinary upstream passes along the grand central staircase of warm cherrywood. “Here, wherever you go, things feel good and don’t just look good,” said Mr. Rockwell. “For instance, we covered the stair railings with soft leather. We invented new materials like scorched ash—scorched with a blowtorch.”
“Obviously, I’m in love with New York and that theatrical dimension of New York,” said Mr. Rockwell, “and I’m interested in the relationship between theater and architecture. In this restaurant, more so than the downtown Nobu, we’re interested in theater and procession.”
Speaking of the theatrical, the super-fun and Miami-tan ringmaster Mr. Notar was decked out for the evening in a delirious white suit. “I’d love uptown to be a little bit more of an event! I’m not looking to have guys come in with backwards hats and cutoffs,” he said. “Some days you feel like wearing sneakers, other days your Gucci loafers.”
Mr. Notar would like to merge downtown Nobu with Next Door Nobu to make a larger space, open to first-come, first-serve diners. “It’s like what they say when you have a new baby,” Mr. Notar said: “Pay more attention to the 2-year-old.
“We’re going to make it less aggressive. This will become more high-class than downtown,” Mr. Notar continued, speaking of 57th Street. “I think a lot of the wealthier people will be popping in: ladies who lunch, power tables with businessmen, tourists walking through New York, the bluebloods, the ladies who’re shopping at Bergdorf, Condé Nast …. ” Hey, lunch is on Graydon Carter!
It’s true that the power lunch is sexier than ever—and, of course, the 40 West 57th Street office tower above the restaurant houses offices for ICM. Hey, lunch is on Jeffrey Berg!
The menu includes Nobu’s signature dishes, as well as a new shabu-shabu section and dishes smoked in a wood-burning oven. “If you’ve been a fan of our food, you have to try the new one,” Mr. Notar said. “In the 11 years we’ve been open, we’ve had an incredibly eclectic crowd. We could have the Lauders at one table—and Jay-Z at the other table. And they’re having just as good a time as a rapper.”
But who sat where, gentlemen? “One issue in the old restaurant was that everyone wanted the best table,” Mr. Rockwell sighed. “And there was no best table, and everyone had a different idea about what the best table was. Here, we addressed that by creating several areas—each as good as the rest.”
Directly to the right of the stairs, one of several intimate booths sheltered Mr. De Niro. These are closest to the kitchen. On the second floor, diners can choose to moor at the long and low glass sushi bar. Behind the bar stools, several more booths mark off a ring of free-floating tables that lie just at the prow of the staircase: Surely these are the prime seating for the preening set.
But further back, an illuminated screen of palm fronds marks off the rearmost area, where, tonight, every table is marked “reserved.” To each person who kissed Mr. Rockwell on the cheek, he remarked: “Those tables in the back that say ‘reserved’—those are reserved for me. Just sit down.” Mr. Notar pulled out a reserved chair. Standing on it, he swished his hand along the ceiling (which, oddly enough, swished back). “This is my favorite; this is the greatest,” he said. “What do you think this is? It’s made of sea urchins!”
But seriously, c’mon: What’s really the best table? Mr. Rockwell, when asked what his own favorite table might be, let his democratic veneer fall away: “Definitely the V.I.P. table, with a hibachi grill.”
Yes, said Mr. Notar. And: “It’s not going to be cheap.”
While the rest of the second floor is walled with terrazzo inlaid with cross-sections of bamboo, this private table is marked off from the main dining area with a thin glass wall.
Which means that many of us may end up glassed out of Nobu 57’s V.I.P. hibachi grill. But the good news is that there’s another just a hundred yards away, in the very same building, at a dark, moody restaurant that’s also two stories tall: Benihana!
Is Nobu fretting over the competition? “Do you think we’re in the same league?” Mr. Notar asked. “I don’t think it’s even worthy of a mention. They don’t have hibachi tables; they have teppanyaki tables. That’s like a Hyundai of a car—it’ll be there to get you from A to B, but it’s not a Porsche. That’s what everyone does. Look at the Chrysler next to the Bentley. It is what it is.”
Harvey and the Ouroboros
When an anxious first-time novelist has good reason to be paranoid about her publisher’s handling of her book and then believes that her worst fears are coming true, does it make a sound?
Back in late 2003, when Miramax Books announced that it was buying a Devil Wears Prada–style roman à clef about Miramax called The Twins of Tribeca, written by a former publicist for Miramax Films named Rachel Pine, it sent a few media watchers into a twitter. The company pre-empted an auction for the book with a $400,000 advance, and people naturally wondered whether the legendarily thin-skinned Harvey Weinstein would try to influence the book’s content, water it down or even squash it altogether.
The author, Ms. Pine, hired a lawyer early on and said that she had an explicit conversation with Mr. Weinstein before they signed the deal in which he promised her that her book would be treated like any other and that it would receive the company’s full support in terms of marketing and publicity. When the book was released in June and was written about in a smattering of glossy magazines—including Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, even Time and its list of “5 Fantastic First Novels”—in addition to being granted a slot on the Today show, it seemed that the book had survived unscathed.
According to Ms. Pine and several former Miramax employees who are familiar with the activities of the Miramax Books publicity department, midway through the publicity campaign for Twins of Tribeca in early June, Mr. Weinstein was sore about some of the media coverage the book was receiving. One former staff member said that word came from Mr. Weinstein’s office that it wasn’t intended that Twins of Tribeca become a best-seller or make it to a second printing (beyond the announced initial 75,000 print run).
A key catalyst for Mr. Weinstein’s displeasure, according to the former staffers, was an article that appeared in the Daily News on June 2, which purported to identify several of the celebrities who were thinly disguised in the novel. In addition to “unmasking” Robert De Niro as “Eddie Di Silva” in the book, and Gwyneth Paltrow as the “Juliet Bartlett” character, the story instructed: “Watch PHIL, the fat one, eat an omelet with his bare hands” (i.e., Harvey Weinstein) and “See TONY, the frizzy-haired one, spew expletives from a yoga headstand” (Bob).
According to Ms. Pine, after the Daily News article had been published, and as her scheduled mid-June Today show appearance approached, she began to hear murmurings from people at Miramax that Mr. Weinstein was unhappy with some of the attention the book was getting, and she felt that the book’s publicity efforts—author appearances, advertising, radio interviews and local New York newspaper features—either dried up or never materialized as expected. As a full-time publicist herself—Ms. Pine’s day job is as director of marketing for Trader Monthly and Justice magazines, and she was trained in the dirty trenches of Miramax Films’ own P.R. department—she was probably a more demanding author than most; she said that her book was never pitched to gossip columns such as Page Six or to the Associated Press, that the book was left home from the Frankfurt Book Fair, and that the company didn’t try hard enough to sell publishing rights in the U.K. She said that the Miramax publicists discouraged her throughout the process from hiring her own publicist, which she eventually did.
Ms. Pine’s lawyer, Jonathan Kirsch, said that he was preparing a letter to be sent to Miramax Books, putting them “on notice of our concerns and our legal claims.”
"We are concerned that individuals at the company at which the publishing arm is a part may have made a decision not to honor the obligations they were under to give this book a fair chance in the market—by publishing it, by promoting it, exposing it to the media, making it available in the marketplace,” said Mr. Kirsch. “What we’re concerned with is that a decision may have been made to kill the book.”
It was surely no help to the cause of Ms. Pine’s book (as well as those of other Miramax authors) that the editorial and publicity staff of the Miramax books unit has been scattered to the winds in recent months, as the Weinstein brothers reorganized and severed the company’s ties with Disney, which owned the company for the last 12 years. (Jonathan Burnham, the editor in chief of Miramax Books who bought Ms. Pine’s novel, left the company for HarperCollins in March; publishing director Kathy Schneider recently followed him there; and Miramax Books publicity director Claire McKinney just announced that she was decamping to Holt, among other departures.) The Weinsteins are currently out trying to raise money for their new company, with the help of Goldman Sachs.
Then there have also been some difficult reviews for Ms. Pine’s book to weather, including a harsh write-up by Janet Maslin in The New York Times as well as a scathing one in Publishers Weekly.
According to Ms. McKinney, who is still working on Ms. Pine’s Miramax publicity campaign, she was eager for the book to do well, as were Mr. Burnham and Rob Weisbach, his successor as editor in chief.
“My impression is that this book is our big summer book,” said Ms. McKinney. “We put advertising into it; she’s been covered widely in the press. I got her a Today show booking. As far as the coverage you get for a first novel, this is pretty good. She’s had the same exact treatment as Bergdorf Blondes. I and the people who work with me in publicity have worked our butts off for Rachel.”
A spokesperson for Miramax pointed out that in Ms. Pine’s June 20 appearance on the Today show, she expressed some rather flattering sentiments about the Weinsteins to Al Roker. Harvey “kept his word the whole way,” said Ms. Pine.
Mr. Weinstein’s people e-mailed in a statement to The Observer: “We’ve had a good sense of humor all along and think that every story is good publicity for the book,” Mr. Weinstein said.
The Loneliest Mayor
Ah, the Republican National Convention. The most charming guests! And, of course, those massive protests and mass arrests ….
It went so well, it seems, that New York is hungry for the next one. (Or perhaps it’s just that Mayor Bloomberg isn’t happy unless he’s surrounded by crowds—how else might we understand his lust for stadiums and the Olympics?)
Not long after Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean came to office, he received an unexpected message from New York’s Republican Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. When Dr. Dean returned the call, Mr. Bloomberg offered congratulations and told him that he’d like to be the first to toss his city’s hat into the ring for the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
The Democrats, of course, snubbed New York for Boston in 2004.
"National political conventions are a huge economic boost for the city, and the Mayor wanted to get his foot in the door on the next one,” said Mr. Bloomberg’s spokesman, Ed Skyler.
Basabe, King of All Media
Last Friday, Fabian Basabe was introduced to The Transom by his publicist as an “actor.” The very next night, in the Hamptons, Mr. Basabe was ejected from the nightclub Star Room for a very good job of acting, although it was unclear if he was playing himself, a raging alcoholic or simply a man in search of publicity. For starters, he referred to staff of the hotspot as “Negroes” and became, as a witness later told Page Six, “very violent and aggressive.”
Mr. Basabe, a young socialite who has become quite well-known for partygoing and being talked about, succeeded in making himself the center of attention yet again: He scored lead items in both yesterday’s Page Six and Rush & Molloy.
The Transom, perhaps because it’s paranoid, wondered if this was the handiwork of publicist and rumored Basabe-frenemy Lizzie Grubman. (Besides, the very idea of a delicious celebutante catfight, with the backdrop of an East End party scene, sets one’s heart aflutter!) But no, our hopes were crushed. “I was sort of there,” said Ms. Grubman. Well: “I was there, but not for long.” But was Ms. Grubman the hit woman who sent the dirty Basabe business to the tabloids? “Why would I do that?” she asked. “That is clearly 100 percent not true.”
Mr. Basabe—who flew to Bologna on Monday, according to Rush & Molloy—didn’t return The Transom’s e-mails.
But Jo Piazza, one of the sassy young reporters of the Rush & Molloy column, did. “I wasn’t even in the Hamptons all weekend (I’m a truant gossip reporter), but by 3 p.m. on Sunday I had no fewer than six voicemail messages detailing dear Fabian’s late-night exploits at the Star Room,” she wrote. “The story had all the elements of a great gossip tale: drunken dancing, swinging from the rafters, ambiguous sexuality and racial tension.”
“I started getting texts about it on Sunday,” said Page Six’s Paula Froelich by phone. (Yes, be paranoid! Everyone around you is a cell-phone-wielding informant—except, of course, Ms. Grubman.)
And how did Mr. Basabe happen to score the tabloid twofer? “Every time we get an item,” said Ms. Froelich, “he calls up the Daily News and says, ‘This is what Page Six has to say.’ That’s a plot to get more and more press …. Fabian, like Paris [Hilton], has figured out how to get famous over nothing. And I give him credit: He’s done a great job. Hey—he taped an Oprah three weeks ago.”
Oprah! La Oprah! The mind boggles.
It is time, Mr. Basabe had said on the night before his Hamptons tantrum, “to give back to New York.” For some reason, he plans to do that by appearing in a reality-TV show.
Mr. Basabe and his fellow C.O.P.’s (children of privilege!) like Brittny Gastineau, Pat Benatar spawn Haley Giraldo and the Honorable Alexander Clifford (son of the 14th Baron the Lord Thomas Hugh John Clifford of Chudleigh, Devon) will get dirty for your viewing pleasure on Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive, which will air in August on E!
Apparently, the kids were transported to a ranch in gorgeous Steamboat Springs, Colo., and forced to corral 209 cows. Something, something, something (The Transom lost interest). “It was serious business,” Mr. Basabe explained. “Riding is one thing, herding cattle is another.” To make matters worse, “they took away our watches and cell phones.”
Mr. Basabe is intending to finish out the summer in Los Angeles and Italy. In September, he’ll return to New York with a vengeance to begin a “personal crusade to educate myself on local and domestic issues” in the form of a nonprofit he is starting called YVote.
It will be something like MTV’s “Rock the Vote” campaign, only Mr. Basabe promised that his staff will be “all registered voters.” Last election, Mr. Basabe actually had to call his father, he admitted, from the voting booth to ask about the issues listed on the docket.
“I want to educate my generation,” he said seriously.
—Raquel Hecker and Choire Sicha