May 13, 2009

The Four Seasons Celebrity Roast

It's no secret that I am a regular at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City.  Designed by Phillip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe, the Four Seasons is considered to be one of the most beautiful restaurants in the world.  Not only are the modernist rooms incredibly gorgeous, but the walls are decorated with many amazing works of art including Picasso, Miró, Pollock, and Lichtenstein.  To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the restaurant, a celebrity roast was organized, poking fun at the owners of the Four Seasons, Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder.  I was one of several speakers and it was a hilarious evening, to say the least.

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A watermelon carving of the owners of the Four Seasons - Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder

Here is the transcript of my remarks.

It is such a privilege to be here, to honor both Julian and... the other one.
Andrew? Albert?
[looking at Alex]
Alex! I’m so sorry. This is what happens when you're the lesser of two evils.

Anyway, when they told me we'd be roasting Julian and Alex at the Four Seasons, I said, "Finally! A new dish worth trying."

I've really been looking forward to this event -- mainly because it's the one time I'll be able to talk here for more than three sentences without Julian coming over and interrupting me.

At the Four Seasons, I am what you call a regular. Many of us here are. The question is, with so many other restaurants in New York, why do we keep coming back like expense-account moths to a money-burning flame?

First, it's gorgeous. Obviously. These are most beautiful rooms in New York. On any given day, you can come and eat and see so many amazing modernist works of art. And that's just the plastic surgery.

I'm not saying this restaurant draws an old crowd, but as of last year, the lunches are reimbursed by Medicare.

So it’s good we're doing this on the 50th anniversary, because if we waited for the 60th, the room would be me, Daniel Boulud [or name another younger guest] over there, and several dozen of the most exquisite bronze plaques saying in memoriam.

But we also come because the Four Seasons holds so many special, unique delights. Like when you're sitting at your table, and you see something that looks like a little wispy white cloud, bobbing above the heads of those around you as it winds through the tables, and you know: Someone is getting cotton candy for their birthday. Well, either that, or Graydon Carter has arrived.

By the way, I'll let you in on a little secret: Beneath both the cotton candy and Graydon's hair? There's ice cream.

It's hard to believe it was only 14 years ago that this restaurant passed into Julian and Alex's hands. It's seemed like Julian has had his hands on so many things in this restaurant for far more than 14 years. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about. Pete Peterson – you know what I’m talking about.

This used to be a nice place. It had nice touches—like those wonderful little silver bread compotes in which you served your mini croissants, bread and rolls. I’m told the compotes were designed by the architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable. I don’t know why she was designing tableware, but I liked those compotes. Then a few years ago, you stopped using them in the Grill Room. Julian, Alex, if there's one thing I want you to take away from tonight, it's this: bring those bread compotes back to the Grill Room, you miserable bastards! I'm not kidding. You ruin everything.

I think you’ve been playing a game: Let’s see what it takes to get the regulars to stop coming. You should know by now, the answer is "nothing."

Is there a limit to what we'll pay for mediocre food if we look good eating it? You know damn well there's not. I know the day is coming when I'm going to pay 85 dollars for a baked potato here, and I hate you for it.

And no, the tacky fake trees won't stop us. Nice try. We do need to talk about them, though.

It's a funny thing about the Four Seasons: The walls say "Philip Johnson", and the foliage says "Howard Johnson".

And I know you’re trying hard to drive us away with your unique sense of hosting. Rule One of which seems to be: when customers are having an important business lunch, never interrupt, unless you need to tell them about your beekeeping.

Yes, Julian and Alex do have interests beyond the Four Seasons.

Alex is a yoga instructor. I can't imagine what would make him take up a pastime that involves quiet and solitude. Can you, Julian?

And yes, as we all know, Julian is now keeping bees. He was given them as a gift a few years back. Which tells you two things about Julian:
First, he's the kind of a man to whom someone would send a box full of bees. And second, he's the kind of man who would open that box full of bees and say, "Clearly, these are a gift from one of my many admirers."

It's interesting: Julian’s is the only hive I've ever seen that has a seating chart.

Did you know Julian and Alex are writing a children's book! It’s true.
I know it’ll be a hit. It's about how to succeed in school by keeping poor kids away from your cafeteria table. It’s called "Oh, the Places You'll Go, Provided You Have Money and Remember to Wear a Jacket".

So I guess the question is, not "Why do we come here," but "Why do we put up with them?"
And the reason is simple: Not only is there no place like this; there's also nobody like these two men.
We keep coming to the Four Seasons because secretly, we love their company. So join me in raising a glass in a toast to this unforgettable pair, Julian and... what is it? Adam? Eric?
To the two of you!