Monday at the MET

By | Mar 11, 2021 | No Comments

When Tishman Speyer bought Rockefeller Center—previously owned by the Japanese Mitsubishi Estate—Jerry Speyer decided to overhaul the entire complex and give it a makeover. Unfortunately, this closed the center, including The Sea Grill restaurant, where I had worked for a couple of years. Before this happened, Paul Emmett, one of Restaurant Associate’s Vice Presidents, approached me about a position as the head of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Trustees Dining Room. (Emmet was the son of Jay Emmet, who, with Steve Ross, turned Time Warner into the behemoth that it is today.) It was an excellent position for me since I had recently started a family with two young boys. 

The museum’s restaurant was only open for lunch—and lunch and dinner on Saturdays—so I could spend more time with my kids and not have the long, crazy hours that a New York restaurant demanded from you. So, I took the job. 

At the time, an astute manager named James Karabelas ran the dining room. He knew how to handle the guests, as they were among the New York elite. Brooke Astor, C. Douglas Dillon (U.S. Ambassador to France and the 57th Secretary of the Treasury under Kennedy), Henry Kissinger, and Jayne Kirkman Wrightsman, who had a wing at the museum named after her, were but a few of the regulars.

So, they handed me the keys to this little-known haven situated on the 5th floor of the museum—available to a few of the museum’s members and trustees. During that time, the museum director was Philippe de Montebello. He dined every day at a corner round table overlooking Central Park.

One Monday, when the museum was generally closed, Paul Newman visited. (High-profile people usually came on Mondays without having to deal with the hoi polloi.) So, after he toured some wings that interested him, he retired to the Trustees Dining room for a late lunch.

Paul Newman
Paul Newman

When he approached our maitre d’ desk, I didn’t realize how tall he was. Most celebrities I had met were generally on the shorter side. But he was tall, handsome, and had the most captivating blue eyes I’d ever seen on anyone. He was charming and cracked a couple of jokes. I ushered him to a table by the window, and a couple of the museum’s staff members joined him. I think Harold Holzer may have been among them as he was the Director of Communications at the time and handled the publicity for the museum.

Anyhow, as Newman finished his meal, my son arrived with his mom, Kristina, to pick me up. I was talking to them when Mr. Newman walked out. He noticed my son, who was about four years old, and crouched down, picked him up and swung him into the air, and swerved around yelling, “Wheeeee!” He played with my son some more by poking him gently in his belly button—which I thought was so cute and my son enjoyed—before grabbing the elevator and exiting the building. Kristina and I turned to each other and smiled.