Tuesday, October 3, 2023. Springtime in Manhattan? Temps yesterday were in the high 70s although frankly it felt a little cooler than that. But it was a sunny day again, no showers or even raindrops and you could feel the energy of the city of the first day of the new work week.
Back to business. Last week Quest magazine hosted its annual Quest 400 list reception/party at Doubles, the private club in the Sherry Netherland on Fifth and 59th. The Quest 400 has been with us for about 30 years. When I originally came up with the idea, it was a play on the original 400 list which belonged to Mrs. Astor who was the first queen of New York Society in the last quarter of the 19th century.
You’ve probably read about Mrs. A here before or in Quest. She was a formidable woman of power in her day when few girls (Queen Victoria was another) got to tell you what’s-what and what-for back in the day when few women were listened to — especially when a husband was disinterested and rarely present.
Mrs. Astor’s authority is what actually created the popular concept of Society in New York. The Astors were a very rich family a century after the first John Jacob Astor, who migrated to New York from Germany in the mid-18th century, made a large fortune selling raccoon fur hats and opium to the Chinese. He took those funds and eventually acquired a large section of undeveloped Manhattan real estate (all of which began with empty, uninhabited land all along Broadway — the native Americans’ main path on the otherwise uninhabited island), some of which remains in Astor hands to this day.
There were others involved in defining it, but Lina Astor’s “hospitality” was formidable like the lady herself. For her it was the number of people who could fit into her ballroom for her annual dinner dance over which she presided from a special seat bedecked in diamonds (and I mean covered).
Actually the number at her original party in her brownstone townhouse on 34th Street and Fifth Avenue (where the Empire State Building stands today) was less than 400 guests. Something like 359 was correct but Mrs. A had a publicist — one Ward McAllister — who knew a big round number would be remembered. And anyone who wasn’t on it (like you and me) never got on it.
Of course the 20th century had it own Mrs. Astor, a woman named Brooke who was the third and last wife of Vincent Astor, the beloved grandson of the Mrs. Astor. He was alive as a very young man when Grandmother gave her last ball at her newer, much much larger mansion up on the recently developed Fifth Avenue across from the recently developed Park. Her son, John Jacob Astor IV, who sadly went down with the Titanic in 1912, built the massive mansion on 65th and Fifth at the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th when New York society was moving uptown. That double mansion had a ballroom that could hold 1,000 guests for dining and dancing.
Chris Meigher when he acquired the magazine back in the 90s, saw its value as an annual social occasion to publicize the guests (and readers). Today’s 400 List is more democratic in nature than Lina Astor’s. And there’s probably quite a few more than the number of “the List” mainly because there are quite a few more New Yorkers than there than a century ago. Social relationships today are far more extensive and international and the result of a wide variety of individuals.
Along with the party’s annual hosts, Chris and his beautiful wife Grace Meigher, guests enjoy the annual party and the chance to see everyone attending. Summer is over and the Autumn events are about to begin in the Big Town, the Quest 400 party is fun for everyone. No requirements except to show up and enjoy the party, the Doubles special hors d’oeuvres, the libations, and seeing a lot of friends and acquaintances they’ve missed over the Summer when many New Yorkers are “out of town.”