Some surprise guests showed up to a swanky wedding ceremony this past May at the International Toy Center on Fifth Avenue—cops.
When police arrived, the old terrazzo floor was cluttered with carpets, flower arrangements, candelabras, lighting equipment and tables and chairs for more than 130 guests, all leading up to a canopy in the rotunda.
Exchanging vows in the marble-walled lobby of the nearly century-old Italian Renaissance-style building, with its bronze doors and brass trim, might seem elegant and romantic.
Landlord L&L Holding Company considers it trespassing.
But the bride and the groom (court documents don’t give their names) were merely the victims and not the perpetrators that prompted the property owner’s angry call to authorities.
That swagger belonged to the Cipriani family, which runs a big banquet hall of the same name on the Toy Center’s ground floor.
Giuseppe Cipriani, the svelte, smirking, Rolls Royce-riding, 41-year-old Italian impresario who heads the family’s U.S. operations, has tangled for the past three years with L&L—and the Toy Center’s previous two landlords—over his outfit’s routine occupation of the lobby.
Late Friday afternoon, L&L decided it had had enough and served Mr. Cipriani with a notice of termination, effective Aug. 8. First thing Monday morning, Mr. Cipriani fought back with a $20 million lawsuit to block the eviction. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30.
THE TOY CENTER SAGA, now four separate case files thick, is just one of many legal melees in which this scion of Venetian aristocracy, heir to the legendary Harry’s Bar legacy, has entangled himself.
The most recent was his July 31 appearance at Manhattan Supreme Court, alongside his elderly father, Arrigo, for tax violations. True to form, Mr. Cipriani smiled for the cameras after copping a lenient plea with Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. Mr. Cipriani et père were back on the streets, and back to running one of the city’s most revered restaurant empires, in no time.
Mr. Cipriani’s company, Cipriani USA, operates several high-end restaurants and banquet halls across Manhattan; it currently pays about $36,000 per month for the 22,000-square-foot private-events space inside the Toy Center. The company has insisted that it has every right to expand operations into the lobby on weekends and after 5 p.m. on weekdays. And it contends the lobby usage was never an issue until its first landlord decided to put the building up for sale.
L&L, which bought the building for nearly $500 million this past April, disputes that assertion, pointing to prior “contentious proceedings” between Mr. Cipriani and both previous owners.
The latest landlord has accused the banquet behemoth of brazenly breaking not only its lease but also city code by continuing to clutter the lobby with tables, chairs, and other free-standing structures, and also blocking off entrances during events—“despite having no permits to do so,” according to court papers.
Mr. Cipriani has blamed the permit problems on L&L, which, he argues, has refused to sign the necessary paperwork. But according to the Buildings Department, the reason for disapproval stems from “concerns about egress”—not signatures.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cipriani and company have accused L&L of waging a nasty campaign to “unreasonably, maliciously and intentionally interfere” with the catering business and to destroy the culinary outfit’s reputation as a “first-class provider of hospitality services.”