Actor Chris Noth, Crooner Gianni Russo, Restauranteur Julian Niccolini, Actor Dominic Chianese
Stepping into The Four Seasons on a recent Wednesday night felt like returning to a dream I’ve never actually had. The truth is I expected to find the usual Midtown Manhattan scene - with proper couples and business types, politely eating and sipping cocktails. What I discovered, instead, was a magically eccentric nightclub atmosphere from an era that cannot be easily defined because - like those hazy memories you have when you first wake up from a great sleep, exploring your most colorful thoughts - everywhere I looked there were inexplicable snippets of so many different places, times and personalities.
In one corner, tucked into one of the Grill Room’s legendary banquettes were a group of what appeared to be vintage Rat Packers, as cool and as confident as Frank, Sammy and Dean ever were. In another, a gathering of Eastern European millennial blonds, jealously eyeing a table of what appeared to be sparkling show girls and their pinky-ringed dates.
At the bar, perched on a row of the restaurant’s Mies van der Rhoestools, was a pack of ladies, impeccably dressed in their neo-Mad Men best cocktail dresses, while plucking fluffs of spun sugar from a platter of the restaurant’s signature pink cotton candy. The man seated quietly next to them - with a rope of gold around his neck that would make an 80s rapper proud - seemed oblivious to it all, as he listened to “Come Fly With Me” bellow invitingly through the air.
In the center of it all is Gianni Russo, a singer who is best known for playing Carlo Rizzi in The Godfather. Nothing if not a one-man block party, Gianni knows how to play his role and he’s genius at encouraging everyone in the Four Seasons Grill Room to embrace theirs, regardless of whether that centers on the fox trot, the bunny hop or modern day life in Manhattan where every worthwhile moment is quickly shared on social media through smart phones.
“Wednesday nights in the Four Seasons is like a time portal,” explained Sonya Chudgar, a 23 year old grad student who is studying journalism at NYU. “Being here is like stepping into a glamorous movie from the 50s - from the decor and Gianni’s crooning to the cast of characters who attend. It reminds me of the magic of Midnight in Paris- except it’s 8 pm and in midtown Manhattan.”
Showman Gianni Russo performs as Mister GoLightly (yours truly) leads the Cha-Cha line
The un-entitled eye would probably never guess that the director of this Fellini-esque film is the Thom Browne-suited man dominating the dance floor as he manages to get every part of his body moving in a different direction. And who could blame someone for not getting that the excited man, inspired by the beat of his own drummer, is Julian Niccolin, the Tuscan born restaurateur who has run the Four Seasons for longer than man of his guests have been alive?
“What do you expect?” Julian fired back when I asked the secret to keeping the Four Seasons relevant in the food and society columns five decades after it first opened in 1959.
“It’s very simple; it’s not very complicated at all. People want to have fun. They want to let their hair down. They want to be themselves. They want to be accepted. They want to be loved. They want to listen to great music and taste delicious food.
“It doesn’t matter where someone is from. It doesn’t matter how much money they have or who there grandfather was. Don’t you understand? Ooo-la-la, look at that one over there,” Niccolini drifted off, distracted by the red headed woman who was tossing a cloud of cotton candy toward the big time music executive who initially looked shocked and then tossed a handful back in her direction with a smile.
“Don’t you understand?” Julian repeated with a laugh. “In the Four Seasons it doesn’t matter. People love this restaurant because we love people. And on Wednesday nights, we go crazy.”
“Actually I do understand,” I tried to tell him, feeling like I’d once almost had a dream like this, but before I could finish my sentence, Julian was back on the dance floor, choreographing Midtown’s version of the Harlem Shake as he called me, feathers and all, to join the childish fun.
Honestly, how could I resist? How could anyone?
Photos Courtesy of @TheFourSeasons