The day after ...
New Year's at Swifty's.

Long Holiday Weekend in New York. Mild weather, often in the mid-50s, with some rain. The most un-December December in memory.

Presumably many New Yorkers were off to the mountains (out West) for skiing, or down to Miami and Palm Beach or farther south to the islands of the Caribbean.

New York was quieter in one respect: less business rush traffic but replaced by greatly increased tourist traffic. Nevertheless, the great, if not mass exodus from Manhattan, despite the accompanying influx, is a welcome respite, so that for us who remained in town, it was very quiet, with few appointments to keep, luncheons to make and deadlines to meet.

Friday night I went with friends to dinner at the new Ye Waverly Inn on the corner of Bank Street and Waverly. This is a new restaurant and an old restaurant, recently acquired and restored by restaurateurs Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson with chef John DeLucie and backed by Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter. Although it hasn’t officially re-opened, it’s definitely doing business. On Friday night the bar was packed with a young (20- 30-something) crowd, and so, for that matter was the dining room.

I’d never been there before so it is difficult to determine how much re-design and restoration went into the new business with the exception of the wonderful Edward Sorel murals that cover the main dining room walls above the wainscoating. Otherwise, it feels “old” (as in olden), like a cozy tavern, and dark enough so that it’s not that easy to see who else is in the long room besides those tables nearest you -- although I’ve heard it’s already a mecca for the boldfaced ones. I did see Charlie Rose occupying a tufted red leather banquette with a couple of young beauties.

Scenes from Ye Waverly Inn.

Probably because of Mr. Carter’s sponsorship, it is already a much talked about new restaurant and difficult to book a table. There were no empty tables when we were there. It’s got such great atmosphere – the low ceilings, intimate dimmed lighting, along with votives on the tables, dark wood paneling setting off the Sorel murals of famous and legendary New Yorkers. And the food? I had the country salad (frisee, bacon chunks, poached egg) and the Amish organic chicken and it was great.

Actually, as a restaurant location, Ye Waverly Inn has been doing some kind of business since 1919 when it was leased out to a brother and sister, Clarence and Edith Dettmer who agreed that they “wouldn’t sell liquor” -- although rumors remain that during Prohibition, the establishment was a speakeasy with a bordello upstairs, as was the case with many speakeasies.

Calling it Ye Waverly Inn and Garden, the Dettmers partnered with a man named Paul Piel, an artist-sculptor and scion of a wealthy Brooklyn brewery family. Mr. Piel, who among other things invented the transposing piano for Irving Berlin (who could only play the black keys – E-flat), designed the sign and the menu of the Dettmers’ new restaurant. Lunch was 65 cents. The early dinner menu (5:30 – 8pm) featured chicken pot pie and meatloaf, both for a dollar.

Mr. Piel was very much a member of the bohemiam set of the Village of that era, which was also good for business. During the 1920s, Willa Cather, who lived nearby, lunched there every day. Mr. Piel’s sister Agnes, who lived with child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim on West 11th Street, also dinner there frequently; as did choreographer (“Kiss Me Kate,” “My Fair Lady,” “Camelot”) Hanya Holm, Laurence Stallings (“What Price Glory”), as well as Stanley Watkins, a pioneer of film sound who worked on the first Vitaphone talking film short.

In the 1930s, Miss Dettmer married Mr. Piel and started a family while Mr. Dettmer met a woman named Phyllis Abel who worked as a secretary at (the original) Vanity Fair magazine for Claire Boothe Luce, and married her. Edith Dettmer Piel retired to bring up her family and concentrate on the violin, and the new Mr. and Mrs. Dettmer ran the restaurant, which remained in business long after even the Dettmers departed this world. By the 1980s, the restaurant had lost all of its allure, not to mention ratings with food critics. Mr. Carter’s new venture will undoubtedly change all that, enhanced by the fact that Greenwich Village is amidst a renaissance as a popular spot for the young and the restless, the creative and entrepreneurial as well as stars of stage, screen, TV and Wall Street. In the meantime, the crowds are already clamoring.

New Year’s Eve in New York was quiet on the Upper East Side, although a taxi driver taking me to Swifty’s for dinner told me that midtown it was a madhouse because of the million or so people congregated in the Times Square area for the lowering of the ball. They had to close off parts of 7th and 8th Avenues to accommodate the crowds.

Swifty’s was decorated with silver, black and gold balloons clinging to the ceiling, and lighted wreaths. Also packed, like the Waverly two nights before, Charlotte Ford was entertaining some friends (including this writer); Harold and Nancy Baker were dining with Mrs. Baker’s sister Tobie Roosevelt. Gerry and Pat Schoenfeld were hosting Casey Ribicoff, Tita Cahn and Tony Danza. At a table nearby was entertainment tycoon Herb Siegel with Jeanne Leff.

Scenes from Swifty's. Above: Charlotte Ford, Steve McPherson, and Diana Feldman. Above, right: DPC and Tina McPherson. Right: Tina McPherson and Richard Feldman.

New Year’s Day I finally got to see Helen Mirren in “The Queen,” a film about the brief martyrdom of Diana in a kingdom ruled by hypocrisy posing as history. It was an interesting and somewhat revealing take on what Real Life is like for the British royals and how out of touch they are with ordinary life despite their obvious humanity.

The official posthumous establishment take on The Princess of Wales was that she was nothing but trouble. She refused to go softly into that dark night although the prevailing view was that she should have. The Prince Charles character gripes to his equerry at one point in the film that she was two distinctly different personalities – one public and one private. The private one was said to be moody, paranoid, self-centered (except when it came to her children) and no picnic to be around much of the time.

Two distinct personalities – the public and the private – are almost always the case when it comes to the famous and the celebrated. The public idealizes for its own purposes. The politicians idealize for their own purposes. The individual is left to juggle the two.

Diana, because of her public image, which was every bit as legitimate her her “private” image, had great political power which she was required to manage while also being a kind of political prisoner. It was a no win situation for her, despite her obvious cleverness and willfulness. Despite her value, she had been stripped of purpose: they didn’t want her. Furthermore, according to the famous television interview she gave (and which is used in the film), she realized it.

The film reminds you of that terrible sadness that you might have felt at the time of her death. You are reminded of the tragedy of The Price a way of life can extract. However, her death solved a lot of problems for a lot of people, coincidentally or maybe not so. Helen Mirren’s Queen Elizabeth is both nice and unlikeable, both real and yet strangely irrelevant despite her historical prominence. She is also sympathetic only in the way that we are always sympathetic when we are victims of our own ignorance or naivete.


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January 2, 2006, Volume VII, Number 1


© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/