Remembering Andrea Bronfman
“I got up this morning and saw the front page of the New York Post—the idea that someone would use the word ‘socialite’ to describe her …. If she was anything, she was the un-socialite,” said Doug Anderson yesterday. Mr. Anderson was a co-founder, with Andrea Bronfman, of the Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts, as well as a friend of the family. “That was just exactly who she wasn’t, and that’s why we loved her,” he added.
New York lost one of its most generous and original philanthropists on Monday morning, when a black livery cab struck and killed Ms. Bronfman as she walked her dog outside her 65th Street home. The 60-year-old London native and her husband of nearly 25 years, the billionaire and former co-chairman of the Seagram Co., Charles Bronfman, used their Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies foundation to award millions of dollars to charities around the world, especially in New York and Israel.
Andrew Tisch, co-chairman of the Loews Corporation, was a founder with Ms. Bronfman of The Gift of New York. “She came into my office four or five days after 9/11,” he said yesterday. “Everyone else was throwing money at the problem. What she said was that nobody is thinking how these families are going to go from grief to recovery.
“The day after Katrina,” he continued, “the first call that I got that morning was from Andy Bronfman …. Andy kept saying, ‘What can we do to take what we did with The Gift of New York and help New Orleans?’ That probably sums up what she was all about.”
Amichai Lau-lavie, a New York artist who befriended Ms. Bronfman after seeking her as a patron, and broke bread with her during Passover Seders at the restaurant City Hall downtown, said that “she had a no-nonsense, push-the-envelope sense” and described her as “irreverent and counterculture.”
“I had lunch with her just a few weeks ago—the Park Café, I think it’s called—and Andy, well, Andy absolutely hated the word ‘share.’ She hated, like, when people say, ‘Can we go around the room and share?’ ‘You can share a sandwich or a bed,’ she’d say, ‘but you can’t share an idea …. ’ Anyway, I said ‘share’ during the lunch, and she bristled—and then we laughed and spent the rest of lunch looking for synonyms.”
Mr. Lau-lavie performs in drag all over the world as Hadassah Gross, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor. He said that Ms. Bronfman loved the character. “She really got it—not many people in the world of money, philanthropy and art are willing to take a risk and walk the talk.”
Mr. Anderson recalled that “the first time all four of us went out, we went to the movies. We saw Jumanji. It was awful.
“She was fabulous—a totally no-bullshit person,” he said. “She was completely ecumenical about people. It didn’t matter who you were, it mattered what you were.
“To a large extent, everybody was equal. She could be talking on the phone to the Prime Minister of Israel, and if the postman came by and needed to talk to her, she would see what he needed.”
“He was striving for something that was serene,” said the owner of Morimoto, Stephen Starr, speaking of his restaurant’s architect, Tadao Ando. He whipped off his glasses and shooed away a handler. “The ceiling”—he gestured at what looked to be billowing fabric, but was in fact concrete—“is like a Japanese sand garden. He wanted it to be ethereal.”
More than 400 foodies turned up on Monday night to gawk at Morimoto’s 12,000-square-foot space on 10th Avenue and to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Gourmet. Fluttering saffron drapes ushered them in from the Chelsea Market sidewalk.
The restaurant’s namesake, Masaharu Morimoto—familiar to some as the perfectionist and minimalist-plating chef on the Iron Chef, and to other savvy eaters as Nobu’s former executive chef—circulated with a pack of photographers hot on his heels. He was clad in a silken olive and muted-gold tunic of sorts, his hair pulled tightly back, face bright.
Inside Morimoto, a wall made entirely of soft-lit water bottles hung elegantly from the top floor. Individual tables were enclosed between open walls of glass; the chairs were low-slung, with sturdy backs. Some partygoers likened the look of the place to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, but truly it was more Scandinavian ice hotel, igloo-chic. Mr. Ando’s past work includes the Church of Light—a Buddhist Water Temple in his hometown of Osaka—and designer Tom Ford’s house in Texas.
Mr. Starr, who was named 2005’s Restaurateur of the Year by Bon Appétit magazine and has numerous successful restaurants in Philadelphia—including the original Morimoto—had talked with the New York Post earlier this month. He said then that the last great restaurant openings in New York were Balthazar (1996) and Asia de Cuba (1997), and that Morimoto was like Nobu, but “elevated some notches above it.” And that struck many as overconfident, to say the least.
“I may have felt like that then,” he said. He laughed. “Now I’m nervous.”
Mr. Starr plans to open another Philly Asian-fused fave, Budhken, on Ninth Avenue early next month. “And,” he said with learned grace, “we’re in great company with Mario.” Indeed, Mr. Morimoto’s fellow Iron Chef, Mario Batali, opened his own ambitious 18,000-square-foot restaurant, Del Posto, right across the street late last year.
Moments later, Mr. Batali himself appeared on the scene, red-stubbled and buffalo-y, wearing his signature orange clogs—“I’m sorta over the whole orange-clog thing,” a guest was heard saying with a roll of the eyes—and embraced Mr. Morimoto.
As the two chefs made their way toward the back of the restaurant, the Cure’s “The Lovecats” began to play over the sound system.
“This is my dream. I am honored to be in New York City,” Mr. Morimoto said seriously. And later, as Gourmet editor in chief Ruth Reichl welcomed the guests, he happily did a little Elvis-y air guitar behind her.
The crowd was understatedly fabulous—though one standout included the silver Alexander McQueen–skirted Stephanie Goto, who has worked on the restaurant’s design team for the last two years—and could only be described as chef-tastic. Daniel Boulud, Michelin golden boy, as well as Eric Ripert, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and even failed reality-TV star Rocco DiSpirito all sampled Japanese lobster fritters, Kobe beef, sake-and-miso-glazed pieces of salmon, clear soup served in tiny espresso-sized cups, and something called “angry chicken wings,” which were served with a cooling cucumber yogurt.
Pearl Oyster Bar’s Rebecca Charles was there, along with food writers Calvin Trillin and Jeffrey Steingarten. Danny Meyer and Daniel Boulud posed together. Nobu’s Richie Notar and Matsuri’s Tadashi Ono looked on carefully.
The food kept coming. And coming. At the open kitchen, six sushi chefs had knives expertly dancing as they prepared giant plates of sushi and sashimi for the guests, who had dazedly plopped down to rest and moan happily. The fish, it was said, had been flown in that day from Japan, and there was talk of the Japanese-imported rice mill that Mr. Morimoto uses to make brown rice into white himself.
The cocktail of the moment—called Thunder Mountain—tastes exactly like one of those mystery “tropical” Life Savers. Multi-tiered trays of oysters and crab tails were replenished as soon as the last bit of meat was sucked dry.
The price tag for this party is sort of unfathomable: Morimoto’s future price point will be somewhere in the range of $25 to $56 dollars per entree. As platters full of meat and fish paraded by, one worker could only estimate the night’s worth as being “very expensive.”
Pat Oleszko, a tall woman encountered in the minimalist but beautiful bathroom downstairs, had empty cans of spaghetti sauce serving as bracelets and a giant headpiece that resembled a wedding cake. On the cake was written “65 Years Gourmet.” She said that she was a friend of Ms. Reichl’s and an artist. How long had it taken to assemble the get-up? “Mere moments,” she claimed, then swept out of the bathroom.
“It’s a great party,” said a beaming Steven Spinola, the president of the Real Estate Board of New York, “because we make lots of money off of it. We sold pretty much every ticket we could.”
That would be 2,800 tickets, at $800 a pop. (That comes to $2.24 million. We used a calculator!) Lots of money.
Jan. 19 was Mr. Spinola’s big night, because he was not only hosting REBNY’s annual black-tie banquet; he was also one of its top honorees. After 20 years as president, apparently, his board finally decided to give him his due.
“It’s just like any other year—and it will be, until I am up there and get it,” he said of the Bernard H. Mendik Award, named after one of the city’s largest property owners, who died in 2001. “I was very close to him, so it means a lot.”
Mr. Spinola was standing in what passed for the reception line at the intimate pre-party in a side room at the New York Hilton. This was where the 500 members of the real-estate elite showed up and met the people who could change their lives: Chris Quinn, the new speaker of the City Council; Scott Stringer, the new Manhattan Borough President; Amanda Burden, the chairwoman of the Planning Commission.
Hey, it’s just like being at City Hall! But with free drinks.
The dinner portion of the evening took place down the hall, in the Grand Ballroom. With a balcony around the edges, it looked rather like Carnegie Hall with a lot of ecru tablecloths. The dais was about large enough to fit the entire Politburo.
What people do at REBNY’s annual banquet is talk. They talk when the honorees up on the dais are talking—Barbara Corcoran also was one of them—and they talk when the singer sings the national anthem. They talk all throughout dinner in the Grand Ballroom, and they never sit down at their places. And they talk about how much they talk.
This year, the talk was about where the after-parties were going to be. Everybody was disappointed because Newmark Real Estate had cancelled its usual digestif because it had merged with Knight Frank, a British firm, on New Year’s Day; the company was planning something else down the line.
“Here, I have a list,” yelled a member of The Wall Street Journal’s advertising department, pulling a printed e-mail from her purse. “But wait—I can’t read it. Here, you read it.”
A few minutes later, the members of The Journal’s ad department were on their feet, wine glasses (and a couple of wine bottles) in tow, headed to the 44th floor.
There was a little confusion when almost the entire table boarded one elevator before realizing that there was no button for the 44th floor. They barely made it out alive.
“Come here, quick!”
“No, that’s only going to 34—”
“No, that’s down—”
And so on, until a wine glass fell and shattered as an elevator door was closing.
Stephen A. Schwarzman—whose Blackstone Group has raised $35 billion in alternative-asset management over a scant two decades—and his wife, Christine Hearst Schwarzman, who was dressed in a glittering sequinned and beaded ensemble, sashayed down the aisles of the 52nd Annual Winter Antiques Show gala last Thursday. They were only window-shopping, as Americana’s not exactly their bag: Their 740 Park Avenue abode is flooded with Art Deco/Moderne.
But all around them in the Seventh Regiment Armory, shoppers were snatching up such arcane items as 19th-century pie crimpers whittled out of whalebone, Elizabethan silver spoons (circa 1601!) and Nez Percé beaded baby booties.
By the time of the vernissage proper, while massive klieg lights mooned over Park Avenue, it was wall-to-wall people: Wall Street money, decorators and real-estate moguls, with a teensy-weensy dash of socialites—as well as Martha Stewart and Sotheby’s president and C.E.O., Bill Ruprecht. There was über-decorator Michael Smith, known for trimming up Cindy Crawford’s pad, who had high-rolling Los Angeleno Howard Marks, of Oaktree Capital Management, and his wife in hand.
Upping the style status quotient was Mercedes Bass: She even had her own antiques dealer—Sotheby’s former director of European furniture, Pete Hathaway—in tow.
All told, there were enough Goldman Sachs partners and Morgan Stanley honchos on the floor to start up a new bank. Call this the equivalent of the Chanel sample sale in terms of the crush (some 2,000 partygoers)—only it’s the guys buying nonstop.
And this year, it’s goodbye, haute 18th-century French gilt grandeur, and hello, American rural painted furniture and accessories! More than half a dozen dealers were hawking Americana trends—and prices were of the sticker-shock variety. An 1830 Pennsylvania candle box—considerably smaller than a bread box—painted with a checkerboard pattern went for $145,000 from Massachusetts dealer David Wheatcroft, who reported that 50 percent of his sales were to Wall Street guys.
Talk about opening-night mega-sales: Jeffrey Tillou sold American Primitive painter and Quaker Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom for $3 million plus. Alexander Acevedo achieved a hold on a Charles Willson Peale miniature of George Washington, with a wisp of our Founding Father’s own hair, for $1.5 million. Gerard Peters wrote up a vigorous Remington bronze of a cowboy on a bucking horse for $325,000.
The highly televised and taut-looking Leigh Keno, a dealer and Antiques Roadshow regular, wrote up a Queen Anne mahogany tea table for $425,000—a price that indicates the degree to which some collectors crave mahogany—and an 1830 Rhode Island Primitive portrait of an infant for $195,000. And that’s not to mention the Federal sideboard in gleaming veneer, an églomisé clock and an 18th-century hatbox covered in tattered period wallpaper.
Further accentuating the latest take on the country look is the enormous amount of treen—think carved wooden vessels and utensils like clumsy trenchers and primitive spoons. In a nanosecond, dealer Robert Young sold 15 pieces of treen, while dealer David Wheatcroft wrote up an 1800 wooden bowl for $8,500. (Secret: It’s only for gazing, since it’s far too delicate to be used for salads.)
Some designers deplored that look. Mr. Couturier, acclaimed for the Mexican estate of the late Sir Jimmy Goldsmith, said, “But there is too much of the same thing. It is all too uniform, very WASP-y and proper—not much glamour and fantasy, nor great, refined elegance.”
Weathervanes are bountiful like never before—there must have been more than 40 of the copper critters on the fair floor. A splendid centaur vane with touches of gold leaf zoomed away for a pricey $210,000 at the stand of Olde Hope Antiques, while Connecticut dealer Fred Giampietro sold a stag vane for $85,000 and a horse one for $95,000.
American-eagle items galore were swooped up. Continental Army commander in chief George Washington was also topping the popularity charts. Manhattan dealer W. Graham Arader III sold close to a dozen engravings of our first President—and one 1704 engraving went for $35,000.
But on the fair floor, the tidbits of conversation were not restricted to pricey Americana or antiquities. Some say that Ronald Perelman’s sudden divorce filing from his wife, the actress Ellen Barkin, was a hotter topic; after all, alimony falls right after year-end bonus in A-list conversations.
Still, could there be a deeper meaning to such unbridled passion for rah-rah Americana—especially so much George Washingtoniana? “Now, at a time when so few people have faith in government and the Presidency is taking a dive, George Washington items resonate,” said dealer Kenneth Rendell. He carried a copy of the Inaugural Address for sale; it was listed at $75,000 and was (surprisingly) still available.
—Brook S. Mason
The week of Jan. 16 through Jan. 22:
Whither Annelise? Whither Tinsley? After the blowout the week prior, which included the Chanel Rouge party, the socialites and socialettes lay low in the week that ended with the beginning of Sundance. Fabiola Beracasa may have had a strong December, but where is she now? And Cindy Adams, out at the Lou Reed exhibit, was actually sporting better hair this week than most of the gals around town.
Of the 62 gals and women currently being tracked by The Transom, exactly zero of them took home mentions in Page Six this week.
On Patrick McMullan’s party-photography site, they scored a bit better.
Allison Aston scores one picture, with Zani Gugelmann, at Lou Reed’s Hermès opening, as did Jackie Astier. Ms. Gugelmann took home two more solo shots.
Aimee Phillips, that crazy club girl, was shot at the Cindy Crawford and Patrick McDonald party at Indochine for Stephen Knoll.
CeCe Cord, Mercedes Bass and Aerin Lauder Zinterhofer all registered at the Winter Antiques Show gala, but somehow Amy Fine Collins took home an unprecedented six Patrick McMullan citations at the gala, including shots with Bettina Zilkha and Pat Altschul. In second place: Nina Griscom, with four photos.
Next week, expect an upset from the faux-fur-clad young set, thanks to the photo opportunities of Sundance.
Go ladies go!