As the Four Seasons Restaurant prepares for an auction that will see all of its furnishings—dozens of pieces by iconic mid-century designers like Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, and Eero Saarinen—sell to the highest bidder, one illustrator takes a look back at the space.
I only ate once at the Four Seasons Restaurant, which closed last week. I took my wife to the Pool Room for lunch to celebrate our second wedding anniversary, 13 years ago. It was a memorable meal, but like many who dined at the restaurant, it wasn’t just the food that stood out for us. It was the experience, which for us was highly unusual. It was a beautiful summer afternoon that also happened to be the day the power went out from Ontario to Manhattan. We had dressed up, which meant that my wife was in high heels; blackouts were not what she had in mind. To get home to Brooklyn without the subways running, she squeezed us on a bus down Fifth Avenue and I engineered a pit stop at a friend’s apartment in the East Village, where she borrowed a pair of sneakers. It was dark by the time we reached our apartment.
When I heard the Four Seasons was closing and its contents would be auctioned off, I went to the preview to capture what I could. I brought my drawing pad and sat where the power brokers sat, amid pieces by Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable, Eero Saarinen, and other iconic designers of the 20th century. I even got to go into the kitchen, which, for a home cook like me who spends most of his time drawing dish racks on his counter, felt a little like what walking on the field at Yankee Stadium must feel like. I was in heaven.
As the afternoon light went down, I spoke with one of the owners, Julian Niccolini, in the Grill Room. "Everything now is fake, but everything here is real," he said, motioning to a Philip Johnson banquette, its tattered corner documenting his assessment. It looked like it had been there since the place opened, in 1959. Despite the history surrounding him, Niccolini said he did not have a favorite object. "It wasn’t the space that made the Four Seasons," he explained. "It was the people."
The owners and, presumably, their clientele are moving on, to a new place five minutes from the original, set to open next year. In the meantime, the Four Season’s furniture and flatware and everything will be dispersed at auction on Tuesday, July 26.
John Donohue is an artist and writer living in Brooklyn. He blogs about cooking for his family at Stay at Stove Dad and his artwork can be found at www.johndonohue.com.