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Russian Roulette


But over time, the angry accusations and tearful reconciliations took a brutal toll. Carolyn dropped out of Brown University to move home, Max was drinking and bounced through a series of schools, including his father's alma mater, Le Rosey in Switzerland, and Dwight in New York. Bridget had become close to her stepmother and was torn up by the split, fearing she'd lose the house her father built for her on his Amagansett estate. (Kay won the master house and 60 acres, but Warner kept the home he'd built for Bridget; in the year before his death, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an addition for himself there, a suite of rooms he never got to spend a night in.)

Jenny flunked out of Dalton and briefly spent time at a boot-camp-style school in Idaho that required chopping wood, 24-hour, no-sleep "emotional-growth sessions," and constant supervision. After two months, Kay, concerned about reports she was receiving about Jenny, flew out to see her, and when school officials tried to block the visit, Kay insisted on bringing her daughter home.

As Jenny tells this story she grows visibly upset. But she has such an essentially sunny personality that she wants to end the anecdote on a fiercely positive, what-I-learned note: "The biggest thing -- don't take freedom for granted," she says. "You put things in perspective. Look at the problems I have -- Gee, I can't get fabulous tuna, just great tuna? I have my health. I am living every moment that I can. You have to. It's so short. I'm so lucky that I'm 22 and I know that."

At the Russian Tea Room it's prime-time -- lunch hour on a sunny summer Wednesday -- yet the place is only two-thirds full. Failed senatorial candidate Rick Lazio is at one table, while Sam Cohn, the famous but fading ICM agent, is sitting in his usual corner banquette with screenwriter Alice Arlen. Cohn is one of the few showbiz icons to have remained loyal to the restaurant, rather than defecting to Michael's or other trendy lunch spots. "Jenny is a lovely girl," Cohn says, almost wistfully. "But the problem is, how does she get people back?"

She's trying, but it's hard to fix a broken restaurant. Warner bought the place from Faith Stewart-Gordon for $6.5 million, shut it down, gutted the two-story building and spent four years turning it into an over-the-top folly clearly from the same gene pool as Maxwell's Plum, with three upper banquet floors with Tiffany-glass ceilings, gorgeous inlaid wood and precious stones, a tree of Fabergé-style eggs, and five separate kitchens -- only one of which is now in use, a stark reflection of the slump in business.

"We used to say that ourparents didn't discipline us, so we had to discipline ourselves," says Jennifer LeRoy.Adds Max: "And we did such a good job of it."

To woo customers, Jenny asked Renaud Le Rasle -- a onetime personal chef of Warner's who took over the restaurant from the much-criticized Fabrice Canelle -- to add ladies-who-lunch salads and fanciful desserts. The day the menu is introduced, Jenny and Kay and I sample the new dishes. My seafood salad is fresh; so fresh that the calamari is completely raw. "This would have been fine if you ordered sushi," says Jenny, summoning a waiter. Moments later, the chef appears, apologizing profusely, all but committing ritual seppuku at the table.

Jenny isn't daunted by the idea of undoing some of her father's handiwork, though it won't be easy. One day she tells me she's planning major construction -- to put a dramatic stairway between the first and second floors to "marry" the rooms; a few weeks later, she says she's changed her mind, implying that Roth has advised against investing several-hundred-thousand dollars in construction now. She's even considered changing the name (and when I track down Stewart-Gordon, she admits the same thought had crossedher mind). "We have picked up business a bit," Jenny announces in mid-July. "I think we're secure until next year."

Last week end, however, gossip began spreading that Roth was making his move, trying to squeeze out Jenny and bring in another operator, perhaps David Emil of Windows on the World. The swirling story sent a scare through Jenny's executive offices. On July 30th, Jenny and Alan Garmise, the company's president and CFO and a part of the team since 1974, met with Roth at his office around the corner from the Tea Room. Jenny went in with trepidation but came out feeling optimistic.

"Steve has not mentioned anything to me at all about bringing in anyone else," she said the next day, while declining to discuss the meeting. She's moving ahead with plans: passing out 5,000 free-drink coupons to the Tea Room to get people in the door; working with Max to launch late-night lounge parties in September with D.J. friends Mark and Samantha Ronson, debating whether to book entertainment, perhaps jazz performers or even drag queens.

For now, Jenny seems to have bought herself some time. "Steve has always agreed to give me a chance," she says, flashing her most confident smile. "I have to make it work."


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