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Guide to the Four Seasons Restaurant Collection
1959-2019
 MS 3151

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Joseph Ditta

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on February 24, 2020
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical Note

When it opened in 1959 at 99 East 52nd Street in Manhattan, off Park Avenue, its $4.5 million dollar cost (about $40 million today) made the Four Seasons the most expensive restaurant ever constructed in New York. Under the stewardship of James Beard, the restaurant pioneered what came to be called "New American Cuisine" and is credited with introducing seasonally-changing menus, and American wines, to the nation.

Occupying ground floor space originally intended for an auto showroom in the Seagram Building—the only New York work of International Style exponent Ludwig Mies van der Rohe—the Four Seasons was designed by Philip Johnson and a team of consultants for Restaurant Associates, which managed it with the Bronfman family (owners of the building and of the Seagram Company) through 1973. The restaurant's interiors included two main dining rooms: the Pool Room, where live trees, changed seasonally, marked the corners of a 20-foot-square white marble water feature, and the Grill Room, where rippling chain draperies at the windows complemented artist Richard Lippold's quivering brass rod sculpture suspended over the bar. In 1989 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Four Seasons an interior landmark. (This designation excluded a key decorative feature which hung in the passage connecting the Pool and Grill rooms since the restaurant opened: Pablo Picasso's painted theater curtain for Diaghilev's 1919 ballet "Le Tricorne." Purchased by the Bronfmans for the space, it was given in 2005 to the New York Landmarks Conservancy. Sale of the Seagram Building prompted its removal and conservation in 2014. Custody of the curtain was transferred to the New-York Historical Society, where it remains on display.)

Tom Margittai and Paul Kovi assumed management of the restaurant beginning in 1973, passing control in 1994 to junior partners Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder. Under their leadership the Four Seasons played host to countless celebrity regulars, financiers, publishers, politicians, and fashion editors. For decades architect Philip Johnson had his daily private table in the Grill Room, where the concept of the "power lunch"—a working meal over which the rich and powerful discuss important deals—is said to have originated.

Through a change in ownership of the Seagram Building, the Four Seasons lost its lease in 2016, and closed after dinner service on July 16 of that year. In 2018 the restaurant moved a few blocks south to 42 East 49th Street, to a $30 million dollar space designed by Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld that echoed the décor of its original location. The Four Seasons closed permanently on June 11, 2019.

For further details see John Mariani and Alex von Bidder,  The Four Seasons: A History of America's Premier Restaurant (New York: Crown Publishers, 1994), New-York Historical Society library call number F128 TX945 .5 .F45M37 1994.