“With friends like you, who needs relatives?” quipped Alex von Bidder, co-owner of the illustrious Four Seasons restaurant, after enduring a rollicking tongue-lashing on Tuesday night, May 5, from such luminaries as Pete Peterson, Martha Stewart and Liz Smith.
Hotelier Jonathan Tisch and restaurateur Drew Nieporent also piled on, during a Friars Club-style roast of Mr. von Bidder and his charismatic partner, Julian Niccolini, in celebration of the renowned midtown power-lunching spot’s 50th anniversary. It was a fitting tribute for a place where even the most high-profile patrons are served with a good ribbing from time to time.
“At the very least, these guys are extortionists,” charged the gossip columnist Ms. Smith. “Have you ever examined your bill?”
Ms. Smith went so far as to suggest that the pair were somehow part of a post-World War II plot against America: “After World War II ended, those of us who weren’t born yesterday thought all our problems with the Axis powers had ended. We thought we had the Italians and the Germans right where we wanted them. … Their contemporary descendants have made a fabulous comeback here … they are at the Four Seasons, where they pretend to be restaurateurs while plotting the downfall of our bank accounts!”
She added, “Alex will probably defend himself by saying he’s Swiss, or something like that, and Julian will say he’s from right at the top of Italy … he’s almost French!”
Most of the jokes centered on the restaurant’s hefty menu prices—the domestic diva Ms. Stewart, for one, looked forward to the day when she would have to pay $85 for a baked potato—or, Mr. Niccolini’s flirtatious modus operandi.
Bob Grimes, vice president of Citymeals on Wheels, the beneficiary of the evening’s $300-per-person five-course dinner, asked Mr. Niccolini to promise to (a) stop hanging out with reputed sex addict David Duchovny, (b) stop calling his private parts “La Conquistador,” and (c) remove the “oral exam” section of the female employment application.
Mr. Grimes also called on all the ladies in the room to prominently “return the keys to [Mr. Niccolini's] private apartment.” A lengthy line quickly formed to the podium. Prominent publicist Susan Magrino and even Mr. von Bidder’s wife, Sandra von Bidder, joined in.
Italian chef Cesare Casella, nicknamed the “Swami of Salami,” presented Mr. Niccolini with the gift of a four-foot-long sausage. Mr. Niccolini’s wife, Lisa Niccolini, accepted it on his behalf, noting, “It’s not as big as the original.” Mr. Niccolini later used it to take a swing at Vanity Fair writer Frank DiGiacomo.
Mr. von Bidder’s near invisibility next to his showy partner was another recurring joke. “Where’s Andrew?” pondered Ms. Stewart. “Oh, it’s Alex.” She added, “This is what happens when you are the lesser of two evils.”
Ms. Stewart also took aim at the famous eatery’s decor: “The walls say Phillip Johnson,” she said, “but the trees say Howard Johnson.”
Blackstone Group co-founder Mr. Peterson presented a video in tribute to “the greatest restaurateur in New York.” An image of Le Cirque owner Sirio Maccioni soon appeared on four giant flat-screens lining the pool room, drawing lots of laughs. Mr. Peterson then launched into another video, mockingly exposing the secrets of the restaurant’s kitchen, where empty wine bottles with fancy labels are refilled with cheap boxed wine and steaks are served after time on the floor.
Perhaps the biggest laughs came during rival restaurateur Mr. Nieporent’s profanity-laced spiel at the podium, during which the Nobu owner even took aim at other roasters.
“Sirio, I love you,” Mr. Nieporent said to Mr. Maccioni, “but someone should have told you this is a roast, not a fucking wake! You would’ve been funnier reading from the fucking menu!”
And to Michael Mondavi, Mr. Nieporent advised, “stick to the wine business!”
He also took aim at fellow restaurateur Danny Meyer, who was not present. “Danny Meyer was supposed to be here, but the Zagats called,” Mr. Nieporent said, referring to the couple behind the popular restaurant-rating guidebooks, “and he’s walking their fucking dog!”
Mr. Nieporent complimented the Four Seasons owners—whom he called “the Siegfried & Roy of the restaurant business” and “the most unlikely pair since Rocco DiSpirito and Cloris Leachman showed up on Dancing With the Fucking Stars“—for their Robin Hood–like approach to fine dining. “Rob from the rich and give to the poor,” he said. “Rob from Pete Peterson and give to [Four Seasons partner] Edgar Bronfman!”