“Do We Really Need Another Apartment Building?”

A WVOX Commentary
By William O’Shaughnessy
November 25, 2020

The city development commissioner Luiz Aragon is leaving.

Time to see what he has left in his wake.

He leaves an urban landscape once loaded with potential and opportunity, now littered with concrete and glass buildings with no lineage or character … and urban architecture without style, dignity or reference to the City’s hallowed background or its remarkable multi-cultural history.

These soulless structures could exist in Tulsa, Jersey City, Dayton, Flint, or Oklahoma City. They don’t belong here. Which is not to say the City hadn’t slipped into a slow, inexorable decline over the years as we turned away Lord & Taylor, Ikea, the United Nations and other suitors.

The rents for these behemoth boxes are still out of reach for cops, firemen, nurses, first responders, waiters, bus boys and teachers who don’t need or require “concierge” service when they come home spent and exhausted after a hard day’s labor.

Mr. Aragon, Mayor Bramson and the desperate, needy city council of the last several years bought in hook, line and sinker to the blandishments of a posse of high-rolling “What’s in it for Me?” developers who pushed generic designs and plans appealing to the lowest common denominator. They dazzled the elders at City Hall with developer-speak phrases like “crowdsourced placemaking.”

The great international architect Renzo Piano once memorably said, “You can put down a bad book. You can avoid listening to bad music, but you cannot miss the ugly tower or that block of concrete that despoils the skyline of the city.”

There was no concept or mandate to innovate or be bold in all of this. A design concept, no matter how large or small, is the catalyst for a project and its development. In our downtown especially there is no music, no narrative, no intellectual public engagement for these soulless buildings, except gobble-de-gook like that “crowdsourced placemaking.”

It’s been observed that “Architecture is a social act and the material theatre of human activity.” But we showed no concern when confronted by drab aesthetics with drab, multi-cultural faux brick, plastic mullions, fake and weird styling cues – both inside and out. Sadly New Rochelle has become a ubiquitous bastion of bad architecture. We’ve become a victim of homogeneous planning.

Across the country we know that passionate civic activism has helped put an end to some very bad projects, private, as well as public. But not in New Rochelle where we begged developers to “Roll over and Pet me …”

In recent years, our bourgeois mentality and perceived materialistic values stifled any unconventional or creative approach.

Blame it on the seeming paucity of urban planners today and speculators who are lacking in courage and vision that once distinguished the urban planning profession. Mind you, I’m not trying to urge or impose any pinched restriction or “artsy-fartsy” approach to the downtown opportunity.

But shouldn’t the City, when contemplating Renewal, be allowed to have its surprises and contradictions in the dull, colorless urban landscape?

I’m not saying we should only have done business with developers who covet, understand and appreciate the architectural and conceptual genius of the likes of Renzo Piano, Santiago Calatrava, Enrique Norton, Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Lord Norman Foster, Richard Meier, Robert A.M. Stern, the late Eero Saarinen, Michael Graves, James Polshek, Oscar Niemeyer, Costos Kondylis or Ren Koolhas.

Thanks to my compadre Gregorio Alvarez, we’ve actually met and spoken with Santiago Calatrava, Lord Foster, Richard Meier and the late Costos Kondylis. Although they have designed brilliant buildings all over the world, they would gladly have taken a shot with poor, desperate, needy and too long ignored New Rochelle. But the greedy developers selected by the mayor, Luiz Aragon and our genius Council thought your City was not ready for prime-time creativity and the brilliance of a quality, imaginative urban architect.

As it struggled in years gone by, we were able to observe the genius and dedication of Mayor Alvin Richard Ruskin for many years as he fought to retain Bloomingdales, Arnold Constable and build a Macys. The liberal Republican was admired by both sides … even by the Teddy Green-led conservatives. He was also encouraged by Hughie Doyle, Joe Evans and Elly Doctorow, Rocco Bellantoni, Joe Fosina and other Forward-looking people on the high council of our city.

Some blame has to go to the Board of Education of the day and age. When it was appointed by the mayor it was populated with lawyers, judges, successful business executives and wonderful women like Mary Jane Reddington and Ruby Saunders. 

It should not be a popularity contest as it is now for the one who can get the most votes … and run by a superintendent answerable to no one.  Once a year they come around and show themselves only at Budget time.

We have very high regard for several of those in City Hall … starting with our skillful, dedicated and hard-working city manager Charles Bowman “Chuck” Strome. He knows the levers, the buttons and the tedious minutia of government better than anyone. Only Paul Feiner, George Latimer and Andrew Cuomo, the Governor himself, and very few others are in his league. Nita Lowey certainly is. Chuck is certainly a great recruiter. He finds talented people and protects them from the political winds. There are several other stellar players in City Hall, even to this day, including Police Commissioner Joe Schaller who succeeded the legendary Patrick Carroll.  And Fire Chief Andy Sandor.  And thank God we have a wonderful individual like “Don” Dominic Procopio heading up the Civil Service Commission. And our City Court, headed by Judges Anthony Carbone, Susan Kettner and Jared Rice. Jimmy Generoso is perhaps the best court administrator in New York State. We also have high regard for Paul Vacca, our longtime building inspector.

The Board of Education? Forget it! We’d need Jimmy Breslin (The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” to describe that group.)

Who then to blame for the very bland stew of unimaginative apartment behemoths that development commissioner Luiz Aragon leaves behind?

We blame the city council. What we wouldn’t trade for a Walmart, a Target, a Wegman’s, a Bed, Bath and Beyond or a Best Buy! We’d even settle for a good deli!

In recent years there has been occasional glimpses of taste, sophistication and genius provided by Louis Cappelli who gave us a splendid example with his Trump Tower, still the most attractive downtown structure. Cappelli is also doing the right thing with his new building where the Standard Star and Marty & Lenny’s once stood. There is another attractive building in the hood: the Valenti-Montefiore building is a worthy structure built by John and Charles Valenti and their father Jerry of sainted memory. 

We even look back on those heady days when developers Norman Winston, David Muss and a marvelous character named Spencer Martin (who worked out of our office) at least gave us a Macy’s and, for a while, a mini-shopping center.

And what of David’s Island that lays forlornly rotting in the sun? We lost The Edison Company.  And even Donald Trump because they wouldn’t give him a bridge which would connect to overgrown and crumbling Fort Slocum out in Long Island Sound. It’s a prime piece they still don’t know what to do with.

The problem is not just downtown with all the dull, boxy, high rise apartment buildings.

We have been richly endowed by our Creator with nine miles of natural shoreline. We’re not landlocked like poor Mount Vernon. But the elders of the City have done nothing about that precious waterfront resource. Davenport Neck is slowly disappearing, and Five Islands Park is underutilized, while Premium Point remains a guarded and pristine haven for the wealthy.  Even Mamaroneck has done better with its waterfront via Harbor Island Park.

We also have a rich cultural heritage that once attracted Norman Rockwell and America’s greatest artists and illustrators.  Among the City’s prominent citizens were Lou Gehrig, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Frances Sternhagen, Lee Archer, Don McLean, Andrea Mitchell James Fenimore Cooper, Thomas Paine, Carl Reiner, Ken Chenault and three other chairman of AMEX, Vin Draddy, Richard Roundtree, Peter Lind Hayes, Robert Merrill, John Jay, Farouk Kathwari, Tom Rogers, Joe Klein, Governor Malcolm Wilson, Whitney Moore Young, Hugh Price, Willie Mays, Ben Ferencz, Frankie Frisch, Eddie Foy and the Seven Little Foys.

And … YOU … who subsidized all this with lavish tax breaks!

Unfortunately, all this was lost on Luiz Aragon.

And Noam Bramson.

# # #

Postscript: We’ve been pretty tough on Mr. Aragon. It’s not personal. He is, in every telling and by every account, a very nice man with good intentions.

Let us just say … he got what he could.

The same for Bramson.

However disappointing.

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, the national charitable organization.  He is also a longtime director and member of the Executive Committee of the Foundation. He has operated WVOX and WVIP, two of the last independent stations in the New York area, for over 60 years as president and editorial director.

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … and “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files,” released in January, 2011. He has also written “Mario Cuomo:  Remembrances of a Remarkable Man,” a tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo. His newest book RADIOactive for Fordham University Press, another anthology with interviews, commentaries, speeches and tribute was published in 2019. He is presently working on Townies, a paean to those without wealth, influence or high estate in suburban Westchester County, the heart of the Eastern Establishment.

Contact:

Cindy Hall Gallagher
cindy@wvox.com
914-235-3279

WO re: Michael Scott Shannon // The Legendary “Z Morning Zoo”

Michael Scott Shannon

Notes

Re:

The Legendary “Z Morning Zoo”

I’m a Radio guy.

I write books, editorials and commentaries about the great issues of the day. And I’ve occasionally been introduced as an “author.” But I flee from that lofty description.

Breslin was a writer. So too are Malcolm Wilson, Sam Roberts, David Hinckley, Daniel Silva, Robert Harris, Pete Hamill, Lance Morrow, Bill Saroyan, Tracey O’Shaughnessy (no relation), Michael “Lionel” Lebron, John McKenna and Mario Cuomo. They were writers. Also a lawyer named Michael Assaf.

I am a hack writer who struggles mightily and unsuccessfully with the English Language.

But I’ll gladly embrace the appellation “Radio Guy” any time, even in my dotage.

And I’ve always had great respect for disc jockeys who get up each day to strap on earphones and go in a radio station to entertain and inform.

Some of them view the instrument of communication over which they preside for a few hours each day as more than a jukebox.

A few even resemble social commentators and, lacking that, they aspire to be agreeable companions.

In high school in Buffalo I loved Fred Klestine and the five guys who all used the moniker “Guy King.”

And then, much later I discovered a guy from Babylon, N.Y. named William Bernard Breitbard, which name he didn’t use. Instead, he addressed the microphone as William B. Williams.

He went to work in a place called the “Make-Believe Ballroom” which was housed at an iconic radio station with the legendary call signs WNEW.

William B. became a great and wonderful friend.  And it was a sad day when Variety asked me to eulogize him when he left us with the music still playing.

And then, speaking of legends of the air, I became a fan of one Michael Scott Shannon who presided over an obscure New Jersey station Z-100.

Scott is a lot more than a hippy dippy, finger-snapping “Rodney Radio” disc jockey.

In his best moments he’s also a gifted and skillful social commentator, very knowledgeable and worldly about the great issues of the day.

And so he assembled a marvelous and beguiling cast of characters to populate his now legendary Z Morning Zoo.

They played Cindy Lauper. I had no idea who the hell Cindy Lauper was. I still don’t … but I understand she’s pretty talented and a big deal on Broadway.

Scott, who has become the pre-eminent Radio guy of our time was the ringmaster, the interlocutor, the glue and seasoning that drove the inhabitants of the “Zoo,” and his genius held it all together.

I can still remember some of the most delightful off-beat personalities from that show. Everyone on my block … including Yours Truly … was in love with a dame named Claire Stevens!

And the most beguiling of all, of course, was one absolutely outrageous, but endearing character named “Mr. Leonard,” who wore a lime green leisure suit and cherry red pumps. He was always getting in trouble …  like when he covered the visit of Princess Diana “on assignment for Mr. Scott Shannon” and got rousted by the British Secret Service when they caught Mr. Leonard hiding in the bushes with his “Z Morning Zoo” microphone! (“Don’t you know who I am … ?”)

And we remember when he charged out the radio station door in high dudgeon to “have a word” with someone who had the “audacity” to take his personal parking spot.  The confrontation didn’t last long, however, when Mr. Leonard found out the car belonged to Hulk Hogan!

“Oh, sorry, so sorry Mr. Hulk Hogan … I didn’t mean nothing by it when I said those terrible things to you and threatened to beat you … I was just kidding! Hah, hah, hah …”

So many delightful moments …

So much fun.

Such great Radio.

I didn’t just enjoy their antics. Many nights I would stand at the “21” bar and pummel one and all who would listen with my admiration for this Scott Shannon.

Apparently, I was not alone in my enthusiasm. In a short time, the station had a meteoric rise and went from “Worst to First” in the New York market.

Scott then moved on to also program WPLJ and re-invigorate WCBS-FM.

He is the best of what we are.

And he is equally at home with high rollers like Ken Langone, the late Jack Welch, his “patsies” at Westchester Country Club and the swells at Lost Tree in Palm Beach.

Shannon is also possessed of those generous genes which inhabited William B. Williams. Scott has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Blythdale Children’s Hospital and he tees off with his sketchy, 18-handicap at our Broadcasters Foundation of America, and many other, charity golf tournaments.

# # #

An observation: You’ve heard the phrase “He’s got a face for Radio.”

I don’t want you to think I’m “sweet” on the guy. But, Scott Shannon, with those beautiful cheekbones and exquisite jawline indeed has a face for … Television.

But maybe, just maybe, that would ruin everything. He’s so damn good at what he does.

I’m glad he’s my friend.

He’s a great entertainer.

And a class act in every season.

(Oh, and his daughter works in the White House for the President of the United States.)

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, the national charitable organization.  He is also a longtime director and member of the Executive Committee of the Foundation. He has operated WVOX and WVIP, two of the last independent stations in the New York area, for over 60 years as president and editorial director.

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … and “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files,” released in January, 2011. He has also written “Mario Cuomo:  Remembrances of a Remarkable Man,” a tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo. His newest book RADIOactive for Fordham University Press, another anthology with interviews, commentaries, speeches and tributesWVOX_logo_final was published in 2019. He is presently working on Townies, a paean to those without wealth, influence or high estate in suburban Westchester County, the heart of the Eastern Establishment.

Contact:

William O’Shaughnessy
wfo@wvox.com

Rick Buckley – An Appreciation

Rick Buckley came at your with great lineage.  His father Richard Dimes Buckley owned the legendary WNEW of sainted memory all the way back in the days of Arde Bulova, John Jaeger and Bernice Judia. One of young Rick Buckley’s first assignments was to pick out the records to be played on the “Make Believe Ballroom” program. 

The Rick Buckley who slipped away from us on a warm, summer Sunday was himself one of the giants of our tribe.   Although Rick presided over a collection of stations in other states, including the estimable WDRC in Hartford, he will always be remembered as the permittee of the mighty WOR, an urban powerhouse known as one of America’s “heritage” stations which sends its signal throughout the northeast from New York, NY.

In every season Buckley was in love with that notion, subscribed to in these parts, that a radio station achieves its highest calling when it resembles a platform, a forum, for the expression of many different viewpoints.  And for many decades, while so much else was changing in the great city, WOR, never did resemble a jukebox. 

For decades he kept this instrument of communication away from the speculators and absentee owners with a fierceness and relentless devotion that surprised even his friends.  And they were legion.   He saved it harmless even during the allurements and temptations of Consolidation. 

Buckley carried himself with a shyness and a self-effacing wit that endeared him to so many of our colleagues. 

Rick lived like a country squire and had homes in Greenwich and Quogue and out in the desert in California.  And he was quick, this Buckley, to grab a check in every circumstance and venue.  

Just one month ago, Rick Buckley stood in the glow of the lights at The Sagamore in upstate New York before 600 of his colleagues there assembled by Joe Reilly to welcome him into the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame as plaudits and encomiums rained down on the honorees.  Brian Williams … Regis Philbin … Deborah Norville … my friend Joe Reilly and others stepped up to the microphone.   Norville and  Williams did a dazzling turn.  Reilly was superb.  And Regis was, well, Regis.  But the most touching, heartfelt response came off the lips and from the heart of Buckley. 

And no one who heard it will ever forget the words he used to describe his love for the profession he distinguished for 50 years.  And the enormous pride which was his as a result of WOR’s independence, standing and stature.

He also spoke movingly on that summer night on the shores of Lake George of his great love for his family, in whose care and keeping WOR is now entrusted.   So there’s a great sadness in our profession this August morning, a Monday.  But nowhere is that sadness more profound than among those of us who served with Rick on the Board of the Broadcasters Foundation of America.  He was our Treasurer, a member of the Executive Committee and one of our strongest Directors who was unfailingly generous with his wisdom, his counsel and his purse.

The Foundation’s humanitarian mission of helping those for whom life has turned sad and difficult always resonated and had an effect on Buckley.  You could see it in his face as we would review the pleadings and importunings from those unfortunate souls who have fallen through the cracks.

He had a great family.  And when Rick and his dazzling Connie – or his crackerjack daughter Jen – entered the room at one of our events and high councils, you knew something good was coming at you. 

He amplified the voices of the fabled Gambling family, Bob Grant, Mayor Bloomberg, Joan Hamburg and Joey Reynolds.  And WOR, in its best moments, resembles one of the soapboxes favored by street corner orators in London’s fabled Hyde Park Square. While almost every other station in the great city was rocking and rolling, Rick Buckley used his franchise to amplify the disparate voices of his New York neighbors.  Some of them were raucous, many unsettling and a few were even sweet.  And Buckley made it very easy for all sorts and types of people to get on the radio. 

He had absolutely no interest in presiding over a jukebox.  Rather he was powerfully and irresistibly drawn all the days of his life to Vox Populi, the real music of America.  Not a bad legacy.

Lacey – A Remembrance

“Lacey”

July 13, 2010 – May 8, 2020

A Remembrance

by

William O’Shaughnessy

Lacey

(Litchfield, CT) – – I’ve written of a marvelous cast of characters we’ve been privileged to encounter as community broadcasters. Among them were politicians like Nelson Rockefeller and Mario Cuomo of sainted memory and his son and heir Andrew Mark Cuomo, Bobby Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Jr., George Latimer, Edwin Michaelian, Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Hugh Carey, Pat Moynihan, Henry Kissinger and Jack Javits; as well as entertainers like Fred Astaire, Mabel Mercer, Hugh Shannon, Louis Armstrong and Bobby Short among them. 

I’ve also admired media players and journalists who were more graceful and articulate than yours truly … William S. Paley, Walter Thayer, Jock Whitney, Lance Morrow, Chris Ruddy, Mark Simone, Neal Travis, Jimmy Cannon, Phil Reisman, Philip Roth, Pete Hamill, Jimmy Breslin, Don West, Sol, Larry and Rob Taishoff.

I’ve tried to remember my pals: Jeff Bernbach, who is still with us, Joseph Migliucci, Sirio Maccioni and the great Mario Cuomo. I once almost wrote about a horse, a quarterhorse, who, I think, loved me.

But I’ve never written about a dog.

Her name was Lacey. She was a cockapoo. And my compadre Gregorio and I loved her unreservedly. She was 10 when her heart stopped beating over the weekend at 4:30 in the morning at an animal hospital in Newtown, CT after a central casting veterinary Chief Doctor Adam Porter, with help from a surgeon Jason Headrick and another amazing doctor Tracy Zeldis who tried to save her from bleeding and a tumor.

Actually, we have two other cockapoo puppies (I hate the word “dog”). Their names are Coco and Jack and they have the same provenance as Lacey, having come from a litter of the legendary breeder Carol Bobrowsky of Mulberry Farm in the Hudson Valley.

Lacey was a daughter of Izzy and Kandi Kane. She was born on July 13, 2010. In the 10 years we had her never once did she ever bark. Lacey was a hugger and a lover. I mean she wasn’t a “rollover and pet me” girl like our Coco. But she was a lover too and had a great following among our friends who were always taken with Lacey’s civility and those big, gorgeous eyes.

She would sit on Gregorio’s lap while I drove and loved to play with our niece Briana Alvarez and my grandchildren Lily, Izzy, Amelia, Flynn and Tucker. She also had pals at the radio station: Irma, Maggie, Gregg, Cindy, Don, Judy and Kevin. They recognized Lacey as a “real lady” and friendly as all get out when she would come to visit.

Mario Cuomo once accused me of always trying to find something good or, as he put it, “sweet” in everyone I meet. Unfortunately, I sometimes fail to find that goodness. I often have the same reaction to animals, with all due respect, recognizing that all pets are beloved by their owners. The Carpenter’s Son would not like this observation … but I don’t really like all people or even all babies. You can often imagine they’ll grow up to resemble their parents. Maybe it’s the same with our four-legged friends, some of whom, it is said, actually begin to look like their owner.

I’m just trying to tell you how really extraordinary this little girl Lacey was and I beg you to believe there was something special, something very special about her.

My friend Judy Fremont, a great woman of the theatre and a Radio legend, who is also a killer on the golf course, called Lacey “an elegant lady.” Judy would know.

During her brief time among us, Lacey was also our “Weather Forecaster.” Whenever a rough patch of weather started coming in from east or west, my girl would know and warn us of any approaching rough weather by shaking or shivering. She was our Flip Spiceland, Al Roker and Joe Rao combined. (Whatever happened to Flip Spiceland?)

Lacey the puppy also loved the outdoors with its wonderful and fragrant whiffs and smells. And she loved the flowers that bloomed around her swimming pool every spring. And she would also carefully check the smells and fragrances of the emerging fresh summer vegetables and plants in her garden every year.

She loved her “sister” Coco, who is that “rollover and pet me” type cockapoo who also loves me unreservedly. And who could not love our Jack Alvarez who is the “guard dog” of the neighborhood and watches over the entire historic district of Litchfield. Jack weighs in at a mighty 17 pounds. He is fearless and barks at every bird and rustle of wind just to let the wind and birdies know that he is The Boss of the ‘hood.  Coco and Jack are also beloved, irreplaceable characters in our lives.

And speaking of which, my wonderfully bright daughter Kate O’Shaughnessy, under whose west coast roof resides a “Shirley” and a “Potter,” two adorable mutts and real “colorful” types who were adopted without benefit of Carol Bobrosky’s, shall we say, proper lineage or breeding, but adorable nonetheless. When my brilliant Kate heard we lost Lady Lacey last weekend she said: “That’s really sad, Daddy … she was the only one with all her marbles!”

I love the line. And I loved Lacey.

That’s why I had to put down my pencil many, many times as I tried to get through these reminiscences of a little puppy I loved and miss so much.

As I read back over these notes … I’m thinking I may just keep them to myself and not let anyone peruse these overly sentimental meanderings and certainly not permit my distinguished publisher Mr. Fred Nachbaur or any of the brainy Jesuits at Fordham Press in the City of New York to see them because, after all, she was … just a doggie … just a pet … just a puppy.  Her name was Lacey.

That Fremont woman told me all doggies go to Heaven. Well, just to make sure … I also know a priest named Robert Tucker who is very beloved in these parts and was just made a big-time monsignor. I am going to ask the Reverend Monsignor Tucker to pray over Lacey. He knows that a somewhat “unusual” Italian named Francis from the hill town of Assisi became the greatest saint in the entire history of the Roman Church and that he, this Francis, being somewhat unusual himself, talked to animals and the sun and the moon and fire, even the wind. Tucker will understand all this.

I hope you will pray for our Lacey too.

Gregorio and I will have a talk with Coco and Jack about where their sister went. 

But I think they already know …

She was a great puppy, a great lady.

Contact:

William O’Shaughnessy
914-235-3279
wfo@wvox.com

Pete Wells Letter re: Le Cirque

September 20, 2012

Pete Wells
c/o The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY  10018

 

Dear Pete:

 

I’m a Pete Wells fan.

 

But I do have some concerns and a few urgent thoughts about your Le Cirque piece.

 

My very first reaction was to wonder how the hell you could do this to Sirio Maccioni.  And I even started to dash off a letter to Arthur Sulzberger asking the publisher of my beloved Times the same question I put to you.  Indeed, I’ve often seen your own publisher in Sirio’s care and keeping and he always seemed to be enjoying himself … as did his father before him.

 

However, after several more readings of your review, I realized that you did indeed endeavor to be respectful of this great man.  Sirio is not only the most graceful and attractive individual in his profession, he is also the most generous and inspiring.

 

I was also pleased to note that you bestowed on the Le Cirque captains, waiters and staff the approval they rightly deserve.  But I have to note that you quite missed the glamour and vibe of the place and the fun to be had of an evening at Sirio’s beckoning tables.  And I’m afraid I found, in general, a lack of respect for Le Cirque itself as a beloved, enduring and endearing New York institution.

                                       

We can argue over starsI would have given them at least two even if I had written your particular piece.  But I must share with you my very real disappointment that a professional journalist and critic of your stature and standing would lay off on one of your “companions” that devastating, bleak, cutting – and not a little mean-spirited – observation: “They’ve given up.”  That one deeply hurt all of Sirio’s friends and admirers.

 

And it surely had to have disappointed not only Sirio, but his wife Egidiana and their sons as well who work so damn hard to provide an agreeable and welcoming venue for – as you have pointed out – all comers.

 

They really are wonderful people, Pete.  And although I too had my own “issues” with the current chef, I don’t believe the Maccioni Family deserved the savage pummeling you gave them … or the humiliation of losing two stars by your hand.

 

FYI:  I stopped in for a quick drink just last night and to see if I could detect any “damage” to the place.  Eighty-year-old Maestro Sirio was as always beautifully attired and sitting by the coatroom signing copies of the new Le Cirque cookbook and missing nothing in a low-cut dress or with shapely legs coming through the door.  He was also dictating to his new amanuensis – a spectacular blond woman (who, I’m told, is an authentic baroness). 

 

A vivid and immensely popular New York character named Gianni Russo, one of the stars of “The Godfather,” was swanning about the place fielding compliments on his sold out turn the night before in Le Cirque’s Wine Bar lounge which was packed with not a few Park Avenue dames with blueing in their hair and also some very “interesting” and colorful Las Vegas, bada-bing types (and it’s probably better if I don’t tell you any more about their background or lineage). 

Russo does his crooner act featuring Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart and Johnny Mercer songs once every month with four marvelous musicians in black tie, and all of them of a certain age.

 

And, as occurs most every night, with it all, everybody was having fun in a perfectly luxe setting.  So, in addition to the greatness and goodness of Sirio, that, I think is really what you missed in your review.  Sure, there may be better, more exquisite, pristine offerings of food to be had abroad in the land.   But in most other venues of the type, nobody is having any damn fun at their serious tables.

 

And, to be sure, there are some tired old loreleis around still hanging on to faded reputations.  Sadly many now resemble sidemen in orchestras long dispersed.  But Le Cirque is still a vibrant, exciting and altogether unique venue.  Is it then the “charm” of Le Cirque you missed?  Or perhaps the “charisma” of the place?

 

Anyway, The Great Sirio remains a beloved – and universally respected – icon of the profession you usually cover with such grace and brilliance.  And Le Cirque itself remains sui generis.

 

I’m only sorry a bright guy and gifted writer like you didn’t pick up on its music.

 

But one day, like Ruth Reichl, maybe you will.

 

We all hope so …

 

Yours,

William O’Shaughnessy
President & Editorial Director
wfo@wvox.com

Remarks of William O’Shaughnessy on the occasion of Sirio Maccioni’s 80th Birthday

Remarks

of

William O’Shaughnessy

on the occasion

of

Sirio Maccioni’s

80th Birthday

 

April 5, 2012
Le Cirque
New York City

 

 

“Maestro … another distinguished member of your tribe (also with a considerable number of vowels in his name) Mario Cuomo, who himself will soon reach the milestone you have achieved this day, once said he prays for “sureness.” 

 

Well, I’m not sure of too many things in my own already long life.  But of this I’m very sure:  You … are …  a … great man.

 

You have been a class act in every season of your life and we have repaired to your tables and to your care and keeping in every season of ours.

 

So keep going, Sirio … because we could not imagine New York – or our own drab lives – without you to paint color and style in all of it.

 

And so we congratulate you on this – the 80th Anniversary of your Natal Day.

 

And just one other thing:  we love you.

 

All of us …”

 

Sirio, the Brightest Star

Sirio, the Brightest Star
(Waiting for Frank Bruni)
A Whitney Global Media Commentary
WVOX and WVIP
February 7, 2008
By William O’Shaughnessy

 

New York is loaded with eateries where you are greeted when calling for a reservation by a Debbie, a Jennifer or a Tiffany.  And when you arrive one is immediately confronted with a bevy of bimbos flanking a dour, sour, self-important “maitre’d” standing imperiously behind a podium punching numbers into a computer.  Think BLT Steak on 57th owned by money man Jimmy Haber or Quality Meats on 58th Street and its cousin the Post House where once stood the venerable Quo Vadis.

 

Now the Good News: there still remain in this town real, authentic restaurants with warm, friendly, beckoning proprietors untouched by speculators, “investors” or the fast money guys.  The permittees of these most agreeable places have names such as Arpaia, Burke, Niccolini, Carravagi, Von Bidder, Zuliani, Selimaj, Cipriani, Lomonaco, Masson, Tong, Neary, Dussin, McGuire, Viterale, Suric, Bruno and, up in the Bronx, Migliucci.  Among these old school purveyors of food and hospitality, there is also one named Sirio Maccioni who is the best of what they are. 

 

The great Sirio sat on this recent winter night at a small round table near the coat room of his dazzling Le Cirque restaurant off 58th Street on the eastside of Manhattan.  The table has no number and it is far from the best in the house.  But it is known to every busboy, waiter, captain, bartender and sommelier as “Maestro Sirio’s table.”

 

The location of which does have its strategic charm for it affords the world’s greatest restaurateur an unobstructed view of any shapely legs coming right through the revolving front

door or enticingly entering the dining room in a dress cut low.  The Ringmaster of Le Cirque is 75, but misses nothing well put together.

 

For most of this February day, the handsome Tuscan has resembled an angry lion in the middle of winter as he awaits the latest review by the Times’ gifted food critic Frank Bruni who, two years ago, denied Maccioni three stars.

 

The brilliant Bruni’s previous postings for the Times included a stint as Houston Bureau Chief when George W. Bush was governor of Texas.  He was also Rome Bureau Chief in the Eternal City.  And now he is the most powerful food critic in America.

 

No one approached the man in the elegant velvet dinner jacket at the round table near the coat room.  Even his comely wife Egidiana and his attractive sons Marco and Mauro gave Sirio a wide berth on this tense night in New York City while they sweated out the wait for Frank Bruni’s findings on the latest incarnation of the famous Le Cirque.  They are the royalty of the restaurant and hospitality profession.  But even the Maccionis must submit to Mr. Bruni’s scrutiny and pronouncements as to the worth and merit of their genius and enterprise.  The only member of the Maccioni family oblivious to this tension in the air this night was 2 ½ year old Stella Sofia Maccioni, who was using all her wiles to distract “Nonno Sirio.”

 

Wednesday’s New York Times daily newspaper would not slap sidewalks all over the world until dawn the next day.  But at precisely 8:45 on this Tuesday night in New York City, as Sirio Maccioni waited for Bruni’s verdict, Christophe Bellanca, the new head chef in whom the Maccionis are so well pleased, burst from the kitchen, rushed through the dining room and moved toward his patron at the round table with an Internet posting: “Maestro … three stars!” Which means “Excellent.”

 

And then all over this fancy place imagined in the mind of Adam Tihany to look like a circus, the corks started popping and the champagne flowed.  As the excitement built around the man in the velvet jacket … the 2 ½ year old little girl with the bright Italian eyes pushed her way through the crowd now assembling near the round table.  She held aloft a single red rose retrieved from one of the tables in the packed dining room.  Stella Maccioni held it high and proffered it directly to her grandfather:  “Bravo, Nonno!”  And then she kissed the world’s greatest restaurateur whose own tanned face was wet with silent tears of gratitude.

 

The 75-year-old man gave his granddaughter a hug and shook hands with Marta, the coat check girl, and Mario Wainer, the cordial and very correct maitre’d.  Both were smiling for the first time all day.  Sirio gathered himself and moved toward the dining room to once more perform his courtly magic.

 

He once fed Sinatra, DiMaggio and a pope and most of the ladies who lunch in every season.  Some of the old dazzlers like Marietta Tree, Brooke Astor and Kitty Hart are gone.  And Gianni Agnelli, Bill Paley and Nelson (you have to ask?) are only memories of what this town once was.  But the great Maccioni is still in the game.

 

Tomorrow Mr. Maccioni will receive congratulatory messages from Silvio Berlusconi, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Rudy Giuliani, Edward Cardinal Egan, Liz Smith, Tony Bennett, Cindy Adams, John Fairchild, Barbara Walters, Mario Cuomo, Donald Trump, Ron Perelman, Barbara Taylor Bradford, David Patrick Columbia, Carl Icahn, Woody Allen and Robert DeNiro.

 

He will even receive calls from some of his restaurant colleagues who idolize him.  Julian Niccolini of the Four Seasons and Gerardo Bruno of San Pietro are among those competitors who consider him an icon of their tribe and will be pleased.  And Bruce Snyder and Bryan McGuire, the “21” legends, and Michael Lomonaco of Porter House will send congrats to the Italian who elevated their calling with a restaurant with a French name.

But, for tonight, fortified and validated by that third star from Bruni and the kiss from Stella, Sirio Maccioni straightened his jacket and was once more up and moving through his high class saloon and flirting with beautiful women.

 

In a rather glib headline for the glowing review, the Times called what Sirio dispenses so effortlessly as “decadence.”  Others who have known the fun and haze of an evening in his care and keeping, however, find him possessed only of considerable grace … style … glamour … class … and a relentless generosity of spirit.  All of which are in short supply in this town.

 

As the man Sirio moved from table to table this night, Egidiana Palmieri, who came out of Montecatini so long ago and gave up a singing career to be his wife during all those early years in New York at the Colony, La Foret and Delmonicos, was telling someone, “Sirio means ‘star’ in Italianhe was named after the brightest star … the north star.”

 

William O’Shaughnessy

 

is president of Whitney Radio and editorial director of stations WVOX and WVIP, Westchester, N.Y.    He is a former chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters and served as president of the New York State Broadcasters Association.  During his 18-year service at NAB, he specialized in free speech and First Amendment issues. 

 

He is a director and chairman of the Endowment Committee of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, based in Greenwich, Connecticut.

 

A self-styled “Rockefeller Republican,” he was active in the presidential campaign of President George H.W. Bush and served as chairman of Republicans for Mario Cuomo during each of the Governor’s three successful campaigns for governor of New York.

 

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) and “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001), collections of his radio commentaries, essays and interviews, published by Fordham University Press.  “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” was released in April, 2004.  He has just started his Fourth volume “AGAIN!  Run That By Me One More Time.”

 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher

Whitney Media

WVOX and WVIP

914-235-3279

cindy@wvox.com

Maestro Sirio

Maestro Sirio

 

Sirio Maccioni is America’s greatest restaurateur.  This piece was done on the 25th Anniversary of LeCirque 2000…

 

He came with his slim hips and impeccable manners from Montecatini, the spa town in the hills of Tuscany.  His name was Sirio and above the village where he grew up was the most splendid of all the spas, famed throughout Europe along with Marienbad and Baden-Baden, and frequented since the 18th century by the grand and leisured.

His father was a farmer.  And, many years later, moving through the brocaded dining rooms of America’s greatest restaurants, they would say Sirio Maccioni looks like a courtly Italian version of John Wayne.  But in those days, some 50 years ago, the young man on the fast Vespa resembled an Etruscan noble as played by Tyrone Power.  He observed the rich and titled as they came to take the baths and taste the waters in his hill town and his first job was running the lift in the Hotel Grand La Pace.

The graceful, young Italian with the fierce eyes and restless spirit also charmed a beautiful neighbor girl – Egidiana Palmieri – of somewhat more substantial means and considerable talent in her own right.  Miss Palmieri, already known as far away as Florence and Roma for her winsome looks and spectacular voice, was promptly advised by her well-founded family to pursue a promising singing career and forget the dashing Maccioni fellow…despite his cordial manners and “correct” bearing.

But strong-willed, patient Egidiana had other ideas.  And so did Sirio who proceeded to work his way to America as a dancer on cruise ships with stopovers in Germany and France.  He also assisted in the dining salon and in the ships’ galley.  After the shortest apprenticeship on record, the gifted Tuscan became a captain and, just as quickly, a maitre’d in some of New York’s greatest restaurants: Delmonico, The Colony and The Café Pierre.

Egi Palmieri soon joined the rising young star of the restaurant world, rejecting an incredible $25 thousand dollar signing bonus to tour Italy singing operatic favorites, love songs and ballads.  Her songs would now be sung only for Sirio.  They married and soon followed a Mario, a Marco and a Mauro, who would all follow their father into the restaurant and hospitality business.  To support his growing family Sirio struggled and sacrificed to open his own restaurant on the corner of 65th Street and Park Avenue.  The sign on the door said: Le Cirque.

That was 25 years ago in New York City, one tough, unforgiving town (“If you can make it there…”). Since then many fabled eating and drinking establishments have up and disappeared: The Stork Club, The Colony, The Copa, The Latin Quarter, Delmonico, Romeo Salta, Mike Manuche, Jimmy Weston’s and the incomparable Toots Shor, a most glorious place.  Le Cirque not only survived, it prospered…becoming the most celebrated dining venue in America.  The restaurant with the French name was a perfect stage for its dazzling Italian proprietor from the hill town in Tuscany.

The French restaurateurs never did learn his magic and to this day they think it is about food.  But Sirio, the beguiling showman who moved like a dancer, gave his patrons other enticements: glamour, style, romance and, always…fun.  There are thousands of restaurants abroad in the land, most of them French (and even some pretentious ones with Italian names).  But…nobody…is having any fun…at their serious tables.  Even kings, prime ministers, dictators, presidents and popes like to have fun on occasion.  And so they come to Le Cirque of an evening to be with Sirio, to be fed by him and waited on and cared for by Le Cirque’s host and ringmaster.  He is now the quintessential restaurateur in the American nation and, perhaps, the world.

The New York Times, Forbes and Wine Spectator each bestowed 4 stars, making Le Cirque, I suppose, a 12-star restaurant!  But it came time to move.  And so, two years ago, the Maccioni Family transported their genius 15 blocks south, right into the heart of mid-town Manhattan, to the historic Villard House, now part of the New York Palace Hotel.  Famed designer Adam Tihany, unable to violate the stately ceilings and walls, designed a “traveling circus” in the Palace Hotel…a “palace” fit for a Sirio.  The sign now said: Le Cirque 2000.

It has become the hottest ticket in the hardest town.  And so, next Monday evening in The Big Apple, Sirio Maccioni will celebrate Le Cirque’s 25 spectacular years by having a few thousand of his best, “most correct” friends for cocktails in the courtyard of the stately Villard House.

You may expect the King of Spain, the Mayor of Rome, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York (who merely has to walk out the front door of his residence and stroll across Madison Avenue), Nancy Reagan, Rudy Giuliani (another proud son of Montecatini), some people named Churchill, Uzielli, Cuomo, Trump, Ricci, Zanella, Astor, Rockefeller, Kissinger, Liz Smith, Cindy Adams, Zeckendorf, Lillian Vernon, Don Rickles, Molly O’Neil and her brother, the baseball player, Sulzberger, the publisher, Bernard Kruger, the brilliant society physician, Ruth Reichl, who now “understands” about Sirio, John Mariani, Bill Cunningham, the Times’ legendary lensman, Toni Suzette, the flower lady, Paolo Biscioni who runs the best hotel in Rome, James Brady, Frank DiGiacomo,  Ronald Perelman, Bruce Snyder of “21”, Bob Lape, Susan and Jack Rudin, the Brudners, Woody Allen, Nancy Curry, Teddy Forstmann, Lee Iacocca, Sirio’s faithful managing director Benito Sevarin and their maitre’d Mario Wainer.  Also Warren Alpert who owns a little real estate (actually, an entire block!) on Park Avenue.  As Mr. Alpert dines, usually solo, at Le Cirque every evening he might pause in the courtyard for just one cocktail on the way to supper at his regular table.  There will also be any number of archbishops, ambassadors and Patrick Walsh, a world-famous surgeon from Baltimore who will receive an especially warm greeting from Sirio.  They will come – all of them – to celebrate an endearing and enduring American institution with a French name, run by an Italian.  Their presence will also reflect their affection for the child of Montecatini who became the most famous and respected restaurateur in the world. 

You don’t have to take my word for all this.  Or even the encomiums heaped on Mr. Maccioni by the public press.   Rather you might want to consult those who presume to compete against the Italian.  Greatness in any form almost always arouses envy.  But even Sirio’s competitors will affirm his genius and confirm his standing and reputation.  Bryan McGuire, who heads the invincible “21”, says, simply, “Sirio is the best there is.  He deserves his success.  He is the most generous man in the business.”  And Julian Niccolini of The Four Seasons (himself a charismatic dining room dazzler) will swear, “There’s never been anyone quite like Sirio move through a room!” Lello Arpaia of Bellini will tell any and all who will listen, “in all my years in New York…there’s only one Sirio.”

Listeners to these radio stations are advised that Maestro Maccioni will soon be moving through a few more dining rooms with his slim hips and easy style.  He opens in Las Vegas at The Bellagio on October 15th and the restaurant world is abuzz that London and Paris are next.  And maybe even Japan.  So you can now just go and read all about the 25th Anniversary Cocktail Party in Neal Travis’ New York Post column on Tuesday next.

Of only this I’m sure:  Sirio’s sons will be there with their father for the celebration.  Egidiana Palmieri will be home babysitting for the grandchildren. After which she’ll probably sing again…just…for…Sirio.

Happy Anniversary, Maestro!  Per cento anni!

                                                                                                                                                September 10, 1998

Maestro Sirio: the Ringmaster

Maestro Sirio:  the Ringmaster

 

On Thursday, glamour and style return to the New York dining scene. The great Sirio Maccioni, America’s quintessential restaurateur, returns to center stage with the third incarnation of his legendary Le Cirque, a New York institution.

 

It is springtime, 2006.  Sirio Maccioni is 73.  He may yet do something in Paris or Dubai.   But even he knows this will be one of his last high wire acts in the center ring of the great city where he has been a featured performer for so long.  He begins this week on East 58th Street. 

 

The relentless clock reminds us it is 2006, and we are all mortal.  But for at least this one special night, in Sirio’s honor, I hope Joe DiMaggio roams centerfield once more at Yankee Stadium.  Frank Sinatra should be on stage at Carnegie Hall crooning a Cole Porter song.  William S. Paley again heads the Tiffany network where the cufflinks are just a little smaller and more discrete than those of NBC and ABC.  

 

It requires a time when the sportswriter Jimmy Cannon wrote pure poetry in a lonely room near Times Square.  Mario Cuomo is  standing on a flatbed truck in the garment center screaming at elderly Jewish women hanging out the window.  Ossie Davis is speaking pure truth to an audience at a church in Harlem. Gay Talese is coming down Lexington Avenue with his fine clothes and a very good cigar. Robert Merrill is singing the national anthem at Yankee Stadium for George M. Steinbrenner III.  And Kitty Carlisle Hart is at Feinstein’s every night. 

 

I know, I know, it is now 2006.  But Sirio Maccioni, with roots in the glory days of our town, is still in the game.  He is to his profession what each of these spectacular luminaries were to their own.   All of them – and Sirio – are not merely among the gifted and elite.  They are simply the best and have earned the right to the majestic Latin appellation “sui generis.”  It means unique and able to be defined only in its own terms.  Sirio belongs to that exclusive, rarefied fraternity.

 

I know I can’t turn back the tick-tock of the stately clock to the days when he started in this town, but for just this one night, opening night, let all politicians everywhere look like John Lindsay, walk into a room like Nelson Rockefeller, carry themselves like Jacob Javits, and think and speak like Mario Cuomo.

 

I know we are living, as Jimmy Breslin reminds us, in a “between you and I” age.  And all these magnificent and dazzling personages have been replaced by media creations such as Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith.

 

But this is still a tough, unforgiving town, and Sirio will have to impress Frank Bruni of the Times, Steve Cuozzo of the Post, Adam Platt of New York magazine, Bob Lape of Crain’s, Gail Greene and John Mariani.  But his legion of admirers pray the music from the new joint will last for a good, long time.  Even his competitors, who were stunned when the Italian was honored by the French government a few years back, hope he makes it.  It will be the greatest score for the gifted, graceful Tuscan impresario who walks with kings and prime ministers but still remembers the Germans sweeping through his town and breaking down his grandfather’s door.

 

There is something quite special about the man.  It was to Sirio’s table the magnificent Mayor Rudy repaired in the desperate days following 9/11.  An exhausted Giuliani would drop by late at night and have supper in the kitchen with the dust and soot and the horrible stench of vaporized death on his clothes.  The two sons of Montecatini would talk over a bowl of pasta late into the night, and Giuliani would then go home to catch a few hours of sleep before rallying the indomitable spirit of a city where Sirio Maccioni is the greatest restaurateur.   Then.  And now. 

 

The Italians have a word it for it:  “Convivio,” which means you tarry over food and wine to talk about life, love, politics and everything else.  But mostly it’s about a celebration of life.  And that, too, is Sirio:  Convivio!

 

The graceful Tuscan knows he exists alone in a changing profession now run by lawyers, speculators, bookkeepers and accountants.  To be sure, there are other restaurants of standing and reputation in our town.   Many are temples to culinary greatness and the fussy skill of the chef, some with international reputations.  But nobody is having any fun at their serious tables.  I prefer to pay homage and do my praying in a church, not in restaurants.  There’s no magic, no music in these gastronomic cathedrals and absolutely, to be sure, no one is having any fun on their hard, slick banquettes.

 

There are a few exceptions to the formulaic, programmed and predictable venues of ambition and greed in the restaurant business. Gerardo Bruno, an authentic dining room dazzler, weaves his magic nightly at San Pietro.  And David Burke can be exhilarating.  It is a “downtown” place, uptown, and the manager Teddy is terrific.  The glorious “21” still has a lot of lineage and cache if you can score a table with Milan, Joseph or Oreste. The estimable Four Seasons, run by zany Julian Niccolini and sedate, serene Alex Von Bidder, still makes each visit special. But when the great Sirio beckons from the center ring in the great city, even these accommodating joints must yield to his considerable genius.

 

There are many other highly successful eateries where all is programmed and computerized.  Some entrepreneurial business types own 10 or more venues.  These humorless souls like Danny Meyer talk of “synergy” and “return on investment” and charge outrageous markups on water and wine.  Some even bill for bread and butter.  Sirio, however, is all about people enjoying themselves, having fun during an evening away from the pressures of a world spinning out of control.  He is happy just to provide a stage for our courting rites.  To others, the whole thing is a business.  To Sirio, a profession.  And he is the most sensitive, generous man in the field where glamour and style still carry the day.

 

In upstate New York, at the Cornell University Hotel School, where they teach hospitality and management for spas, restaurants and resorts, they don’t teach Sirio’s methods, because what he brings to a restaurant cannot be taught in a classroom by even the most gifted of instructors.  It is called “intuition” and a generosity of spirit.  It can’t be taught.  They teach Danny Meyer, Drews Nieporent, Steve Hansen, Alan Stillman and Nick Valenti.  But the smartest graduates always head straight for Sirio’s employ.  And it is the same way with the best and brightest from the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park.  He is the Winston Churchill of his profession. 

 

At other restaurants, you encounter three Debbies, two Jennifers, one Chad, a Lance, a Tiffany and “Hi guys!  So what do you folks feel like for dinner tonight?”  At Le Cirque you are greeted by the graceful, attractive proprietor and his savvy deputies, Mario Wainer and Benito Sevarin.  And if you are lucky enough to dine with a good looking woman like Nancy Curry O’Shaughnessy, on the way out Sirio will whisper to her,  “Why don’t you come for lunch tomorrow – without him?”

 

And when he opens this Thursday to the applause of 2,000 of his admirers, he will be attended by Egidiana Palmieri, the talented and earthy beauty who gave up a singing career many years ago to cast her lot with a dashing Tuscan on a fast Vespa from the hill town of Montecatini.  Egi and Sirio Maccioni will bask in the spotlight with their three sons:  Mario, Marco and Mauro.  And so will Stella Sofia Maccioni who is not yet nine months but has made the Times’ society page twice and Liz Smith four times!  

 

Adam Tihany, another certifiable genius, and Costas Kondylis, the charismatic architect, have created a spectacular new venue with a circus theme, with monkeys and elephants suspended Calder-like from the ceilings, to complement Maccioni’s genius.  Together with Sirio, they have spent millions of dollars, and several years off the life of Steven Roth, the head of Vornado, one of the smartest and most successful developers in New York.   But he never saw anything like the Tuscan showman.

 

But they did it.  And Liz Smith, Cindy Adams, Judith and Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, Silvio Berlusconi, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Bill Cosby, Tony Bennett, Barbara Taylor Bradford and her husband Bob, Steve Forbes, Matilda and Mario Cuomo, and Archbishop Edward Egan will be there to herald his return.

 

New York becomes New York again when Sirio steps forward, once more into the spotlight, greeting people, loving them and being loved in return, at his LeCirque. An icon is properly restored.   He has been a class act in every season of his life.  And in every season of our lives. Sirio Maccioni is a marvelous New York story.  It’s 2006.  But he’s still here.  In the center ring.  

 

(original broadcast, May 15, 2006)

Saloon Songs Sirio Maccioni

Saloon Songs

 

(Originally Published in 1999 in AirWAVES,’ Fordham University Press)

 

Maestro Sirio

 

But the greatest of all barroom poets is Sirio Maccioni.  Now when I recently encountered Billy Cunningham, the Times’ brilliant lensman, on his favorite corner, 57th and Fifth, the great society photographer who is Manhattan’s pre-eminent chronicler of the rich, the famous and stylish, advised me against comparing Toots Shor and Sirio Maccioni or even putting them in the same breath. Cunningham is a beloved icon of New York … and it may be a far stretch … but I still believe a saloon is a saloon, no matter the trappings or neighborhood. Thus Sirio.

 

Sitting on a barstool with Maestro Sirio at the Le Cirque restaurant is a thrilling adventure. Maccioni is a wise man, provocative, charming and absolutely accurate in his marvelous commentary about life and people. Here then are some late-night pronouncements from the Magnificent Maccioni … who is America’s greatest restaurateur. And barkeep. They were flung out into an empty dining room … late at night … when all the swells had gone home. Here then, retrieved from my notebook, are mementos of delightful evenings spent with the greatest of all contemporary saloonkeepers.

 

The Gospel According to Sirio

 

“I think there should be a moment in life when you do what you want to do.” 

 

“You should show that you respect people … but also show you can do without them.”

 

“I resent stupidity. One must have rules. I have rules. One must always be ‘correct’.”

 

“90% of the people are nice … too nice.  If I would follow my instinct, I would be sued … I would open a restaurant for only attractive people … make that nice people.”

 

“Donald Trump is a very nice person. I call him and within one minute he calls me back. I don’t care about his problems with other people …”

 

“When you ask someone to build you a $3 million-dollar kitchen … they ask are you sure you need it. I never did all this to prove I am better than the other people in my business. We did it because it was something we had to do. We are working people. Physical work. Mental work. And not to be intrusive.  That is what we are about.”

 

“If something happens to me … just say: ‘Sirio has said it all.’  One life is not enough to prove yourself.”

 

“I like women who are fun … who don’t try to save the world … and men who are ‘correct’.”

 

“There is an Italian saying: If you wake up in the morning and have no pain … you’re dead!”

 

“When anybody can criticize a king or a president … then they are not a king. Or a president.”

 

“In my short life, I have seen a fellow open a bottle of Dom Perignon when they killed Kennedy. Stupidity … just stupid.”

 

“They say I put pressure on my sons to achieve. But I would never force anybody to be great in life.”

 

“They ask me if I’m religious. Of course I am. But I hate people who only pray when they need something.”

 

“When I was maitre’d at the Colony … people didn’t understand why I gave Warren Avis and Yanna the best table. They’re attractive.”

 

“My wife Egidiana tells me when she came here she didn’t know anybody. The only thing that mattered is she wanted to be with me.”

 

“When I hear today that only 12 civilians were killed in the bombing in Iraq I got sick. I remember the bombs falling on us in my town. I have been under the bombs.  My father, a civilian, died on his bicycle under the bombs. My grandfather saw it. He said let’s go to church. He had unlimited respect for authority and uniforms. When he saw a uniform of any kind, he would bend. 27% had the courage to say we should not bomb. The Moroccans and the English ‘liberated’ us. They only raped 1500.  The Germans no one.  They might shoot you!”

 

“My wife always says: If everybody takes care of their own little spot … everything would be O.K.”

 

“I’m always scared. But for me to be scared is a point of strength. I don’t believe in luck. If someone shoots you … you’re unlucky.”

 

“I tell my sons:  Concentrate on the people.  Don’t spend time talking to the coat check girl or the bartender. Don’t look outside on a day like this to see if it’s raining or snowing. I tell them to look inside. The time you spend talking to the coat check girl is wasted forever.”

 

“I’m reading a book Europa Vivente.” It means Europe is still alive. A Florentine wrote it … a Florentine with a German father. He is trying to show the stupidity of Democracy. The only problem with Mussolini is he was trying to please everybody. The greatness of Italy was in the Medici, the Borgias. They were assassins!  But they alone created and encouraged Art.  But they were against the Italians.  You put two Italians together and they can destroy anything!”

 

“The Italians always seem to need a tyrant to become great.”

 

“The other night I was with the Cardinal at the Knights of Malta dinner. I did not wear my sword and certainly not the cape because I look like Dracula. I was the only one at my table who was not Irish. They sang Danny Boy. I said you are discriminating at this table. What about O, Solo Mio? I hate that song! I didn’t tell them that the first gift to me in America was given by Morton Downey.  It was a record of Danny Boy.

 

“My sons lecture to me.  You are in America, they say. You have to adjust.  What is going to be with the next generation?  There is no class, no style.”

 

“Clinton is not the exception.  There are so many stupid men.”

 

“I am going to be one of the three voting judges of the Miss Universe Contest in Martinique the first week of May. Donald Trump asked me to take his place because he is so busy. He is also so smart. The first thing he did was ask my wife. She said it was very nice.  It would be good for Sirio.  And then she went off to Atlantic City with her Uncle Renato for the day and came home after midnight and woke me up to show me the 300 quarters she won!”

 

“I blame the basketball season on the players. My wife agrees.  She went after Patrick Ewing at the restaurant.  He is very nice, but she told him he was wrong and she will never to go another game.  And she never will.”

“New York has been very good to us … the press … Donald Trump … Mayor Giuliani … everybody. I never did all this to say I’m better than the others. It’s something we had to do. We’re working people. There is no such thing to be an artist. We work … the thing happens. It is about having an understanding of what people want when they come to your restaurant.”

 

“When we fed the Pope there were 16 cardinals at the table.  It was on 72nd Street at the Papal Nuncio’s house. The Pope is a good eater. He likes fish, he likes rice, he likes pasta.  Archbishop Martino, a great, intelligent man, is the Pope’s ambassador and so he can only be intelligent, was the host.  We went, we cooked … with security from the United States, from Italy, from the Vatican. He is a good eater, the Holy Father. He ate risotto with porcini and he ate fish. My pastry chef Jacques Torres made a replica of the Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Basilica. The Pope asked me if it was true we had a three month wait list for a reservation.  I said, ‘Holy Father … why don’t you come tonight.’ The Pope laughed and said tonight he was not going to have such a good dinner.  Since the Holy Father was talking about ‘reservations,’ I asked Archbishop Martino what about a ‘reservation’ up in Heaven.  So the Archbishop asked the Holy Father … don’t you think it would be very nice to have a great restaurant in Heaven?  And the Holy Father looked at me and Cardinal O’Connor and said:  ‘Are we sure … are we sure we go up there?’  The Pope is amazing.  He spoke to me in Italian, to my son in English, to the pastry chef in French and to my executive chef Sottha Kuhnn in Thai.  Then the Holy Father asked me if I was a good Christian … or just another Italian who only gets religious when he gets sick?  You know in Italy we think because we have the Pope … and it’s a local call, we sometimes get a little casual and complacent.”

 

“The philosophy of a restaurant is to make a place pleasant.  Sometimes it is the people who create the problems. I think people should look correct.  I’m not talking black tie.  But in the middle of summer these people go out in a t-shirt that looks like they have come out of a shower … and then it is not right that they come to Le Cirque and want to sit next to a lady.  New Yorkers are elegant people. We should teach the rest of the people.  We should teach the world.”

 

“I don’t know why I have been chosen as one of the 30 most important men in New York.  It is ridiculous.  I just sell soup.  I’m glad I’m well known in my country because everybody has to be what he is.  You never talk bad about your country, your mother, your brother, your family. Here, I’m a guest. But in Italy I can have my say.  Most of the political group there is a disgrace. A Communist could be good, but it’s bad when applied in the wrong way. Communism was bad in Eastern Europe, so why try it in Italy? Thank God the Italians are not with anybody.  They’re against everybody!”

 

“They say I feed their egos as well as their stomach. But why do you buy a Versace suit instead of one that costs 60% less?  It’s a question of ego.  Why do you go to your hairdresser who knows you?  It’s ego. It’s also quality of life.”

 

“Everybody should be equal when we start, when we are born.  But then I don’t believe in egalitarian any more. Everybody should start and go up. I tell my three sons if one gets up at eight and one at 10 and one at 12 … the first one up should do better. It’s a simple philosophy.”

 

“People can’t eat caviar and foie gras all the time. Sometimes they need hamburger … vulgar food … the things we grew up with … pig feet, tripe, boiled beef, lamb chop cooked with potato – lamb stew – roast chicken.  And especially me … I’m not easy to please in a restaurant. But I will go when they have those dishes.  We invented pasta primavera.  In 1975.  We were invited by the Canadian government to try new recipes for pigeon, lobster and wild boar.  But after three days, all this got boring.  So it came my turn to cook.  And I took everything I could find in the kitchen … all the vegetables … and we created pasta primavera.”  

 

“I notice that man is looking at your wife … but don’t worry.  He has had a lot of wine. But he is a gentleman and he is always correct. He has manners. But he can’t help himself from looking.”

“You’re a man and automatically you’re stupid.  As a young boy in Italy I was crazy.  I have always been stupid.”

 

Q:  But your greatness, a part of it, is that you’re Italian.

 

A:  Yes, but I’m alone!

# # #

Le CIRQUE (today)

 

When you’re putting together an evening for a client or a “friend” and it’s just gotta be right, I still head for the mighty Le CIRQUE in the courtyard of the Bloomberg building off 58th Street between Lex and Third. The incomparable and ageless MARIO WAINER “Your Excellency … welcome back!”  (Is he talking to me …?  Yes, and what’s not to like!) still runs the dining room for SIRIO and his attractive sons MAURO and MARCO.  And the legendary chef TOM VALENTI now presides in the kitchen as well.  PRESIDENT TRUMP and billionaire RON PERELMAN are regulars. And so is ANDREA BOCELLLI and his wife VERONICA BERTI, friends of Sirio’s.

 

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues, and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, the national charitable organization.  He is also a longtime director and member of the Executive Committee of the Foundation. He has operated WVOX and WVIP, two of the last independent stations in the New York area, for 56 years as president and editorial director.

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … and “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files,” released in January, 2011. He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, another anthology in which this Saloon Songs essay will appear. He has also completed “Mario Cuomo:  Remembrances of a Remarkable Man,” a tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo which has just been published. 

Contact:

Cindy Gallagher

Whitney Media

    914-235-3279

 cindy@wvox.com