It was the most effective present on the town, the society chronicler Dominick Dunne as soon as wrote of Mortimer’s, a brick-walled restaurant on the nook of seventy fifth Avenue and Lexington Avenue — supplied you could possibly get a desk.
From this distance, it’s not simple both to characterize and even comprehend the enchantment of a joint that from 1976, till it abruptly closed after the loss of life of its proprietor Glenn Bernbaum in 1998, occupied a singular place in Manhattan’s social panorama and even past it. Usually acknowledged to have been the clubby spot that seems in Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” Mortimer’s was so unassuming that scenes from the film have been filmed elsewhere as a result of, as Mr. Bernbaum himself as soon as mentioned, “folks from the Midwest wouldn’t perceive the plainness of the place.”
The décor was at finest primary: naked brick partitions, schoolhouse lanterns, a curved bar left over from its days as a saloon and bentwood chairs with arduous seats the Vogue editor André Leon Talley as soon as complained have been “tough for one’s backside.” The menu ran to nursery fare like rooster hash, salmon croquettes and creamed spinach, fairly priced (a hamburger in 1976 price $1.90) as a result of as Mr. Bernbaum as soon as additionally noticed, nobody is as low-cost because the wealthy.
The clientele at Mortimer’s was all the time the draw, and it was certainly a starry lot, as evinced by “Mortimer’s: A Second in Time,” a brand new espresso desk e-book by Robin Baker Leacock, with pictures by Mary Hilliard, to be revealed subsequent month by G Editions. The e-book illuminates a vanished social panorama populated by the moneyed, properly linked, celebrated and complex, a bunch that fitted Marlene Dietrich’s long-ago statement about New Yorkers that they’re continually hungry for all the things besides meals.
By broad consensus, Mr. Bernbaum, a natty former garment trade government who, as a part of his post-retirement second act, purchased an Higher East Facet constructing, was a curmudgeon. With no background within the hospitality enterprise, he put in his restaurant on a nook, wedged between a Catholic church and two now-defunct homosexual bars and proceeded to run it, successfully, as a non-public protect.
“It was a membership, principally,” the author Bob Colacello mentioned in an interview.
A person of contradictions, Mr. Bernbaum was impolite and sort, distant and heat, unhappy and sometimes cuttingly humorous. “Cerberus of the Higher East Facet,” is how Peter Bacanovic, a tech government and longtime Mortimer’s habitué, lately characterised the person. But, in contrast to the hound of Hades, Mr. Bernbaum ferociously guarded the gates to his demesne towards these he deemed the unwashed social lifeless, cosseting and fawning over the favored ones who made it previous the gate.
It’s instructive to replicate on how small, within the predigital world, was that group of largely self-selected elite that appeared to rule New York. Capital “S” society thrived in these days. Vogue was successfully managed by John Fairchild, the snobbish writer of Ladies’s Put on Every day. A good group of “confirmed bachelors” like Mr. Bernbaum, Invoice Blass and the socialite Jerry Zipkin — who in all probability had a greater hotline to the Reagan White Home than did members of the Joint Chiefs of Workers — subtly exerted their energy on the social scene. Decorative younger debutantes capered about in Christian Lacroix pouf attire. And the women who lunched actually did so — should you can name a meal three bullshots and a Craven A cigarette smoked in a Dunhill cigarette holder.
That’s how the editor, novelist and one-time gossip columnist William Norwich described his introduction to Mortimer’s quickly after its opening in 1976. Mr. Norwich first visited the place because the visitor of a good friend’s mom and returned by the years, drawn, as most of its patrons have been, by the eye-popping people-watching.
Invariable on Sundays, 1B, a desk to the precise of the window, could be occupied by Diana Vreeland. Nan Kempner sat close by and so, too, did the style plate and philanthropist Judith Peabody, topped along with her signature bouffant nimbus. On any given day, alone or together, as Mr. Dunne famous in Self-importance Truthful, one was prone to spot the heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, Barbara Walters, Jacqueline Onassis, Estée Lauder, William S. Paley, Fran Lebowitz, Henry Kissinger, Claudette Colbert, Katharine Graham, Mike Wallace, Lord Snowdon or Greta Garbo.
Few amongst these A-list movers and shakers survive any longer within the collective reminiscence, and so it’s as a doc of a vanished time that the e-book earns its hefty cowl value of $85.
Maybe a method of viewing Mortimer’s is because the sum of New York society within the days “earlier than P.R. dominated nightlife,” as Ms. Leacock mentioned from her house close to Palm Seashore, Fla. “In my thoughts, P.R. folks modified the panorama of going out within the night as a result of you must be on a listing, and the record didn’t even exist then.’’
Or if it did, it was primarily within the head of 1 sniffy, eccentric and autocratic restaurateur, a person who by no means took reservations however who did, in fact, as he instructed Self-importance Truthful, scrupulously run a joint the place we “care for our pals.”