Intelligencer: January 3-10, 2005

Illustration by Vault 49

It Happens This Week
• Kids and politicians go back to school.
• Pataki delivers State of the State address. (Perhaps the dog ate his solution to the $6 billion budget shortfall?)
• Goofy rap icon ODB’s album is released posthumously.
• Michael Keaton’s message-from-beyond-the-grave flick White Noise is Hollywood’s sole new offering. (Cinema lovers are advised to see Taxi Driver at Film Forum instead.)
• And though it won’t open for a few more weeks, the Modern—Danny Meyer’s new restaurant at MoMA—starts taking reservations.

Photo: John Barrett/Globe Photos

Schrager’s Lure:McDonald’s on Gramercy
A boutique restaurant for the once-dotty old hotel.
Ian Schrager’s glossy remake of the formerly shabby-genteel Gramercy Park Hotel continues apace. After taking meetings with trendy restaurateurs from L.A. to London, the hotelier is signing a deal this month with New Yorker John McDonald, proprietor of Mercbar, Lever House, and Lure Fishbar. Because the hotel’s restaurant isn’t due to open for a year, McDonald isn’t sure about the menu yet, though longtime area residents shouldn’t look for a reprise of the lobby-level Polish diner that served $3.50 bowls of borscht back in the eighties. “It’s an interesting follow-up to Lever House for me—another project that involves a building with historical significance,’’ says McDonald, who will insert the 140-seat brasserie in the southeast corner of the building, abutting the park. However, he says there are no plans for an Edith Wharton theme for the place.
—Beth Landman

Photo: Andrea Renault/Globe Photos

Chiat House Finally Sees Closing Day
Plus: A new Kennedy secret?
Like the Energizer Bunny his firm created, the sale of the late ad guru Jay Chiat’s Sagaponack home kept going … and going … It took seven months, three real-estate brokers, five lawyers, and a lengthy court battle between Chiat’s widow and her stepchildren, but fashion designer Elie Tahari got the 2.3-acre oceanfront house in the end—for just $12.1 million. “I wouldn’t say it was contentious,” says Corcoran’s Diane Saatchi, who did the deal with Gary DePersia of Allan Schneider, “but it was complicated.” We hope he didn’t move there to live near Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. Just weeks after Sotheby’s announced she would be auctioning off items from her family’s New Jersey, Virginia, and Martha’s Vineyard homes (including horse blankets with her mother’s monogram), word is spreading that she’s quietly been showing her three-acre Sagaponack Road place. “They’re asking $5.5 million,” says our source. “The interior and kitchen and bathrooms are dated.” Not that Caroline’s there much anyway. Says one local, “She spends more time on the Cape.”
—Jacob Bernstein

Photo: Alen MacWeeney/Corbis

Où Sont les Chefs?
Food Networkgoes all-American.
Has the Food Network been conscripted into the coalition of the willing? Restaurant-industry insiders are wondering why the channel seems to be giving such a chilly reception to French cuisine. The evidence? Stillborn talks with chef Claude Troisgros (the show was to be called Caviar & Banana, like his new restaurant), the fact that Frederic van Coppernolle, from How to Boil Water, has been replaced by all-American Tyler Florence, and that the only French chef with a series is chocolate savant Jacques Torres. Management “wants an accessible American lineup, lots of Midwesterners like Rachael Ray,’’ says a source close to one of the shows. Mais non! insists Allison Page, director of programming at the Food Network, who says that while the channel does do viewer research to judge hosts’ appeal, she doesn’t believe it’s interested in serving up only freedom fries. “Sometimes we know that viewers have trouble with heavy accents,” says Page, who had no knowledge of talks with Troisgros. “Rachael Ray inspiring you to make boeuf bourguignonne is just as effective in promoting French cuisine.” In any case, French gastronomy might not be sorely missed—the network’s ratings sweet spot is Unwrapped, about candy and snacks.
—Beth Landman

CEO vs. MTA
Save us, Westchester! Biz leaders look to the burbs to help fix mass transit.
New York business leaders are so panicked about the MTA’s fiscal ineptitude that they’re taking emergency action: teaming up with suburban business leaders. Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, a group of 200 CEOs (including Henry Kravis, Richard Parsons, and Jerry Speyer), says the business elite views a working transit system as a “top priority” for ensuring the city’s long-term health (and that of their own investments). And they’re not so keen on the MTA’s tax-hike proposals. So they’re joining forces with corporate leaders in the Long Island Association and the Westchester County Association to fund research into “alternative solutions” of their own. But why involve the suburbanites? “We don’t think the MTA’s plan necessarily matches up with the realities of today’s regional transportation demands,” including the rise of the reverse commute, Wylde says. Among the ideas they’re studying: a London-style congestion fee for the center city, and giving that money to mass transit. Not that charging extra to drive into the city seems very suburbanite-friendly.
—Greg Sargent

Car Dispatch
The seven sevens doesn’t get you to Tel Aviv anymore.
Where’d Tel Aviv Car Service go? Over the past 25 years, thanks to those ubiquitous low-rent TV ads, it has become part of our urban consciousness. But recently it was renamed Dial 7, after the company’s well-worn seven-sevens phone number. Was the company, which has received hate mail during these terror-alert times, de-Semiticizing its brand? “If we wanted to change the name for political reasons, we would have done it a long time ago,” says a Dial 7 spokesperson. “The phone number is so distinctive, we’re hoping that the number alone is enough. Just like when you see the bull’s-eye, you know it’s Target.” Such rechristening doesn’t appear to be any sort of trend. As the guy answering the phone at Tel Aviv Towing and Collision on East 116th put it, “I don’t care. If they don’t like the name, it’s not my problem.”

EDITED BY CARL SWANSON

Intelligencer: January 3-10, 2005