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Upper East Side’s ‘Ultimate Restaurateur’ Has Died

Tony Fortuna drew a loyal following at T-Bar for over 25 years

Two men in black pose together.
Tony Fortuna, left, and pastry chef Francois Payard.
Photo courtesy of Francois Payard.
Melissa McCart is the editor for Eater New York.

With over 50 years in New York City’s restaurant industry, Tony Fortuna, the host and restaurateur of T-Bar on the Upper East Side and in the Hamptons, died on Friday, January 5; he was 76 years old.

The New York Times cited the cause as pancreatic cancer.

Since the luxury steakhouse with its legendary bar scene opened over 25 years ago, T-Bar has been where one is as likely to see someone like celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian or pastry chef Francois Payard — Fortuna’s best friend for decades — as neighborhood regulars. The Manhattan location, which moved from East 73rd Street to a sleek townhouse on East 60th Street following a lease issue, and the Hamptons spot that opened in 2020, are in partnership with developer, designer, and managing partner, Derek Axelrod.

“I want the customers to know that we will be carrying on the T-Bar brand. We will continue to deliver the same consistent product and experience here in the city and Southampton that Tony has delivered to his loyal customers for 30 years,” Axelrod said.

Axelrod and Fortuna have been getting ready to launch the newest location of T-Bar in Roslyn, at 1363 Old Northern Boulevard, near Lumber Road, in the spring. “I plan to keep his legacy alive for his three sons to enjoy for years to come,” he said.

Fortuna was born in October 1947 in Cassino, in Southern Italy. His family and five siblings immigrated to Michigan, and it was growing up there that learned to appreciate cooking and his Italian culture, he said back in 2020. He worked in France at his uncle’s restaurant and fell in love with restaurants, eventually landed in New York, where he at first, “opened quite a few restaurants in New York for others,” he said in that same interview. He worked the front of house at iconic New York restaurants such as Tavern on the Green, Lespinasse, and Lafayette. He later partnered with restaurateur Charlie Palmer in opening the Upper East Side’s Lenox Room in 1995. The New York Times wrote, in 1996, that Fortuna’s “warm hospitality” helped cultivate a “loyal following.” The duo later opened Metrazur, in Grand Central Terminal, which closed in 2011.

“He believed in me and pushed me to be the best I can be ... before anyone else did,” chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten told Eater. The two worked together at Lafayette restaurant in the Drake Hotel from 1986 to 1989, and in 1988, earned four-stars from the New York Times. “He was my mentor when I arrived in New York and showed me the path.”

“He was the most generous person with everyone,” Payard said of his friend. He and Fortuna connected when Payard first arrived in the United States in the 1990s, with Fortuna later visiting him at his pastry shop for a daily coffee, with their businesses nearby. “He was the most charming guy. A lot of people will miss him. It’s a very big loss.”

“He’s a pro’s pro and has earned the respect of both his colleagues and his legion of faithful regulars who made T-Bar something of an Upper East Side club,” wrote John Mariani of the restaurateur when T-Bar moved in 2022.

The restaurant announced the news on Instagram on Sunday. Hundreds of industry folks from author Dorie Greenspan and restaurateur Tom Colicchio to Union Square Hospitality Group’s Claudia Fleming and chef Eric Ripert expressed their condolences.

“He is and will always be one of the kindest and greatest giants of hospitality ever,” Zakarian told Eater following his death.

“Tony was the ultimate restaurateur,” said Rosanna Scotto of Fox 5’s “Good Day New York” and a co-owner of her family’s restaurant, Fresco by Scotto. “We learned a lot from him about the restaurant business. I also know him as a wonderful father. His kids went to school with my children. We have many great memories of school trips and events over the years. We will really miss him.”

Fortuna leaves behind three sons, Matthew, Vincent, and Danny Fortuna, along with five siblings. A celebration of his life will be forthcoming.