Little coincidence that the Four Seasons restaurant, that seriously pedigreed masterpiece of midcentury grace, opened on the eve of the ’60s, on July 20, 1959. Like Le Pavillon before it and the Odeon, which came later, it was more than just another overpriced trough for the rich and famous. It was both rooted in the past and a beacon of thoroughly modern times: Spa cuisine began here, so too the idea of a “destination” restaurant, and who had ever heard of one of the most important architects of our time designing a restaurant? A dining room, mind you! In this case, two: Philip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe. But so it all began, and continues until July 16, when that party is over and a new one hopefully begins.
The saga of what some see as the barbarian at the gate’s hostile takeover—i.e., Aby Rosen, who owns the Seagram Building that houses the restaurant, isn’t renewing the lease of proprietors Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder. But it’s all not quite so simple. That’s for others to hash out. All I know is that there’s nothing else like it and probably never will be. And blaming the way it is on the way it was is a waste of time. Out with the old, in with the new. The interiors have been landmarked and let’s see if Mr. Rosen takes that seriously.
On July 26, Niccolini and von Bidder will put everything on the block in an auction, presented by Wright, held at the restaurant. By now, everybody knows that celebrity-driven auctions are the name of the game. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis sale in 1996 set the bar pretty high, with someone paying $14,950 for a print of Caroline Kennedy’s cat, Tom Kitten, valued at $50. P. T. Barnum was right—there’s one born every minute. But in this case, the products themselves are important midcentury pieces, whether or not Henry Kissinger ever sat in that particular Mies chair, or Angelina actually forked her chocolate velvet cake on the Ada Louise Huxtable dinnerware. I myself wondered what will happen to those shimmering metal chain-link curtains that brought energy and tranquility to the bar and the pool and whose delicious backstory is vividly recounted in John Mariani’s now out-of-print classic from 1994, simply titled The Four Seasons. (Alas, they have been landmarked and will remain in place.) The Four Seasons proved to the world that Americans were as sophisticated as any Michelin three-star Le Grand Véfour–going Frenchman. Julian and Alex, thank you and good luxe.
The auction begins at 10 a.m. on July 26 at the Four Seasons, 99 East 52nd Street, New York.