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The Dish On Dinner

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DENISE RICH, Songwriter

Where: Fifth Avenue triplex with large terrace
Table seats: 22
Guest list: Michael Jackson, Marty Richards, Patti LaBelle, Joan Collins, Liza Minnelli
Menu: Often catered by Janice “Puff Mommy” Combs
Showgirl: Rich entertains anytime she can find an excuse—even when she was under investigation for Clinton’s pardon of her fugitive ex-husband, Marc. And there’s an indisputably Vegas-in-Manhattan quality to her gatherings. Last year, she threw Liza Minnelli a bridal shower, and one Christmas she hired drag queens to go-go dance on her terrace, which was lit up behind glass doors. And whom did she invite to the release party for Patti LaBelle’s CD Flame? Fire-eaters, of course.

“Her parties are like a night of 100 stars,” cries LaBelle, who often performs after dinner. “She gives the best parties I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a few.” And even non-singing guests provide plenty of free entertainment. “There’s nothing like seeing Joan Collins in a fur hat scooping up mac and cheese!” says another guest.

JEFFREY EPSTEIN, Money Manager

Where: East Side townhouse
Table seats: 30
Guest list: Mort Zuckerman, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, David Blaine, Donald Trump, Leslie Wexner of the Limited, disgraced British Cabinet minister Peter Mandelson, Bill Clinton aide Doug Band
Menu: Private chef, though last month Rocco DiSpirito cooked dinner after Epstein bid $50,000 for his services at a Hamptons charity.
Make it MY place: Epstein hates restaurants, so he often entertains at home. “The dialogues are so engaging that serving even the most extraordinary food sometimes seems inappropriate, like eating pizza at the ballet,” he says.

“I had rich shock!” one stunned guest says about Epstein’s house, which the owner claims is the largest private dwelling in the city. At a recent dinner organized by Ghislaine Maxwell, Blaine amused a group of barely clad models with card tricks. Alas, Clinton—around whom the evening had been organized—never showed, though his Secret Service would have appreciated Epstein’s numerous security cameras.

LIZ SWIG , Socialite

Where: 740 Park Avenue
Table seats: 22
Guest list: Dermatologist Catherine Orentreich, art dealer Andrew Fabricant
Menu: Seasonal fare by caterer Brian Culvert
Ain’t no mountain high enough: To celebrate her rock-climbing brother’s birthday, Swig had several hundred pounds of slate rock, wildflowers, and climbing accessories shipped in, and served trout wrapped in tin foil. The menu was superimposed over a photograph of her shirtless sibling dangling from a cliff. “It was mountainous in feeling,” she says.
Tip: As one guest puts it, “She spends a fortune!”

ALICE MASON, Luxury-real-estate broker

Where: Her apartment on 72nd Street and Lexington Avenue
Table seats: Several small tables of 8
Guest List: Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Barbara Walters, Woody Allen, Walter Cronkite, Norman Mailer, Charlie Rose
Menu: Always catered by Daniel Boulud
Business is pleasure: “She has the A-list of A-lists,” gushes Muffie Potter Aston, who knows her A-lists. And though Mason swears that “a good party can never be about business,” rival brokers grumble that she maintains her top clientele through her impressive entertaining.
Tip: Mason always personally calls guests to invite them and follows up with a mailed reminder. “If you were invited, you couldn’t say no,” says one friend. “You just wouldn’t.”

ALBERT DELAMOUR, Fashion photographer
MICHELE GAGNE, Private curator

Where: Soho loft
Guest list: Craig Filipacchi, architect Greg Sharp, Kenzo designer Gilles Rosier, “Cake” founders Melinda Gallagher and Matthew Kramer
Signature: After each dinner, Delamour documents the evening with a group photo, then pastes it into what he calls “The Dinner Book,” an archive of his family’s parties started by his grandmother in France, who once had Pierre-Auguste Renoir to supper. Guests then write in comments about the night.
Tip: Try English-style seating, where men sit on one side of the table and women sit on the other. (Apparently, it encourages decidedly un-English intimate contact.)
Surprise guests: In the midst of one meal, there was a knock at the door. It was two homeless gentlemen, whom Delamour promptly invited to join them. “Some guests were interested to discover something, a different part of the city,” he notes. “Though one couple left early. I think accidents are very important at a dinner party.”

CARROLL PETRIE, Philanthropist, socialite

Where: Fifth Avenue apartment
Table seats: Five tables of 8
Guest list: Socialites Hilary Geary and Jamee and Peter Gregory (“I’m not giving you any more names; most of them have as much publicity as they want”)
Food: Fish mousse, veal piccata, ice cream with chocolate sauce
Class act: For decades, Petrie has been entertaining for the city’s most-well-heeled guests. There are no tricks or entertainment, just classy hostessing. “Every detail is perfect,” says Karen LeFrak. “She’s a perfect hostess.”
Tip: Strategic planning. Petrie’s assistant stresses that her boss never visits the kitchen once the party starts: “She determines everything beforehand, so it comes off looking effortless and natural. She floats around, completely there and available.”

RICK MARIN, author of CAD
ILENE ROSENZWEIG, Swell Entrepreneur

Where: Flatiron loft
Table seats: 16
Guest list: Cynthia Rowley; talk-show host Bill Zehme; Tad Low, creator of Pop-Up Video; cartoonist Marisa Acocella; Silvano Marchetto, of Da Silvano
Menu: Rosenzweig cooks (or orders in) to a theme. “Violent food” was one—black-eyed peas, Bloody Marys, artichokes, broken ribs. If Marin’s in charge, he prefers to buy a bucket of KFC, which he decants onto a lettuce-covered platter: “I tell people it’s an old southern recipe.”
Guest strategy: Invite people you don’t know that well and take a chance. “There are too many parties where everyone’s known each other since nursery school,” says Marin.
Seating strategy: The goal is “maximum flirtage.” Couples are separated so that they are within eye- and earshot but not close enough to interfere with each other’s conversation.
A night not to remember: At a “No Time for Dinner” party, where every course was ordered in separately, from Lee Brothers boiled peanuts to a cheese course from Commune, all the food arrived out of sequence. Two “alpha comedy guys,” Tad Low and Bill Lawrence, a TV executive, started a fight that nearly ended in blows. To distract everyone, Rosenzweig took them all down to the street, where she’d arranged for a Mister Softee truck to be waiting.


TINA BROWN, TV host
HARRY EVANS, writer

Where: East 57th Street apartment
Table seats: Round tables of 6
Menu: Grilled chicken with creamed spinach, angel-food cake (catered by Food in Motion)
Guest list: Mayor Bloomberg, Martha Stewart, Steve Martin, Richard Holbrooke, Al Pacino, Calista Flockhart
Tone: Celebratory (possibly even self-congratulatory) in nature, Brown and Evans’s parties often feature a trophy guest—say, a movie star or visiting prime minister. And guests are encouraged not to be shy about their own triumphs. One visitor recalls that after Brown stood up to toast Evans’s latest book, four more authors promptly stood up to toast their own recent books, too.
Time’s up: Come 10:30 p.m., if Brown has had enough, she’ll switch the lights on and off to indicate it’s time to go.
Must-visit: The “loo”—it’s covered in carefully preserved press clippings about the couple.
Where do I sit? Brown’s good for celebrity sightings but not so hot on seating arrangements, which the couple often jettisons, leaving guests nervous. “It was a little intimidating,” says one visitor of a party given for Stephen Daldry. “You’re wandering around, and the only empty seat is next to Harrison Ford.” “She knows how to network but not entertain,” says another, equally intimidated guest. “It’s like survival of the fittest.”
She says: “People have developed what I call restaurant manners,” she complains. “They call up at 6:30 p.m. and say, ‘I’m not coming,’ so it’s difficult to do a seating plan. And I never let the eating part go on longer than an hour and ten minutes.”

RENA SINDI, author of Be My Guest, a book about her parties

Where: Her Park Avenue apartment
Table seats: 12
Guest list: Alexander and Alexandra von Furstenberg, Serena and Samantha Boardman
Menu: Lebanese entrées followed by chocolate dessert, catered by Huda Mansur
Feast your eyes: Last year, Sindi’s elaborate theme parties (toga, jungle, black-and-white) were the hottest ticket in town, since attending meant you could turn up looking fabulous (or embarrassed) in her book. The exhausted hostess has since cut back on her legendary entertaining. But her loyal fans still won’t miss a soirée chez Sindi.

“Sex appeal is the crucial element of her parties,” says W magazine social scribe Robert Haskell, who adds that she creates the mood with low lighting and well-dressed guests. While some complain that her parties go way too late and you feel “guilty” sneaking out before midnight, Haskell thinks it’s a bonus that “you may never leave.” “Rena’s all about getting people to dance after her dinner,” adds Jeff Klein. “And getting them to drink ungodly amounts of alcohol.”

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, Lawyer, Harvard professor

Where: At his Martha’s Vineyard home
Table seats: 12. “I like large parties, but my wife, Carolyn Cohen, prefers more intimate parties with six couples. That’s the one thing we argue about.”
Guest list: Harvey Weinstein, William Styron, Larry and Laurie David (“Larry’s from Brooklyn. Sometimes we’ll have theme parties where everyone’s from Brooklyn”)
Guest qualifications: “I rarely invite my academic colleagues,” says Dershowitz. “Most of them don’t make good dinner guests.”
Guest testimony: “Alan’s guests are creative, interesting intellects, not necessarily intellectuals, but witty or wise or profound or comic,” says one guest. “What bedazzles at Alan’s parties is not the jewelry but the conversation that issues from their lips.”
Seating arrangements: “One time, we had Yo-Yo Ma and seated him next to this federal judge. Who would have thought it, but Yo-Yo and this judge have become really good friends. We sat Joel Klein, my former research assistant, next to one of my former students, Nicole Seligman, and they got married.”
Table conversations: “Sometimes we’ll let our guests know two weeks ahead of time that after dinner we’ll be showing a film and having a discussion about it afterwards!”

STEVE RATTNER, Managing Principal of the Quadrangle Group
MAUREEN WHITE, DNC finance chief

Where: Fifth Avenue apartment
Guest list: Steve Brill, Harvey Weinstein, Hillary Clinton, Merrill Lynch CEO Stanley O’Neal, Arthur Sulzberger, Chuck Schumer, Wendy Wasserstein
Décor theme: The apartment faces the Met, and the art is just as good.
Upside: Unlimited networking potential. “It’s a terrific New York room,” says an enamored guest who crows over the heady mix of politicians, art-world luminaries, and journalists.
Downside: Unlimited networking potential. Says a past Christmas-party guest, “You feel like you’ve all been assembled there to hustle or so that other guests can hustle you. When you leave, you have to check to make sure no one’s taken your soul!”


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