February 28, 2000

Conan The Invader

Conan O’Brien may be one hell of a nice guy, but some of his new neighbors have tried to push him off their territory–and he hasn’t even moved in yet. Real-estate sources report that the chatty Late Night impresario recently signed a five-digit lease on the penthouse of an Upper West Side historic residence. But what Conan didn’t know is that his sprawling two-bedroom apartment has been the target of a legal battle for the past year and a half. The apartment was converted from a glass-enclosed solarium where building dwellers used to lounge on nice days to enjoy spectacular views of the Hudson. When the tenant association got wind of the penthouse-ification, they went straight to their lawyers in hopes of stopping it. And while the attorneys said that no laws were being bent or broken, residents have yet to give up without a fight. A source says that some tenants still feel the top floor is theirs, and have been consulting legal counsel independent of the tenants’ association. Says a spokesman for O’Brien: “He saw a cool apartment he liked and he didn’t know there was a problem with it.” Didn’t he know the New York real-estate adage “If it looks too good to be true, it usually is”?

A Bad Recipe For Poaching

You’re opening a $10 million restaurant and need to hire staff in a hurry – what do you do? If you’re Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, slated to open March 7 on the ground floor of the McGraw-Hill Building, you try to steal them. Recently, the Gotham Bar and Grill was hit by Del Frisco’s recruiters, who posed as customers twice in the same day. “I’ve been watching you – you’re a very good server,” cooed one of the infiltrators as she stopped a Gotham waiter in his tracks and handed him a card that read, “You are invited to schedule a confidential interview” and included the restaurant’s address and phone number. Dee Lincoln, Del Frisco’s co-founder, is unapologetic about the reckless recruiting. “I want the very best talent in this city,” she declares. Gotham service director Robin Gustafsson got wind of the poachers and ordered them to leave, which they did – but not before slipping a card to the coat-check girl.

Four-Letter Wordsmith

Mr. Shawn certainly would not have approved of the language of one of The New Yorker’s newest reporters. Comedian Sandra Bernhard, commissioned by the magazine to report on Fashion Week, threw a hissy fit at Marc Jacobs’s Lexington Armory show when she found Women’s Wear Daily editor-in-chief Ed Nardoza sitting in the seat she had thought was her own. “Am I supposed to stand here like some fucking idiot?” Bernhard snapped minutes before show time, according to sources close to the catwalk. Nardoza points out that the seat was assigned to him, and that when he saw it marked with a coat, he simply moved the garment and sat down. Nardoza admits that Bernhard was a bit bent out of shape but downplays the scene’s severity. “I wasn’t going to get into hand-to-hand combat with Sandra Bernhard in front of 500 people and a slew of cameras,” he says. “I did what any gentleman would do – I gave the lady my seat.” Nardoza ended up watching the show from some steps. When asked to comment, Bernhard displayed her newly discovered journalism skills, saying, “There’s no story here.”

Talk’s Loan Ranger

The Condé Nast lifestyle can be hard to give up – and even harder to pay back. Just ask Charles Gandee. Before he jumped from Vogue to become Talk’s new features editor last month, Gandee tried to get out of paying back his low-interest-rate, Si Newhouse-sponsored housing loan, as well as his car loan, according to publishing sources. The dapper Gandee, who has been Anna Wintour’s well-loved all-around style factotum, was becoming openly unhappy with his situation at Condé Nast. And, say, sources, he had his lawyer send a three-page, single-spaced letter to the company detailing how he’d been “exploited” – no assistant; no window in his new office at 4 Times Square; having to work 21 Saturdays, 18 Sundays, and 3 holidays as well as losing vacation time – to buttress his claim that the company should forgive his loan. (Neither Vogue nor Gandee would comment.) Unfortunately, news of his talks with Talk leaked out before the issue had been resolved – leaving Gandee in Newhouse’s debt.

Additional reporting by Carl Swanson, David Amsden, and Suny Sehgal.

February 28, 2000