"Let me give you some good gossip," shouts Bruno Jamais, longtime maître d' at Daniel, above the jackhammering at his own restaurant, set to open on East 81st Street this fall. "There is a private party here tonight, and Daniel is preparing the meal!"
Juicy indeed, as relations between the two have been at best only civil since the famed chef laid off Jamais last fall and the maître d' went off to work at Ducasse, taking Daniel's client list with him.
Now Jamais is attempting to put those contacts to use at his own 75-seat private dining club called, inevitably, Bruno's, for which the chief criterion for membership appears to be cash. "The annual fee" -- which will be somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000 -- "will make the customer exclusive," Jamais insists. "You have no idea how many people go out and spend five, six, eight thousand dollars a night. After my nine years at Daniel, I definitely know who is who."
Jamais envisions the club as essentially a neighborhood joint. "The Upper East Side crowd needs a place where they can eat and hang out. But even if they live on the Upper West Side, I will take them." And he wants customers to have a more high-flying dining experience than he believes Daniel offers: "At Daniel, after two hours you just want to kill yourself."
He also says he'll be taking the wine list to new heights, with a $6 million wine cellar. "And we will be working with Regine's and Castel in Paris to have an international exchange of exclusive customers."
But Castel's general manager, Xavier Legrand, knows nothing of the arrangement. "I don't even know who is this Bruno, and we don't have any reciprocity with anyone,'' he protests.
Who are these exclusive clients anyway? "They will be men who are presidents and chairmen of huge companies," declares Jamais confidently. And the women? "They will be the wives of the presidents and chairmen!"
One man he plans to invite is financier Steven Greenberg, with whom he once had a contretemps back at Daniel. "He's the kind of customer I need," he says. But Greenberg's not biting. "He's one of the two most obnoxious maître d's I have ever met," he snaps. "You can be certain I'll never be there."
Jamais will even invite Daniel Boulud to become a member. "Is he happy that I will take his customers? I don't think so. But I have to thank him for giving me one of the most powerful jobs when I didn't speak a word of English, and for firing me -- or maybe I'd still be a bored maître d' on 65th Street."