The Dish On Dinner

Venue: Her Upper East Side co-op
Typical guests: Media mogul Mort Zuckerman, actress Marisa Berenson, artist Robert Wilson, designer Nicole Miller, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, vintage obsessive Tiffany Dubin, designer Douglas Hannant
Menu: Rare-tuna Oriental salad, chicken curry, banana-chocolate-chip bread pudding (catered by Robbins Wolfe)

It’s Tuesday night, and Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman is on his knees, mopping up Marisa Berenson’s spilled drink. She’s sitting next to burning incense, piles of orange spices, and candles in the apartment formerly owned by both Valentino and George Gershwin. “It’s Wasp Indian,” says socialite Debbie Bancroft, the current inhabitant, who bought the decorations in Little India with her florist, Matthew David. Bancroft certainly knows her Wasp. Her husband belongs to the Woodward family, immortalized in a thinly veiled Dominick Dunne novel, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, about a showgirl who shoots her wealthy Manhattan husband.

Bancroft looks calm, given that publisher Judith Regan, who only hours ago had threatened to arrive with Howard Stern and Roseanne Barr in tow, has just called to say she has the flu. “I heard all the build-up, but when I walked in the door, Debbie was pulled together like nothing had happened!” says the very social Chappy Morris, who often accompanies her to events. Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum phones from the Brooklyn Bridge to say she’s stuck in traffic. Over cocktails, Nicole Miller laments to vintage enthusiast Tiffany Dubin that some of her best early pieces, which she wishes she’d kept, are being sold on eBay.

Seating is delayed because Zuckerman and Berenson are stuck in the bathroom—he’s trying to coax up the balky zipper on her fly, a task that requires his reading glasses. Once he gets to the table, Dubin notes that her stepfather, Alfred Taubman, the incarcerated former chairman of Sotheby’s, says hi.

For someone who’s out almost every night of the week, Bancroft loves the intimacy of entertaining at home. “It’s like a lovefest,” she says. Berenson and Robert Wilson, who just met tonight, are finding plenty in common, as are Gotbaum (when she arrives) and Miller’s husband, Kim Taipale. “The people component is what it’s all about,” adds Bancroft.

Zuckerman remarks that he likes dinner parties because you always get the best table in the house. After Bancroft’s 6-year-old daughter, Serena, presents a chocolate birthday cake decorated with a lipstick pen to Dubin, the early-to-rise crowd, Zuckerman and Gotbaum, give up their seats to latecomers Louis Dubin and Beth Rudin de Woody, who had been at an engagement party in the neighborhood. It is another hour before the elevator creaks back up for a departing guest.

Venue: Loft in Chelsea’s Starrett-Lehigh Building
Typical guests: Designer Nanette Lepore, Paper magazine co-founder Kim Hastreiter, weaponry heir Chickie Ruger
Menu: Truffled duck-liver pâté, salad of radicchio and yellow beets with fig syrup, lemon chicken with saffron rice and green-pea purée, fruit compote, copious amounts of Perrier Jouët (catered by Serena Bass)

CRAAASH! Decorator Mario Buatta has brought a fancy wrapped package for host Hunt Slonem, but it drops to the floor with the sound of shattering glass. No worries, though. For in addition to being the king of chintz, Buatta is something of a prankster: He always brings a box of broken glass to parties to watch the host’s look of horror when it slips out of his hands (Candace Bushnell and Joan Rivers also recently fell for the gag).

Such antics seem perfectly at home in the Slonem residence, which has small pastel rooms containing eclectic collections of everything from preserved butterflies to ornate seashells. The large main room contains Slonem’s large oil paintings—devoted to chronicling the life of caged birds—and his numerous parrots. “It’s like a circus,” Buatta says approvingly. “I think those birds are going to swoop down on me. It’s theater!”

The birds never do attack, preferring to snack on water crackers. But the guests are getting hungry. The host’s brother, party columnist Jeffrey Slonim (curiously, they spell their last names differently), is still tinkering with the place cards. He’s trying to smoothly mix up Hunt’s old friends, like Chickie Ruger, with guests like caterer Serena Bass, who’s decided that Hunt is her new best friend. “He’s truly eccentric,” says the rather eccentric Bass, who designed the table, decorated with antique candelabras and towering white flowers. “He encourages me to go beyond.”

The war is on, but nobody is talking about Iraq (or anything of global import). Instead, they’re debating whether Hunt should have his own reality show and how Bass has hired extremely cute waiters. “What do I have to do to get a job with Serena?” asks Paper’s Mickey Boardman. And the host is definitely not one to instigate political debates: “I always think that it’s best to dwell on peace”—or at least pulchritude—“rather than the hysteria of unsettling world events.”

SAUNDRA PARKS, Floral designer
Venue: Flower studio
Typical guests: Earl Graves, founder of Black Enterprise; the Reverend Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church; wedding designer Amsale; André Leon Talley, Vogue editor
Menu: Flower salad, herb-crusted halibut, key-lime pie (catered by Great Performances), plus a cake by Sylvia Weinstock

Tonight’s theme at Saundra Parks’s studio is spring. Fists of cherry blossoms burst forth from antique hydrangea with blue, green, and red petals. Billowing lime-green fabric separates the dining room from the bar. A half-hour before guests arrive, Parks, still in jeans and a button-down shirt, is behind the curtain rearranging the place settings at the three round tables, each with its own flower theme. “I usually have only one table, but this time everybody RSVP’d!” She seats some couples together, but separates others. “I want to put them in the comfort zone,” she says.

Twenty minutes later, the first guest, photographer Peter Strongwater, arrives and marvels at the scene. “This is nicer than the million-dollar wedding I went to this weekend,” he says, grabbing a glass of white wine. As the room fills, everyone is talking about Iraq. “I’m a Southerner,” says one guest, “so everyone mistakenly thinks I’m for the war. Even my mother, who’s lived in the South 70 years, isn’t for it!” Moments later, Parks returns in a peach scooped-neck affair, designed by Douglas Hannant—also a guest—to herd everyone to their seats.

Parks asks the Reverend Calvin Butts, whose church she attends every Sunday accompanied by André Leon Talley, to say grace. Afterward, she eschews the halibut she’s catered for everyone else in favor of a chaste plate of steamed vegetables. “Amsale, we don’t see enough of each other,” she sighs to the wedding-dress designer. “We’re both entrepreneurs. We need to get together and share, my girlfriend!”

As Sherry Bronfman (the ex of Edgar Bronfman Jr.) powders her nose, the conversation nearby is less sunny: Internet entrepreneur Andrew Rasiej has started a firestorm by asking the pastor where the new generation of political leaders of the Harlem community is. “What about you?” says Rasiej, hoping to provoke Butts, whose wife quickly intervenes to note the daunting task of raising money.

At the hydrangea-themed table, Earl Graves, founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, has instructed each of his tablemates to divulge his or her life story. “We are wildly dysfunctional in our functionality,” says one guest by way of explaining her clan. “Every member of my family lives within four blocks of each other on York Avenue.” “Oh, this is a very serious table!” exclaims Parks, before novelist E. Lynn Harris and WNBC’s Dr. Ian Smith take their turn.

“There’s a baroque sense to Saundra I admire, but I love the fact that she’s a Vassar girl,” says Talley, crowning himself with his red fedora as he leaves. “When we go to church on Sunday, part of the experience is her ministering to us through the beauty of her flowers.” Some need that ministering badly, it seems—there have been fights over who gets to keep Parks’s arrangements.

But tonight, she receives her own gift. It’s a framed photo of one of Bill Cunningham’s pages from the Times “Style” section featuring Parks in a very wacky ensemble. “Not many people want to acknowledge this picture,” says Graves, “but Barbara and I are brave enough!” “You still get invited back,” says Parks, hugging him. “How about next Wednesday?” he counters.

Trophy Guests
They could be free next Thursday! And they’re only a phone call away. The who’s who list of invitees.

BOYKIN CURRY, Managing director, Eagle Capital
Venue: His apartment on Central Park South
Typical guests: City Council leader Gifford Miller, Corey Booker, Courtney Love, actor Mariska Hargitay
Menu: Artichokes, chicken potpie, ice cream with balsamic vinegar

It’s 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, and the strongest cocktail in evidence at Boykin Curry’s sprawling Trump apartment is Diet Coke—everyone has an early start tomorrow. Similarly, this is a crowd that likes its table talk serious, so Curry has asked his old friend Thomas Inglesby from Johns Hopkins to give a presentation on biological weapons before dinner. The group gathers around a coffee table laden with cheese—though the graphic photos of smallpox sufferers put a certain damper on the consumption of Brie. “A national crisis is no time to brood alone,” says Curry, explaining why he still feels like entertaining several times a month.

Curry’s parties range from elaborate (he once had an opera performed in the living room) to casual (McDonald’s apple pies for dessert) to unusual (catfights). Last year, Courtney Love crashed his Moroccan evening and got into a spat with Washington’s junior senator, Democrat Maria Cantwell, over the rights to the music of Love’s late husband, Kurt Cobain. “I’d better get out of here before I brain that bitch,” Love shouted before storming off with a plate of chicken tagine.

Beyond tonight’s smallpox alert, there’s another agenda: Curry wants to introduce Bill Clinton’s counselor Doug Band to Corey Booker, who narrowly lost the last election for the Newark mayoralty.

Celerie Kemble, Curry’s decorator girlfriend, helps usher everyone into the dining room, which she has optimistically designed with a centerpiece of doves. “This is a very good time for a home-cooked meal,” says Booker, “and the security of friends.”

JOAN RIVERS, Television personality
Venue: Her Upper East Side penthouse
Typical guests: Lady Dufferin, Leonard and Evelyn Lauder, Robert and Blaine Trump, Muffie Potter Aston, Princess Firyal of Jordan, writer Barbara Taylor Bradford, Aileen Mehle (W’s Suzy)
Menu: Wine-braised veal with morels, asparagus, and spring peas; white- and dark-chocolate painter’s palette by Fauchon

‘I always serve pigs in a blanket. Everyone loves them,” cries Joan Rivers, adding quickly, “And we’re having Spanish wines. Not using French was a conscious decision.”

Tonight’s dinner is for Joan’s friend Lindy, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, who has an exhibit of her paintings at the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries and is the daughter of the late financier Loel Guinness. Since Lady Dufferin’s paintings feature cows, the hostess has enlisted party designer Preston Bailey to create massive bovine centerpieces that tower over each table. There’s a gold cow for Guinness, a pink “showbiz” cow with heels and long lashes for Rivers, and a green cow inspired by her daughter Melissa’s recent stint on a reality show in the jungle.

“I don’t believe it!” gasps Dufferin when she first eyes them.

Dinner at Rivers’s house is almost as dramatic as the apartment, once owned by J. P. Morgan’s daughter. At one Christmas party, Phil Spector pulled a gun on Walter Cronkite’s daughter while the Gay Men’s Choir was in full voice. “It was very scary,” says Rivers. “Everyone still talks about it.”

She moves swiftly on to give Dufferin a brief bio of everyone coming. “I always make sure everyone goes into the dinner fully armed,” says Rivers. “Because you don’t want to get up from dinner and say, ‘Why did no one tell me he discovered penicillin!’ ” On their way out, guests are handed a gold-lamé gift bag containing jewelry and beauty products that Rivers hawks on QVC—as if Blaine Trump’s going to trade in her rocks for rhinestones.

JEFFREY LEEDS, Founder, Leeds Weld & Co., a private-equity firm
Location: His Park Avenue apartment
Typical guests: Leeds refuses to disclose his guest list, but it includes former Massachusetts governor William Weld, Rudy Giuliani, Sesame Street’s Joan Ganz Cooney, Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, and Sheryl Crow.
Menu: Carrot soup, Cornish hen , strawberry tart

When guests arrive for dinner at Jeffrey Leeds’s apartment, he’s often not there. “There’ve been times when they’ve had to start cocktails without me,” Leeds confesses. (He’s found that squeezing in a quick trip to the gym helps dampen the what-if-no-one-comes anxiety.) “It’s always awkward when people first arrive, but I’ve got it down now,” he says. “The last thing I do is leap into the shower. I’m combing my hair as they ring the bell. The fire’s set, the music’s on, the candles are lit. Then I get them a drink right away.”

Leeds’s fetish for long, argumentative dinners began at Yale, when he and his friends used to sit in the dining room for hours as a way of avoiding work. After a stint at Oxford, where lingering, this time at High Table, was a veritable religion, he returned to New York and has been trying to re-create such dinners ever since.

The Leeds theory of entertaining is simple: Anyone, he insists, can pick up the phone and ask anyone else for dinner. “Who isn’t intrigued by coming to someone’s house?” he asks. “Especially in New York, where it is entirely possible to know people for years but not see where they live.” He doesn’t believe in instructing guests on conversation topics. Before they arrive, Leeds carefully sketches out a placement on lined notebook paper—and leaves it to them.

Evenings can get happily out of hand—Kevin Kline recently broke a chair, and during one heated discussion about Iraq, Kate Betts suddenly stood up and demanded that Leeds stop cursing. “For me, dinner parties are the best way to get to argue with people in my own home,” says Leeds. “Actually, it’s very selfish.”

ZANG TOI, Fashion designer
Venue: His one-bedroom garden apartment on the Upper East Side
Typical guests: Arie and Coco Kopelman, Patty Hearst, Janice “Puff Mommy” Combs, Kimberly Rockefeller, Aileen Pei
Menu: Curry chicken with quail eggs, French beans with shrimp, coconut crème caramel

You can smell the spring rolls frying outside Zang Toi’s front door, which opens straight into his kitchen. “I’m playing!” he says. Toi considers a dinner party a three-day “production”—one day to plan, one to shop, and one to cook. Even his apron matches the wallpaper. Last night, he was up until 3 a.m. chopping veggies for the spring rolls. He wraps the trembling crème caramel with gold ribbon.

Tonight is a much-needed distraction for Toi, who’s nervous about his first trip to the Oscars. He’s presenting his current collection at Sharon Stone’s pre-Oscar benefit, and he’ll also be outfitting Farrah Fawcett and Paris Hilton. In New York, he prefers to hold dinners in his gardenia-filled courtyard, but tonight’s rain means he is forced to set up the buffet next to his bed. He serves “only champagne!” to drink, and the only thing he didn’t make is the large red-velvet cake, with his name written in icing, supplied by Janice Combs from her Brooklyn soul-food catering company.

As the assembled group piles on the coconut rice (it’s so good Combs comes back three times), the conversation never veers from Toi’s clothes or his cooking. Hearst is forced to eat quickly since she’s a guest on Larry King Live, to talk about Elizabeth Smart, the teenager who has been found that morning. “Coming to Toi’s is so much more special than those charity things at the Waldorf with the rubbery chicken,” she says before slipping out and climbing into a waiting Town Car. But that’s not the last we’ll see of her tonight. At 9 p.m., everyone climbs onto the bed to watch Hearst on Toi’s small television. When the show cuts to footage of her robbing a bank with a large machine gun, “Auntie” Pei (I.M.’s stepmom) nearly passes out. She’s just figured out who came to dinner.

Photo: AP Photos

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.

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.

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!”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

Photo: AP Photos

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.”

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.”

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!”

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!”

Photo: AP Photos

Where: West Village studio
Guest List: John Malkovich, Carolina Herrera, Taki, Nan Kempner, Ed Victor, Charlie Rose
Menu: Chicken curry and chocolate cake served buffet-style
Table Seats: Several long, rectangular tables for 100
the key: “I always move around,” says Von Furstenberg. “I behave as if it’s someone else’s party.”
The Vibe: Von Furstenberg’s massive loft is one of the best spaces for throwing dinner parties for her most intimate friends. To counteract Malkovich’s glower at one recent dinner, she sprinkled rhinestones on the tables. Then there are the stunning Warhols of (who else?) Diane. Expect a heady crowd of fashionistas and literary and media types, and if you can’t get a cab, ask to borrow her son Alexander’s motorcycle (he parks under the stairs). “I sat with Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne!” says Grove Atlantic publisher Morgan Entrekin. “To me, Diane’s parties represent the best of what New York is right now.”

Where: Upper East Side apartment
Table Seats: Two round tables of 12.
Guest List: Kenneth J. Lane; Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and his wife, Catherine; Ahmet and Mica Ertegun; Conrad Black; every second Monday, the editors of National Review
A good dinner needs: “A people mix, good wine, good conversation, and fun,” says Pat. “There’s a difference between their public life and their private life,” says one friend. “You see Bill Buckley yelling on Firing Line, but in private, their buddies are liberals, conservatives—they’re all over the place. They’re intimate, warm, and friendly.”
How often: “When the spirit moves me,” says Pat.
Guest testimony: “I love to go to their dinners on election nights,” says Lane. “Everybody is rooting for somebody else, so it is very lively.” Dinner music: “I had a dinner the other night,” says Pat, “and Bruce Levingston played part of the concert he’s playing at Alice Tully Hall. For 45 minutes, people were absolutely enraptured—then we had dinner. That’s the sort of dinner party I like.”
Menu: The Buckleys’ personal chef is in charge. As for guests’ dietary predilections, says Pat, “you can’t do good food if you pay attention to that sort of thing.” Cheese soufflé is always a winner to start.
Tip: “Never have a cocktail hour longer than half an hour. Whether they’re there or not, I don’t change the time of when we sit down.”

Where: Fifth Avenue apartment
Table Seats: 18
Guest List: Dick Cheney, Plácido Domingo, Bill O’Reilly, the king of Spain
Menu: Formal—salmon tartare, quail potpie, beef Wellington, deep-dish fruit cobbler (catered by Glorious Foods). She recently stopped serving French wine.
Duck and cover: “Conversation does get heated, no question about that,” says television host Larry Kudlow. “There’s a lot of strong feelings about war and terror.”
Tip: Keep that conversation off the record. People must be able to say anything. “Everyone knows there must be no laundry list in ‘Page Six’ the next day,” says Mosbacher.

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!”

Where: Westchester home
Guest list: Dan and Jean Rather, former CIA director Stansfield Turner, Charlie Rose
Menu: Thoroughly modern French fare by a friend’s private chef. “I don’t think people want to come over and eat sweet potatoes and turkey with gravy,” sniffs Mary, who was forced to call a temporary halt to the couple’s regular entertaining after her husband sprang to Al Gore’s defense at the last election. She adds: “David always gets a separate dish which is very plain. If I’m eating duck, he’ll eat plain chicken.”
Seating arrangements: “I never seat husbands and wives next to each other,” says Mary. “After the main course, David and I trade seats.”
Tip: Invite people from the arts, academia, and the political world as well as authors and media people. “We rarely have a dinner party where everyone does the same thing.”

GITU RAMANI, Publicist
Where: Union Square loft
Table seats: 25
Guest list: Moby, Nina Griscom, performer René Risqué (a.k.a. Andy Boose)
Menu: Indian catered by Bollywood City. Ramani’s friends often bring caviar and wine, so “it ends up being really nice and costing much less than it would,” says Ramani, a former producer for the Food Network. The last time Moby came, he checked the vegetable-patty box to make sure it was actually vegan. “I had to wipe the grill for half an hour in the bathroom,” she adds. “I actually feel guilty when people accommodate my vegan-ness,” Moby says hastily. “But grateful. And some of the best vegan food I’ve ever had has been prepared by people who normally cook with meat and fish.”

STELLA SCHNABEL, Self-proclaimed “wheeler and dealer”
Where: Her mom’s West Village townhouse
Guest list: Sean Lennon and Bijou Phillips, Zac Posen, dad Julian
Menu: Home cooking! Cheese croquettes, roast duck with shag-bark hickory syrup (gulp). “Stella has an open kitchen, and the food prep is something everyone gets to enjoy,” says decorator Alexia Kondylis, who finds Stella’s dinners cozy and relaxed. “It’s very spontaneous and never overorganized.” Schnabel also grew up watching her parents entertain and says her mother, Jacqueline, whom she’ll often enlist to help, is “the best cook ever.” “I always watched my mom when I was little,” says Schnabel, 20, who adds that her painter dad is a good cook but not nearly as “refined” as her mother. He makes up for it, however, by providing drama. At a dinner he hosted in his studio for 350 of his closest friends (Glenn Close, Al Pacino, Barry Diller, Mary Boone) to fête Before Night Falls, the cops had to tell the Cuban band to keep it down.

ANTHONY ROMERO, ACLU Executive Director
Where: Chelsea loft
Table seats: 10
Guest list: Danny Goldberg, CEO of Artemis Records; New Republic publisher Stephanie Sandberg; Harold Varmus, president and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. “I had a very interesting chat with one man who had been in jail in the seventies for protesting the draft,” recalls Goldberg. “Another friend had done time in prison for civil disobedience concerning Vietnam.”
Conversation piece: “To your left, people will be discussing clitorectomies in Africa,” says Sandberg. “To your right, Greek philosophy. In a very relaxed atmosphere.”
Food: Homemade. “My love for cooking and entertaining was the buzz at the ACLU because my predecessor, Ira Glasser, was known as this rough-and-tumble guy. They kept saying, ‘The new guy is a cook!’ ” A recent menu included arctic char with cream morel sauce, and Reblochon cheese cut in half and glazed in honey.
Must-have: Real silver and San Pellegrino.
Won’t allow: Smoking. “But I let people go in the stairwell.”
Memorable night: Amped up on Martha Stewart’s Weddings, Romero prefaced one dinner with a commitment ceremony for two friends. “I did the flowers myself, found the rice paper, learned to tie the bows, and made a chapel out of palm trees.”
Party disaster: “The time I ran out of rice. I had to go nouvelle cuisine, take out the Japanese plates, and convince people it was intended.”

Where: His triplex penthouse on Gramercy Park
Table seats: Buffets for up to 75
Guest list: Donald Trump, Roberto Cavalli, David Copperfield, Patrick Demarchelier
Menu: Giuseppe Cipriani caters a buffet, or Zampolli cooks a simple pasta with tomato sauce.
Modelizers, beware! “You think it’s going to be crawling with gorgeous, willing, morally depraved models,” says one guest, who also feels the need to describe Zampolli’s gym, which consists of a leopard-print couch, shag carpeting, and a Nautilus machine. “But you can’t really talk to them, since they’re all foreign.”
Tip: Never do a seating plan, says Zampolli. It should just be an “ebb and flow of beautiful people.”

VERA WANG, Bridal designer
Where: Park Avenue apartment
Table seats: 8. It’s round—“so nobody’s ever at the head.”
Guest list: Peggy Flemming; plastic surgeon Dan Baker and his ex, Nina Griscom; pro golfer Dottie Pepper; Bill Gray, president of Ogilvy & Mather NY; Cendant CEO Henry Silverman and his wife, Nancy; Wang’s 86-year-old father, C. C. Wang
Menu: An in-house Chinese couple prepares Wang’s famous Asian feasts—“Chinese pizza,” a dish made of scallions baked into dough, is a favorite. For Wang’s 50th, her husband, Arthur Becker, threw her an Indian-themed dinner party complete with saris and henna-wielding makeup artists on hand.
The vibe: Informal. At one party, guests brought their pets. “I had my two puppies,” says Wang. “Julie Minskoff brought her pet pig. Somebody brought a rabbit. Suddenly we were Old MacDonald’s farm. It was insane!”

MARJORIE GUBELMANN, Socialite Where: Upper East Side apartment
Table seats: 10
Guest list: Aerin Lauder, Michael Kors, Samantha Boardman, Harrison LeFrak
Menu: Homemade Thai chicken curry
Hostess with the mostest: The gregarious Gubelmann entertains about once a month for her close friends, with whom she works the junior charity circuit, and members of the old guard. “She is without a doubt the most gracious hostess of our generation,” enthuses real-estate scion LeFrak.
Tip: No dieting! “No one leaves Marjorie’s hungry!” says Jeff Klein, who loves Gubelmann’s wacky stories about her Palm Beach doyenne grandmother, Barton, who’s handed down some skating-rink diamonds.

REED KRAKOFF, Creative director of Coach
Where: Upper East Side townhouse
Table seats: 20
Guest list: Fern Mallis, vice-president of IMG; Kyle MacLachlan and his wife, publicist Desiree Gruber; gallerist James Danziger; illustrator Eduard Erlikh; Glenda Bailey; his downstairs neighbor, Mr. Heath. “It’s always good to invite somebody that nobody knows,” says Krakoff.
Invitations: Krakoff, an accomplished illustrator, makes his own. For a house-warming dinner, he sketched a row of red, pink, and purple townhouses on a tree-lined street; for an evening celebrating Kenneth Nolan’s work, he sent a Coach bag to everyone with an original Nolan screenprint on each. “People didn’t even realize what they had,” says writer Jeffrey Slonim, “but it was an original print by a major artist. I framed mine immediately.”
Menu: For small parties, his wife, Delphine, an interior decorator, churns out the French favorites she grew up on. Her last feat was boeuf bourguignonne. “It’s informal. Formal is not our personalities.”
Tip: “Make guests trade places in the middle of dinner—it reenergizes people. Don’t try to invite people to impress people. I’ve made that mistake early on where I was like, ‘If this person came, then this other person would come.’ You’re too stressed out. Like if I got Julianne Moore to come to my party—I’ve met her, we’ve done things together, and even though she’s really sweet, I wouldn’t ask her to my house.”

The Dish On Dinner