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The Real Reason I’m Happy About New Blood at The Four Seasons

Is this how old school maitre d’s have always behaved?

Now that the news is out that The Major Food Group (aka The Torrisi Boys) will take over the Four Seasons space once the current owners are kicked to the curb after half a century of service next July, fans are filing reactions, lamentations. Over the next year regulars will say their goodbyes, others will publish their memories. And people will be very vocal and sad about it.

I’m actually pretty psyched.

Listen: Aby Rosen is a lunatic who probably cares very little about the history and integrity of the Four Seasons interior (he told the New Yorker ”We can change everything ... from the leathers to the panels to the woods”). The Torrisi guys have ego to spare and are power-hungry expansionists. But that doesn’t mean the Four Seasons, as it stands today, is worth saving.

Yes, the food isn’t great. Yes, it feels like a mausoleum. But the real reason I’m excited for this change is that I find owner Julian Niccolini incredibly skeezy. And, for a younger woman, The Four Seasons offers an uncomfortable dining experience.

According to the NY Post this summer, Niccolini, “one of New York’s favorite hosts,” was arrested for allegedly groping a woman at a private party at his restaurant in the spring. The arrest came two decades after a sexual harassment suit against Niccolini brought by a waitress was “resolved” in 1992. Per the Post:

In 2003, he was photographed in a “Boob Inspector” cap — with fake breasts above the bill — that was among several sex-themed gifts he got during a surprise 50th birthday party at the Four Seasons.

I have no idea what happened to this woman at this party. And I’m not going to indict an old man for wearing a “Boob Inspector” hat, no matter how embarrassing that is. But the story did remind me how uncomfortable Niccolini and his “teasing” has made me as a guest.

I’ve been to a handful of lunches there. Each time Niccolini found a way to touch me — kissing my cheek repeatedly, kissing me on the top of my head, holding my hand a few beats too long — and make some sort of indecent joke about what he and I could do together after lunch. Four months ago, while I was dining there, someone told him the name of the site where I work, and he said to me, in his suave accent, “Oh, it’s called EatER? Eat her?” with a wink.

I wondered then, and during previous meals: Does he behave this way to make me feel welcome because he knows I’m not a regular, or is it to make me feel uncomfortable? Am I to feel flattered? Amused? Or is it the only way he knows how to interact with women?

Presumably, many diners (and many women of a different mettle) find this behavior part of his charm and relish in the fact that he hasn’t gone PC. Presumably, one is meant to simply say “Oh Julian, you’re naughty,” and drink up the expensive wine he opens, unsolicited, for you. That is pretty much what I did — in addition to blushing and staring at my napkin — instead of telling him his behavior was inappropriate, that he was making my lunch meeting awkward. I should have done better.

Bottom line: I love those rooms. I love how they look and what they mean. But it’s time for a change on 52nd Street. And I’ll be thrilled to go back next fall when a new guard is running the show.

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