The illustrious Rainbow Room high atop Rockefeller Center is up for grabs! Maybe.
On Friday, the ever-embattled Cipriani family, which has operated the hallowed 64th- and 65th-floor banquet hall at 30 Rockefeller Plaza for the past decade, was served with eviction papers, citing millions of dollars in unpaid rent.
In a statement, landlord Tishman Speyer vowed to “immediately begin the process of finding another great restaurateur to operate the space in the first-class manner that New Yorkers and visitors deserve.”
It was a tantalizing advertisement. As Drew Nieporent, co-owner of Nobu and onetime candidate for the venerable venue at 30 Rock, once told The New York Times, “Getting the Rainbow Room is like someone saying, ‘Would you like a piece of the New York Yankees?’”
Undoubtedly, many of the city’s most prominent restaurateurs would happily consider the hefty price tag—currently, about $6 million in annual rent alone, plus the potential headache of inheriting more than 200 high-paid union employees with a history of lengthy picketing campaigns—for a shot at the elegant 58,000-square-foot space, which first opened in 1934, with its soaring views of the city and famously revolving dance floor.
Eager applicants will likely have to wait a bit first. On Monday, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge halted the eviction pending a hearing on Jan. 27, a showdown which tends to favor the Ciprianis, whose lawyers are undeniably more talented than their cooks.
After pleading guilty to tax violations and agreeing to pay $10 million in fines, family patriarch Arrigo Cipriani, and son Giuseppe Cipriani, the company’s U.S. president, walked out of court last summer with a shiny certificate of relief from civil disabilities—allowing the pair to retain its empire of nine chic eateries and ballrooms around the city without suffering the usual regulatory consequences of a conviction.
Even the tough-posturing State Liquor Authority’s subsequent attempt to yank their highly valuable liquor licenses resulted in only a meager $500,000 fine; the Venetian family’s trademark Bellini cocktails kept flowing.
The culinary clan maintains a busy court docket, with ongoing suits filed by various former employees and contractors, all demanding monies owed.
With so much cash tied up in legal proceedings, it’s a wonder if anyone otherwise involved with the Cipriani organization ever gets paid, especially considering the grim outlook of the overall economy.
Last week, the Rainbow Room laid off more than 50 union workers and completely shuttered its Rainbow Grill restaurant.
When the Cipriani family first took over the space in 1998, it was the second-highest-grossing restaurant in the nation, raking in a reported $34 million the year before, according to the trade publication Restaurants & Institutions, which annually ranks the top 100 non-chain eateries across the country.
It has since fallen off the magazine’s radar completely, last registering a mention in 2004, with all eight Cipriani venues in New York at that time earning an estimated $24 million combined—barely good enough for 72nd place among the top 75 multi-concept operators nationwide.
It seems unlikely that Tishman Speyer would choose to bring back the litigious Italian restaurateurs—who’ve repeatedly slugged it out with the landlord in court over such things as metal detectors and fire alarms, and have publicly accused the landlord of a thinly veiled plot to convert the historic banquet hall into office space—even if they manage to hang on until their existing lease expires in 2013.
That means other top-ranked restaurateurs may soon get a shot to revitalize the once lustrous nightlife landmark.
Some brokers contacted by The Observer were already jockeying for the listing, though several cited the union issue as a potential deal breaker for many possible suitors. The union itself had no comment.