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39 Minutes With Ron Perelman

How the famously controlling billionaire teamed up with Jon Bon Jovi, Renée Zellweger, and Larry Gagosian to own a Margaritaville in the Hamptons.

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After years of being considered one of the city’s best restaurant customers, the billionaire investor (and occasional tabloid fixture) Ron Perelman has gone into the hospitality business, much to his apparent surprise. When people asked before, I just dismissed it, he said, emerging from a physical-therapy appointment into his hushed, art-filled offices in the East Sixties, wiping excess Ben-Gay off his neck.

He continues: My best friend in the world, other than Claudia Cohenhis ex-wife, who died of cancer in 2007was my associate, Howard Gittis, who also passed away that year. He opened the restaurant Amici in Palm Beach and then Savanna’s in Southampton. He loved being the host and inviting friends. I would say, You are crazy. People are calling and bothering you for reservations,’ and a guy would call him if he didn’t like his steak the night before. But he would get so excited and say things like I got my food cost down to eighteen!,’ or he would see a friend outside waiting to get in and would push him to the front of the line. I thought he was out of his mind. It’s like hotels. Everybody wants to own a hotel. You are cleaning up bathrooms and changing linens. Who wants that? Perelman, you see, likes a controlled environment. As anyone who’s passed by his highly secured East Hampton estate knows, he prefers not to be bothered.

And yet he’s now a partner with Graydon Carter in the just-reopened Monkey Bar, and is set to open a margarita joint in East Hampton’s fussy town center this summer called the Blue Parrot. Both of which he seems to think of as being nearly civic endeavors.

Since the 21,’ no place has opened uptown that is clubby and homey, and I think it’s important to have that, he says of the Monkey Bar. I don’t think downtown should be the only place to find a fun dinner that’s not superexpensive. He has similarly egalitarian motives behind reopening the Blue Parrot, an East End mainstay that has been closed since 2006. (Ralph Lauren had intended to turn it into an upscale establishment, but the plans fell through.) Blue Parrot was always a place everyonelocals and nonlocalsliked to go, Perelman says. It was fun, funky, and cool. I would fly in on Friday, walk around town, and stop in for a margarita, or I would drop by on a Sunday. Everyone was sad to see it go.

After Lauren’s plans faltered, I passed it one day and I mentioned the idea to Gagosian, and he thought it was great, Perelman recalls, speaking of the gallerist Larry, who’s also a partner. Then they asked restaurateur Andrew Chapman, brother of Perelman’s current girlfriend, Anna Chapman, to join the project (he owns August on Bleecker) so they had a dining professional onboard. The rest of the partners, Jon Bon Jovi (he and Perelman, a drummer, have jammed together) and Renée Zellweger, came about kibitzing last summer, he recalls. It was like, I want to be in that, too.’ 

The way he sees it, the Blue Parrot is going to be populist, or at least what passes for that in East Hampton. The margaritas will sell for $9 and dishes from $6 to $27, and it won’t take reservations. The news is that the local joint is back, and nobody should expect to see the owners performing or doing magic tricks, declares Perelman. I don’t think Steven Spielberg will come with twelve people. (Don’t say that. I don’t want to hear from Steven that he thinks he’s not welcome, chimes in Perelman’s rep.)

Perelman says his teenage kids are excited about the opening. So what happens when their friends start asking for tables? The place is small, only 55 seats; it’s already nearly a clubhouse. If you save five four-tops, that’s half the restaurant, he says. I think it could make some money; hopefully we don’t lose. But it’s a walking, talking way for us to give something back to the community. They even hired the original manager and bartender.

As a modern Orthodox Jew, Perelman has dietary restrictions. I don’t eat swordfish or sturgeon or caviar or fish grilled next to meat, but I do eat other fish, and we are going to have cheese dishes, what are they called? Quesadillas. There will be a whole section on the menu. I don’t think Jews like Mexican food that much, but a lot of people are vegetarians.

That said, I will not be that active at the Blue Parrot. If Larry wants to bus tables, he can.

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