The Ultimate Ladies Luncherie
by gary walther
From table 31 at BG Restaurant, a nest of cashmere civility on the seventh floor of Bergdorf Goodman, the eye skims across the treetops of Central Park to the stout geometric caps of the Beresford and the heraldic towers of the San Remo. Shift to one of the seats along the window wall (that’s tables one to five and 21 to 25) and your eyes will be mesmerized up Fifth Avenue in an undertow of one-point perspective. In all of those buildings within eyeshot reside the women who can still find time to lunch, and judging by the classic clothes, the sleek, expensively blown-out hair, and clubby bonhomie, a lot of them are doing just that on this gray autumnal Friday.
“All of my friends know I’d rather shop than eat,” the Duchess of Windsor once said to disparage the notion that she was a lady who lunched. More recently, A-lister women swore to Vanity Fair’s Bob Colacello that they don’t lunch now nor have they ever done so. And this summer Donna Karan told an audience of women—at a lunch held to promote her Urban Zen Foundation—“We can no longer sit around and have lunches as we used to do.”
None of the guests at BG Restaurant seem to see things in the Duchess’s stark terms. Lunch at BG today looks like a warm up for or a cool down from shopping. A few chic suits appear to be powwowing for business, but the rest of the crowd doesn’t appear to be in any hurry. Todd Okerstrom, the store’s head of personal shopping, estimates that 80 percent of his clients visit the restaurant. (Which will also visit them, as the menu is available in the 14 fitting rooms reserved for personal shopping on the fourth floor.) Food service director Michael Perricone says that interior designers (people like Carleton Varney, Alex Papachristidis, Larry Laslo, and Jay Jeffers) often come in, clients in tow (having shopped the seventh floor home furnishings department) to show what can be done with a room that doesn’t have an especially high ceiling.
The women who lunch feel at home here because BG comes with a chaser of “Hollywood Regency,” as Linda Fargo, Bergdorf senior vice president of its fashion office and store presentation, put it. To get that cocktail, Fargo went all the way to Los Angeles, tapping Kelly Wearstler, who might as well have invented the style, to design the room, which previously had housed a children’s clothing and linens section. Wearstler proved to be a quick study in the Park Avenue dialect, conjuring a very soothing room, done in a palette of light blue, chartreuse, and white, with swatches of black and gold. Wearstler divided the space into what she calls “salons,” a cozy bar with two of the top tables (101 and 102), each beside a window, a long main dining room, and a semiprivate back room that’s either your inner sanctum or “the Outer Hebrides,” as Truman Capote described the back room at Le Pavillon. (“We have notes on everyone who doesn’t like the back room,” Perricone says.)
The bar is the jazziest space, paneled in bone-white faux boiserie in a diamond pattern highlighted with gold leaf and ebony paint, and set off by a pair of jet black, vintage 1930s French commodes. In the main room, powder blue banquettes line the window wall—preferred by tourists for the view and celebrities (Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel Zoe, Mary-Kate Olsen, Nicole Richie) so they can have their backs to the room. Chartreuse leather chairs with gently curving triangular backs from the ’60s set off the center tables. Wearstler found the ’60s original in a Paris flea market and had it reproduced. The rear room is richer, chartreuse lacquered paneling alternating with antiqued mirrors.
The food at BG is not an afterthought. Executive chef Marybeth Boller, a veteran of Lafayette, various European kitchens, and private New York clients, has composed a menu that seems just right for this restaurant. The “go figure” dishes (wild striped bass, grilled chicken salad) come with a side of nutritional information (fat grams, salt, total carbs). There’s elevated comfort food (lobster mac and cheese), creative salads (roast beet and fennel), and the caloric equivalent of a Bergdorf spending spree: lobster Napoleon. Boller lives in the Village and makes a stop at the Union Square Greenmarket on the way to work—the little ziggurat of field greens atop the ahi tuna tartare did taste like they hadn’t been out of the ground for long. Liquids and liquidity still go hand-in-hand: “People are drinking more, and they’re drinking better,” Perricone avers. “Our wine sales are up.”
Asked to describe BG when it opened, Kelly Wearstler said, “Bergdorf Goodman isn’t just for ladies who lunch anymore.” Okay, so maybe everyone is c ooking u p a n I nternet d eal. B ut when I left to leave, I couldn’t resist saying to Michael Perricone, “This dining room is a sea of blondes.” Always quip on the draw, he replied, “Well, you’ve got John Bartlett right upstairs.” Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Ave., 212-872-8977
photography by evan sung