Condé Nast may have overcome the cursed construction of its shiny new mecca at 4 Times Square, but a different kind of battle has just begun. As the July heat rages on, newly arrived magazine editors are descending to the Deuce armed with bottomless expense accounts only to duke it out with their neighbors at the New York Times for that elusive prize -- a decent Times Square lunch.
It's no secret which restaurants are Times territory. Orso and Coco Pazzo Teatro top the list; four or five tables of Times editors can also be found huddled over bowls of vichyssoise in the lower-rent Le Madeleine's back garden each afternoon. But those seats may not be secure for long as the neighborhood's four-star vacuum gives rise to a full-fledged Condé Nast invasion of Times-held turf. "I think we'll end up at Orso. Why not?" says a Vanity Fair editor who, like many, declined to be identified on the sensitive subject of lunch.
"I walked by the office the other day," recounts a horrified Glamour writer who moves in this week. "It's right next to a Dallas BBQ, and across the street is Margaritaville! I don't know how people will survive."
"This is serious," concurs Art Cooper, GQ's editor-in-chief. "It's a culinary wasteland over there. I think Four Seasons owners Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder are going to have to send limousines for us."
Despite a clear home-field advantage, some Times employees are already waving the white flag. One politically minded writer sees a silver lining, however. "People around here are hoping the enormous demand for expense-account lunches means more places will open up," he says.
S.I. Newhouse could start another magazine with the cash he's funneling into his Frank Gehry cafeteria, but few of his editors will be caught dead with a lunch tray. "It seems to violate the Condé Nast ethic," says Adam Sachs, a dandyish GQ staff writer. "Personally," he confides, "I have this fantasy of going to the All-Star Cafe and hanging out in my own baseball-mitt seat. And I bet Virgil's will be pretty popular."
"They'll take Virgil's from us," concedes a Times editor who predicts the paper's staff will have to pioneer farther and farther west, settling for Tenth Avenue dives. But not all glossy copywriters are looking to steal corner tables from Pinch Sulzberger and Bill Keller. "Truthfully, I don't think anyone will cross Broadway," says a writer at Allure. "I've been here two days and I'm still ordering a Cobb salad and a protein shake from Dishes," says Allure's fashion editor, Lucy Sykes, who expects she'll continue to head east to the Royalton for business lunches. "Someone said it's almost glamorous over here. I don't feel it's glamorous quite yet."
Many Madison Avenue refugees will stick to old routines, cabbing over to East Side favorites like the Oyster Bar. And now that street space has been reserved for their Town Cars, those at the top of the masthead may just forgo the neighborhood entirely. Graydon Carter plans to jet downtown to Da Silvano; Lucy Danziger, editor-in-chief of Women's Sports and Fitness, will go to Chelsea Piers for "an hour of sports."
But no one will be able to avoid Times Square forever. "There will be overlap, I'm sure," says Jack Rosenthal, a 30-year Times veteran. "But don't forget," he offers diplomatically, "there are a lot of friendships that cross the lines -- the most direct example being a person named Ruth Reichl."