The Second Coming of Swifty’s

Featured image
Dinner under the hanging garden at Swifty's Pool in Palm Beach.

Monday, January 25, 2021. A sunny, cold weekend in New York. Rainless, snowless — unlike Malibu where they had snow over the week (after a week of 80 degrees) – it felt colder than usual lately, with some wind checking to confirm.

Otherwise, the most interesting part was all in that first paragraph. New York is otherwise a quiet, dull place on weekends these days. Actually January can do that without any outside contributors because many people are away to warmer, sunnier climes. A scramdemic, you could call it.

Palm Beach livin’.

A good example is Florida these days among the madding crowds are a lot of New Yorkers including many who keep a residence down there and more in the past year who are moving down here lock, stock and barrel. From this vista it looks like they all want to live in Palm Beach. While there are residents there from all over the country and the world. But a lot of New Yorkers think of  it as Manhattan South.

JH and Danielle and child are down there as I write. As are his parents and his brother. Although he’s been trying to lay low, he’s been running into lots of friends, acquaintances and NYSD readers. Saturday night he and Danielle dined at Swifty’s — the PB version at the Colony on the poolside terrace under the stars. Personally I’ve been anxious just to see what the place looks like, having long been a patron of the late and great Swifty’s up on Lex and 73rd.

The entrance to Swifty’s Pool at the Colony Hotel.

As you can see from JH’s photos, it has much more table space than the New York eatery. And from the sound of it, it’s got a lot of the clientele or their next generation at table and at the bar. He said the place was packed. I asked him to send me a list of the regulars at the Swifty’s down there. He sent the following:

Pauline Pitt and Jerry Seay, Hilary and Wilbur Ross, George Farias, Beth Rudin De Woody, Pepe and Emilia Fanjul, Grace and Chris Meigher, Aerin Lauder, Pamela and Jimmy Finkelstein, John Loring, Elizabeth Meigher, Mark Gilbertson, Jonathon Tisch, Eleanora Kennedy, Jackie Weld, Gigi Mortimer, Mason Tisch, Webb Edgerton, Mary Hilliard, Alex and Louis Rose, Amy Hoadley, Meg Braff, Bruce Addison, Gigi and Harry Benson, Sarah and Andrew Wettenhall (Colony Hotel owners), Joy Ingham, Martha Stewart and James Patterson.

The bustling scene under the hanging garden.

I add: “to name only a few…” because the Swifty’s clientele is a kind of restaurant phenomenon. Its popularity in Palm Beach is related to its presence as a New York restaurant with a geneology as well as a community history. It started with an idea of a fellow named Glenn Birnbaum. Glenn was a New York businessman who, in the mid-1970s, opened a society version of P.J. Clarke’s – a New York tavern relaxed with sass, class and a good menu. It was a place where the clientele could feel “casual” while still occupying a notably simple table. It became a must go-to clubby, casual, celebrity-attracting restaurant for the rich, the chic and the shameless. And the price was right —  as you can see from the original menu.

Mortimer’s opening day menu, March 16, 1976. These were the prices of that time.
Swifty’a Pool, 2021.

Glenn died in the late 1990s. It had been thought by many that he would leave the restaurant to his maitre’ d Robert Caravaggi and chef Stephen Attoe. He didn’t. He left his multi-million dollar estate, including the building that housed the restaurant as well as his private apartment to a fund to assist AIDS patients. And that was the end of  traditional Mortimer’s.

Stephen Attoe and Robert Caravaggi at Swifty’s in 2007.

Nevertheless Attoe and Caravaggi knew they had a good clientele and they opened Swifty’s, a kind of son-of Mortimer’s, two blocks south. “Swifty” was a painting of a bulldog which had been a gift to Glenn Birnbaum and which he named “Swifty” after Irving “Swifty” Lazar who was a frequent customer when he was in town. The reputation, otherwise known as a marketing device, brought in the clientele as well as new younger clientele. The atmosphere was similar but the manner was more relaxed. Glenn Birnbaum, for example, could be obnoxious if he didn’t like a customer’s looks or attitude; they were not seated or served. The Caravaggi/Attoe style was the younger go-with-the-flow.

25 years later, the opening of Swifty’s at the Colony marks the third generation of a clientele as well as some of the originals.

The “Pool.”
The al fresco bar.

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