Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Beautiful August days

Dogs anticipating their owner's return on 72nd Street between Park and Madison. 4:00 PM. Photo: JH.
August 20th. Beautiful August days. Lunch at Michael’s with Michael Shnayerson who writes on many different subjects for Vanity Fair, from polar bears and eco-systems to Kennedys to Hamptons real estate. We met many years ago when I lived in Los Angeles and he had to go out there to work on a memoir for Irving Lazar. He got over Irving Lazar but like others I have known, he never quite got over the life – the way we lived – in Los Angeles, and specifically the house on Doheny Drive where all kinds of things went on in the lives of mostly single 30- and 40- somethings all seriously embarked on one profession or another.

Michael rented a room that he came and went from, which helped the house treasury. After hours there were dinner parties and more dinner parties and parades of characters passing through. L.A – that part of L.A. which is about The Business, no matter how you fit in. And The Business is like this thing that lives with you, and therefore cannot be ignored no matter what you try.

Michael Shnayerson at Michael's.
I loved living in L.A. and I hated leaving, haunted (or so it seemed) by the thought that I wouldn’t “be able” to return. In life it’s eventually called Moving On. Kicking and screaming maybe, but… But that was then and this is now. Michael still often visits L.A. on assignment for VF. Usually to interview some hot young star. These are his whipped cream gigs. He told me that every time he visits L.A., he still makes a drive by that house on Doheny where he moved into the L.A. quite gladly. But only in doses.

More about L.A. Last night I went with Polly Onet, Steve Millington and Michael McCarty to Swifty’s for dinner. This was an occasion. Millington and McCarty, you might remember, are the host and owner of Michael’s restaurant where this writer lunched today. Because this writer often dines at Swifty’s and writes about it, they have long been curious to see what Swifty’s was like.

They got a strong dose of it last night. The place was packed. Dominick Dunne was there with Peter Hong of the L.A. Times along with (Mrs.) Shiru Hong and daughter. Mr. Hong was the forensic reporter on the Phil Specter murder case and is highly regarded in his profession.

Others: Kenny Lane was with Gale Hayman, Bill and Kitty McKnight were dining with friends, and at the tables next to them were Kathleen Hearst, Lee Thaw and David Beer. At another Jean Halberstam was with Chris and Grace Meigher. On the other side of us was Judy and Peter Price and friends. The bar and beyond: Norah Ephron and Nick Pileggi, John Yunis with pals Louise Goodman and Marcie Kaye Gottlieb, and scads more of that ilk.
Dominick Dunne with Peter Hong and Shiru Hong and daughter last night at Swifty's.
The talk at the tables these days is about Money. Not at all tables, obviously, but at many. It’s been a quiet summer in New York, even restively restful in some ways. But the times they are a-changin’ before us and it seems to be on people’s lips more and more. There’s also an odd lack of passion or maybe just plain interest in the Presidential race as if both candidates have lost a little of their luster, or perhaps are trying to avoid any extreme weather.

People are working harder, focusing for good reason. There are stories seeping out into the ether about financial pain felt among the rich, the chic and the shameless. Every few days, I hear another one; almost enough for a list. There is a woman, for example, one of the richest heiresses in America -- with a half billion in real assets. We’re not talking subprime in any way shape or form. Real Assets. And no cash to pay her bills. To pay her armies of staff who serve her and her multiple residences on a daily basis.

Her situation became so dire that her financial advisers, her lawyers, went out into the market place for a loan. “Distress loans” is the commonly used term for such a thing among these folk (or, rather, their financial advisors). They can be eight figure sums and involve a lot of solid assets as collateral. When this woman’s advisors paid a call to a major bank with the proverbial hat in hand, they were, in fact the lady was, turned down.
The scene at Swifty's.
There are other stories too, on the other side of the coin, ones we’re not as likely to hear, where the distress is physical and involves physical discomfort and even starvation and homelessness. This is a city with a heart for a safety net as well as thinning checkbooks. This will require working harder, focusing harder to keep the wolves from the doors of the most vulnerable -- the children, the elderly and the animals. While I was on the subject.

Meanwhile, the restaurants are jammed on a warm and mild evening in August. Polly Onet, who runs an event and party planning business in New York and Palm Beach said it was because people were hunkering down and hustling, i.e., really working and unwinding in a cozy crowd with some excellent comfort food. You could feel that energy at Swifty’s last night.

Meanwhile at our table we were guests of Mr. McCarty who loves food. When you dine with someone who loves food and wine, you have a good time because the food is the real host and several other guests. Michael seems to know this. He has a talent for good living. This is no small talent. Few of us really have it. We like to think we do but…we don’t.
Steve Millington, Polly Onet, and Michael McCarty with a sliver of DPC.
Michael does. You may have read about a visit we paid to him and his wife Kim at their house in the Malibu hills (NYSD 3/1/05). Anybody with half a mind could live the way they live. Their greatest luxury is comfort. That includes three acres of vineyard that surround the property and provide the wine for the table. At table, in a new (for him) restaurant, he helps himself to the menu and the wine list the same way he would at home. He tries things and with his professional knowledge of the grape, always adds a wine to it.

Small world. Michael’s in New York was previously a restaurant called Italian Pavillion whose owners included a man named Bruno Caravaggi. Mr. Caravaggi also owned another prominent restaurant called Quo Vadis. His son Robert is the co-owner (with chef Stephen Attoe) of Swifty’s.

It was one of those nights where the room was small and packed, the light was dim but bright enough to see across the table clearly. It was, as Michael McCarty put it, clubby, warm and clubby. As indeed it is. It is a neighborhood restaurant – albeit visited by Euros and South Americans frequently – in a part of New York that defines the world which this column reports on.

When the main courses were finished, on came the cheeses, and after the cheeses came the desserts. No more wines for those, just more of the same. I’ve eaten at Swifty’s hundreds of times but never like last night under the gourmandise of Michael McCarty. You can tell by the pictures that we were just eating and babbling, a conversation that lost its serious way almost immediately after having sat down. And having the best time doing it. In New York New York.

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