While every neighborhood in the city seems to have been overtaken by empty storefronts and with iconic spots shuttering at an alarming rate, one Manhattan landmark has survived, thrived and thumbed its upturned nose at the naysayers who have been predicting the death of the power lunch for decades.
Michael’s, the cafeteria for the ‘cool kids’ in media, fashion and finance tucked away on the ground floor of the Rockefeller Apartments at 55th and Fifth, is alive and well. The beloved eatery celebrated an extraordinary milestone on Wednesday (of course!) night – its 30th anniversary! – with 350 of its loyal ‘regulars.’
I’ve been covering the comings and goings at Michael’s for 15 years and trust me, it’s been an education. I’ve watched fortunes rise and fall (easily tracked by a Wednesday seating chart) and marveled at just how important a prominent seat in the dining room is when a bold-faced name is campaigning for an Oscar, launching new digital venture or, of course, publishing a book.
It’s been fascinating to witness the behind the scenes goings on as Michael McCarty and his team GM Steve Millington, Danny DiVella and Loreal Sherman navigate the delicate dance of soothing egos and satisfying every dietary request imaginable year after year – all while making everyone feel like they belong to this elite – but very collegial – club.
Michael stood at the foot of the stairs, as is his custom, his booming voice a familiar welcome to his guests who started showing up in at 6:01 pm (the invite called for 6 o’clock). There was a photographer there to capture all the A-listers and a video was set up in the window at Table One where well-wishers could share their favorite Michael memories. Because the crowd has already filled the room by the time we got there, we never made it over to the table. That’s okay, we’ve got plenty to share about the evening in this column.
The first person I saw after a said hello to Michael’s wife, Kim McCarty, and Michael’s indefatigable director of special events, Robyn Wolf, was W. Randall Jones who was with his son, Charles Jones. Both looked quite dapper in their tuxedos. Randy was one of the first people I met when I first started doing my column in 2006 – when ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong (who now lives in Texas) introduced us.
Randy is always the best dressed man in any room and tonight was no exception. He and Charles (who was filling in for Randy’s wife, Lynne, who was under the weather) were at Michael’s to toast the host but had to leave to attend the New York Landmark Preservation gala nearby. Can you stand the glamour? When they left, I checked in with Penske Media Vice Chair Gerry Byrne, who for the past ten years, has hosted a monthly ‘influencer’ lunch at Michael’s with Bonnie Fuller for Hollywoodlife.com.
I don’t know how they’ve done it, but I’ve seen up to 13 guests shoehorned around Table One for their popular confabs. No one ever seems to mind, and a good time is always had by all (except maybe by the nearby diners when things get a tad boisterous). Ah, but they were having fun! After I checked in with Gerry, I caught up with Matt Blank, now retired from the top spot at Showtime, but nonetheless thrilled with all the positive buzz over the surprisingly great series finale of “The Affair.” We both agree it was truly one of the best-ever series finales. We both also give series’ star Dominic West’s high marks for his performance. For Pete’s sake, give that guy the Emmy!
I spotted Teri Agins and her charming husband Paul Hands with fashionista Fern Mallis (also off to another event!) nearby and went over to say hello. Teri and Paul are Michael’s die-hards. After marrying at City Hall in July 2018, they celebrated in the dining room. “We didn’t tell them why we were coming,” Teri told me. She’s also hosted a party for our mutual pal Joan Kron as well as Paul’s birthday celebration at Michael’s. If only there were a frequent diners’ club!
In the SRO dining room, I bumped into Marshall Cohen and we decided to make haste to the Garden Room where there was a bar and rumored to be some food (Oysters! Pizza! Salmon!). All true, thankfully. We stopped to chat with Bryant Gumbel (who I’ve known since his Today show days), his lovely wife Hilary Gumbel (looking stunning, as usual) and then Discovery Communications’ Henry Schleiff happened by. Everyone knows everyone at Michael’s so after some picture taking, we reminisced about what makes Michael’s so great. “They’re loyal and they treat you right,” said Bryant as he sampled the fried chicken. Hilary and I recalled several lunches we both attended for mutual friends like Kate White when she published one of her fabulous Bailey Weggins mysteries.
I spent a few minutes surveying the room to see who else had filed in since I arrived. Faces in the crowd included Desiree Gruber who was talking to Chris Taylor, Dick Cavett, Michael Gross, Susan Magrino, Simon Doonan, Joni Evans, Jill Brooke, Larry Hackett, Bill McCuddy, Michael Clinton, Jay McInerney, Alexandra Lebenthal, Joanna Coles, and CNBC’s Joe Kernen. Page Six’s very tall Keith Kelly stood out in the crowd and told me Michael hasn’t raised the cost for hosting The Kelly Gang’s Annual St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser in 15 years — “Not one dollar!” – which has allowed the charity to donate lots of loot to worthy recipients. Ben Widdicombe walking around with a bemused expression – no doubt in search of something to snipe at in his next column.
Other Michael’s regulars toasting the boite’s extraordinary anniversary: My friends Kira Semler (one-half of ‘The Bar-ettes’) and Liz Wood catching up and taking in the scene from a table in the dining room … Mickey Ateyeh and Fran Weissler … Galvanized Media CEO David Zinczenko and Jon Hammond making their way to the Garden Room … The New York Post’s Richard Johnson chatting with PR maven and authors’ best friend Judy Twersky, Susan Silver and new-ish documentarian Joan Kron … Quest’s Chris Meigher and his lovely wife, Grace Meigher holding court in the corner at Table Four … Former NYC police commissioner Bill Bratton and wife CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman making their way through the crowd getting lots of hellos … Norah Lawlor of Lawlor Media Group chatting with some movers and shakers in the center of the room … Leslie Stevens looking better than ever catching up with old pals … Dr. Robi Ludwig whose husband, David, was very game about taking lots of group photos .. Sharon Bush and Cheri Kaufman who both dazzled in their pretty party dresses … Paxton Quigley who chatted with me as I was on the way out about the absent David Patrick Columbia (He was attending The Landmark Preservation Gala.) We both agree David needs to get cracking and write his own book already!