Making his usual rounds at the midtown restaurant Lever House on Monday, Oct. 20, restaurateur John McDonald stopped at table No. 24 to check on Blackstone Group Vice Chairman J. Tomilson Hill—“one of our super-regular VIPs,” Mr. McDonald said.
Mr. Hill was dining that afternoon with David Hamamato, CEO of NorthStar Realty Finance Corp.
The hospitable Mr. McDonald wanted to know whether everything was satisfactory with the two corporate titans’ Lever House experience; the titans wanted to know the same from Mr. McDonald.
“He’s like, ‘Everything O.K.?’” Mr. McDonald said.
The irony—bankers nagging restaurateurs about the current state of the economy!
These days, Mr. McDonald hears it all the time: “All these hedge funds guys are always asking me, ‘Everything O.K.?’ I tell them, being a restaurateur, you’re used to war all the time, with marginal margins, where even a bad snowstorm could take you out.”
It’s probably too early to tell exactly the full impact of the current financial crisis on the power-lunch circuit. (At press time, Steve Schwarzman had yet to be spotted at Red Lobster.)
But Mr. McDonald is already noticing a few chinks in his culinary armor.
“Mondays are a little softer,” he said, surveying the room around 12:45 p.m. that afternoon from the bar, where he was the lone stool-seated soul, sipping a cup of cappucino.
Otherwise, the roughly 150-seat eatery was mostly full, save for a row of four two-tops, all empty, and one VIP booth—later occupied by French financier Arpad Busson, actress Uma Thurman’s fiancé.
“Mondays now are so volatile,” Mr. McDonald said, referring to the stock market. “Maybe guys are just sitting at their desks and waiting to see what happens.”
“In our garden, we have five hedge fund guys in a row,” said fellow restaurateur Michael McCarty, who was greeting guests at his own midtown power-lunch mecca, Michael’s restaurant on West 55th Street, later that afternoon.
“In these crazy times, you want a haven,” Mr. McCarty said, surveying the crowd, which was otherwise mostly composed of various media professionals: “You’ve got Rick Stengel from Time, and you’ve got his buddy who runs MySpace, and you’ve got Arnold Scaasi, and you’ve got Kathie Lee Gifford in the corner there.”
Mr. McCarty said he was “very fortunate” to have developed such a loyal clientele, especially given the current economic uncertainty. “It’s like sailing,” he said. “You can sail in a fierce wind, you can sail in a moderate wind, you can sail in almost a dead calm, but you have to adjust.”
Earlier in the week, over at the classic midtown power-dining palace, the Four Seasons, ebullient co-owner Julian Niccolini admitted that “business could be better.” Then again, he said, “business could always be better.”
It was around 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 16, and every table in the Grill Room was taken but one.
Down the corridor in the Pool Room, all but five of the more than 30 tables surrounding the white marble pond were occupied. “As you can see, this is not bad,” Mr. Niccolini said. “Oh my God, look how many wine bottles are on top of that table—oh, she’s fucking crazy!” he stage-whispered, pointing to a virtual cellar arranged atop an anonymous customer’s table.
Back in the Grill Room: “Hello, Ambassador!” Mr. Niccolini warmly greeted Mexico’s ambassador, Arturo Sarukhan.
Winemaker Michael Mondavi was seated, rather appropriately, at the bar, fiddling with his iPhone over a glass of sauvignon blanc.
“Even Mrs. Murdoch is here,” noted Mr. Niccolini, pointing out actress Anna Torv, former wife of News Corp. mogul Rupert Murdoch, seated with their two sons, Lachlan Murdoch and James Murdoch.
“Nothing has really changed,” the restaurateur said.