by juliet izon | April 25, 2014 | Food & Drink
Diane Clehane, who tracks the city’s movers and shakers from her prized table at Michael’s, dishes about the secrets of power dining with the New York Post’s star columnist, Richard Johnson.
Diane Clehane and Richard Johnson at Table #1 at Michael’s
Michael’s has long been the media elite’s favorite hangout, but never more so than on Wednesday, when Diane Clehane, the restaurant’s in-house Boswell, chronicles the comings and goings of the city’s movers and shakers for her closely read “Lunch” column posted weekly on mediabistro.com.
Boldfacers, industry titans, billionaires, and best-selling scribes all pay court to Clehane before they dive into their cobb salads or chicken paillard, in hopes of a timely mention or a report on a new deal, book, or business venture. Clehane, a former journalist for Variety, The New York Times, and Vanity Fair, has been documenting this rarefied scene for the better part of a decade, making the restaurant the only one in town with a gossip column. “It’s like a Manhattan country club where members don’t pay dues,” Clehane says with a laugh. In addition to a featured interview with her dining partner every week, she makes sure to chronicle the machers seated at every table; the list often reads like a Who’s Who of Manhattan’s media royalty. Clehane adds: “It’s a very interesting bit of social anthropology.”
When Gotham asked Clehane with whom she most wanted to have lunch, she immediately named one of the city’s best-known columnists, former Page Six editor and current New York Post writer Richard Johnson who pens “The Man Who Knows New York” column. They recently broke bread at Michael’s to discuss the fine art of power dining.
The packed lunchtime scene
Diane Clehane: Richard, you’re a New York City legend, but this is the first time we’re actually having lunch together. You were nice enough to give me a couple of shout-outs when you were on Page Six, which were greatly appreciated.
Richard Johnson: I’m a big fan of your weekly roundup of who’s here on Wednesday. I always feel if I missed [lunch here], I can catch up.
DC: I’ve been doing t he “Lunch” column for seven years. I started by sitting at the bar and “graduated” to the front room. It’s funny because I’ve written best sellers and I’ve done other things, but people really know me for this. I think that it’s a testament to how much the Manhattan A-list likes to read about themselves. [Laughs]
RJ: They should give you a cut of the Wednesday lunch [receipts] because I’m sure a lot of people come here just to get into that column.
Michael’s wine cellar, an assortment of rare vintages and everyday finds
DC: Lunch here is never just about lunch; it’s about a lot of other things. When someone has a new job or a new project, they’re going to show up and be seen.
RJ: If there’s a rumor that two people aren’t getting along, they’ll go out to lunch together at Michael’s just to prove that they don’t hate each other! I always get confused, though, over the etiquette. Are you supposed to make the rounds and interrupt people when they’re eating? I feel if I don’t say hello, they’ll think I snubbed them.
DC: This is one of the few places where people feel comfortable doing that. Other places, it’s different.... But here, if I don’t leave with four business cards—at least—every Wednesday, it’s an odd day. You were in LA for a while. How has it been coming back? Is having lunch a way for you to reconnect with people?
RJ: Yes, I think it’s very helpful. People will give me items they don’t necessarily plan on. I always thought if I did a memoir I would call it “we never talked” because that’s how I used to end most conversations.
[Appetizers arrive, asparagus for Clehane and gravlax for Johnson]
Gravlax as appetizer
DC: The asparagus has been a favorite for years.
RJ: I’m half-Swedish by ancestry, so I love gravlax.
[Clehane and Johnson survey the room]
DC: I can’t think of a person I haven’t seen at Michael’s. I was even here the day Paul McCartney arrived early and walked around the room to determine where he felt most comfortable. Doing this column is what got me through this winter from hell—I was just saying that to Steve Millington, the general manager. You get a mix every week, the talking heads, the random celebrity, the money guys, the media people.
RJ: Since the recession, print media has been decimated, basically. It used to be a pretty good deal, being an editor of a magazine, and I don’t think that’s [so] anymore.
DC: What’s noteworthy is that people are starting this or that website or these interesting partnerships, but it’s like the Wild West.
[Main courses arrive, dover sole for both and a side of Brussels sprouts]
DC: I like the dover sole, I get it often.
RJ: I was inspired by you! I was thrilled when you had Mrs. Patmore [actress Lesley Nicol] from Downton Abbey here.
DC: For me, last year was great. My Downton Abbey obsession was fueled by lunch with Gareth Neame, the executive producer, which was fantastic. Lunch with Mrs. Patmore was fun. She came in leather pants! And Dr. Oz—to be with someone who was so confident and charismatic. This is a very powerful crowd, so to see someone who has such an effect on the room was incredible.
photography by Noah Fecks