Earlier than the foodie revolution bothered New York’s eating scene, you could possibly decide a restaurant by the caliber of its patrons, not its chef. Mortimer’s on the Higher East Aspect had the perfect folks.
A brand new espresso desk guide, “Mortimer’s: Moments in Time” by documentary filmmaker Robin Baker Leacock, restaurateur Robert Caravaggi and photographer Mary Hilliard (obtainable March 22 on Amazon) appears to be like again at an period when socialites, celebs and the town’s strongest folks blended over cigarette smoke, bull pictures and vodka on the rocks.
One in every of New York’s best-remembered bygone boîtes, Mortimer’s opened in March 1976 at seventy fifth and Lex in a utilitarian area that quick grew to become the de rigueur eating dive of the nascent Studio 54 set — together with C.Z. Visitor, Farrah Fawcett and Iman. After the times of disco, its notoriously censorious and door-conscious proprietor Glenn Bernbaum continued to run the restaurant’s 19 tables like a social membership for gossip columnists and their prey — till his demise in 1998 ended the occasion.
“It was a saloon the place all people was dressed up,” Caravaggi, the restaurant’s longtime maître d’, instructed The Put up. In 1999, he opened Mortimer’s Upper East Side successor Swifty’s, named after Bernbaum’s beloved pug. It now operates in Palm Seashore, Fla., with a menu impressed by the unique restaurant. “Each evening we had Frank Owens on the piano beginning at 11:30 and we’d proceed until 2 a.m. It was a celebration place the place folks additionally had one thing to eat.”
Caravaggi says that he was impressed to create a guide after sharing a field of Bernbaum’s papers with Baker Leacock. It included authentic menus (lunch: hen hash, $3.95; hamburger, $1.90) and letters from the likes of Calvin Klein, Dominick Dunne, Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters, Irving Lazar and Oscar de la Renta.
“Mortimer’s was from a interval in New York that’s now, alas, gone: the interval of ‘the hangouts,’” stated Mortimer’s veteran and author Anthony Haden-Visitor of the outdated gathering spots reminiscent of Gino’s and Elaine’s the place the glitterati cliqued. “It attracted Eurotrash like myself but additionally loads of People and it was an ideal mixing place.”
What Haden-Visitor and the opposite contributors to the guide — which embody author Christina Oxenberg, Guggenheim Museum director Richard Armstrong and the late fashion icon Andre Leon Talley — keep in mind firstly is the sense of “being there” in “the room” with “the folks.”
“I keep in mind going there for lunches and seeing [former Vogue Editor-in-Chief] Diana Vreeland on the desk within the nook and seeing Anthony Quinn at one other,” stated Baker Leacock, who frequented the restaurant in its early days, ordering both the meatloaf or the hen paillard. “It was a really high-energy place. It was like a continuing celebration. There was a sense of pleasure and being carefree that doesn’t exist now in social life.”
However for un-bolded names it could possibly be a troublesome desk (the restaurant by no means took reservations, formally).
“Glenn actually made me really feel like an outsider that first time I went with my mom,” Michael Gross, who contributed to the guide, recalled. “He left us standing within the doorway so lengthy it was clear that nobody was going to return over and seat us.”
Within the guide, Averell Fisk (the grandson of the late William Averell Harriman, a railway inheritor and one-time governor of New York) recollects using his motorbike to the restaurant following his fortieth party to pay the invoice. Bernbaum threw him out for sporting a leather-based jacket.
“He instructed me I used to be dressed inappropriately,” writes Fisk. “He by no means noticed the test I had for him in my hand. Sorry Glenn!”
Gate-crashers hoping to soak up a slice of life among the many jetset, or spy Liz Taylor in line for the woman’s room have been bounced from non-public events, Caravaggi says, and generally the two a.m. crowd acquired a bit spirited. However patron and guide contributor Richard Iselin Mortimer (no relation to Glenn) had a get out of jail free card. One evening in 1983, he stumbled into the restaurant, healthily pickled and located the place utterly empty. So he determined to take a seat on the bar for a lark. When the police confirmed up — the door had been left unlocked and he had tripped the burglar alarm — he simply flashed his ID. The cops noticed the title Mortimer and he was despatched on his method sans handcuffs.
Not everybody acquired away with their crimes, nevertheless. When one of many Greek staffers came upon Glenn had written him into his not unsubstantial will, he hatched a homicide plot. “It was diobalical,” Caravaggi stated. “He employed a hitman, I don’t know if it was the FBI or what however they arrested him the day it was alleged to occur.”
By the Nineteen Nineties, Mortimer’s was so synonymous with the life-style of the wealthy and rapacious that Haden-Visitor hosted Bruce Willis there as analysis for his position within the movie adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities.”
Immediately, Haden-Visitor and lots of the guide’s different contributors, lament the demise of the nonchalant camaraderie that eating places like Mortimer’s impressed.
“It’s not simply New York. I feel that nationwide, the social glue has dissolved,” he stated. “Individuals have disconnected. ‘Good morning’ is seldom heard. Individuals look a bit shocked in the event you say it. It’s not simply folks taking a look at their screens, it’s a posh query.”
However whereas Mortimer’s might have been the correct place on the proper time – Gross insists that society scorching spots endure in covert pockets of uptown Manhattan.
“That [original] group has gone extinct,” Gross stated. “It’s a unique membership now. It’s much less WASP-y and extra Jewish. However so is the Higher East Aspect. There are nonetheless membership eating places stuffed with swells. However whenever you discover one, the very last thing you do is inform a reporter at The New York Put up about it.”