The last dinner

The Pool Room of the Four Seasons during the restaurant’s last night.
The Pool Room of the Four Seasons during the restaurant’s last night.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Diners and staff say goodbye to the famous Four Seasons restaurant in New York, which has closed after 57 years

NEW YORK • It was business as usual last Saturday evening in the grand old guts of the Seagram Building in Midtown Manhattan, where the executive chef of the Four Seasons restaurant Pecko Zantilaveevan was overseeing the roasting of 102 ducks for dinner service.

But the chef, who has worked at the restaurant for the past 20 years, had nearly emptied his deep walk-in refrigerator, with not a raw bird in sight, and he would not be ordering more.

After 57 years, it was the restaurant's last night of dinner service in the building, more than a year after it became public that its lease would not be renewed.

"It's like attending a wake," Mr George Nettles, a first-time visitor to the restaurant, said as he finished a whisky sour by the host stand.

It’s like attending a wake.

FIRST-TIME VISITOR GEORGE NETTLES

All week, diners had come to say goodbye, to sip one last martini at the bar, to split huge pink pompoms of cotton candy or, maybe, to hop into the pool for which the famed Pool Room is named.

Photos posted on Instagram showed a line of prominent chefs - Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Michael White and Cesare Casella - wading in the water and kicking up their bare legs during a benefit Wednesday for Citymeals on Wheels.

Last Saturday, there was no fanfare, no grand toasts or speeches during the dinner rush. Instead, Mr Julian Niccolini and Mr Alex von Bidder, who took ownership of the restaurant in the late 1990s, were gliding across the restaurant, greeting regulars and posing for photos.

In the kitchen, cooks signed one another's whites with black Sharpies while a server pocketed her second US$100 bill (S$135) tip of the evening. Sous chef Kala Sung, who is from South Korea, prepared a meal of pork ribs, beef bulgogi and fresh kimchi for the staff to eat after the second seating.

"I used the really ripe peaches in the walk-in to sweeten it, instead of sugar," she said, pointing at the gleaming red vat of kimchi.

"Because we might as well try and use up everything tonight."

Though the Four Seasons set a new bar for American fine dining when it opened in 1959, its legacy rests more on its extravagant tone, powerful clientele and striking modernist design than on its menu. The restaurant's interiors, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, are landmarks.

Mr Frank Bruni, a former restaurant critic for The New York Times, said in his 2007 review that the Four Seasons possessed "a stubborn magic", and last Saturday it stuck like glitter to skin.

A woman and a little girl danced in the hallway, giggling and twirling between the two dining rooms. At the bar, a man held a baby in a taffeta dress in one hand and a drink in the other. Former employees bought one another rounds and eulogised alongside nostalgic New Yorkers who had come here as children to celebrate birthdays and bar mitzvahs.

Architects Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto were waiting for a table.

Mr Reiser said: "We love to sit in the Grill Room just for the proportion of it, the height..."

"And the beauty of the materials," Ms Umemoto added.

Ms Rachel Ann Reading, a graduate student in art history, came to sip a glass of champagne at the famous bar. She had arrived early, so she found a comfortable spot in the sanctum of the Four Seasons' ladies lounge and, while she waited for the bar to open, ate the slice of pizza she had smuggled into the restaurant in her purse.

Mr Niccolini and Mr von Bidder plan to reopen a new Four Seasons soon, in a nearby space on 52nd Street in Park Avenue. Mr Mario Carbone, Mr Rich Torrisi and Mr Jeff Zalaznick of Major Food Group will take over the lease of the storied space in the Seagram Building.

The contents of the restaurant will be auctioned this month. Some diners were already eyeing the branded plates and the Hans Wegner chairs in the Grill Room.

Despite the nostalgia in the air, it seemed not everyone knew it was time to say goodbye.

"I didn't know this was the last night," said a blonde woman in a full-length green gown, waiting for a friend by the coat check. "Isn't it always just like this?"

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'The last dinner'. Print Edition | Subscribe