Mies van der Rohe designed the chairs, Rothko created the artwork (then thought better of it) and New York’s power brokers did their deals over the salad and swordfish – but now the exquisite restaurant’s era has passed
There are elegant restaurants and erotic restaurants, restaurants for business and restaurants for pleasure – and one that was all of these things, more beautiful than any other. But after six decades, the Four Seasons, as stately as ever in its glass box off Park Avenue, will complete its last service on Saturday. Then the restaurant – the place Jackie Kennedy called “the cathedral”, an acme of modernist design outshining any other space in New York – will be despoiled. The tables, the furnishings, and even the pots and pans will be flogged off at auction later this month. The season is summer. But for architectural preservationists, students of modern design, and lovers of New York, this is a winter of discontent.
The Four Seasons opened in 1959 at the base of the Seagram Building, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s city-reshaping black skyscraper on Park Avenue – a building that the late critic Herbert Muschamp, with slight but understandable hyperbole, once called the greatest work of architecture of the past thousand years. The architect Philip Johnson was tasked with designing the space, which he paneled in rich burled walnut; delicate window coverings made of aluminum beads made the light appear to dance. Diners sat in nimble, cantilevered chairs of Mies’s design; Eero Saarinen kitted out the women’s powder room with his well-known tulip chairs; and Ada Louise Huxtable, not yet the doyenne of New York architecture critics, had a hand in everything from the champagne flutes to the bread baskets.