Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Rainbow Room Is Up in the Air ; Famed Dinner-Dance Club Awaits New Owners amid Landmark-Status Feud

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Rainbow Room Is Up in the Air ; Famed Dinner-Dance Club Awaits New Owners amid Landmark-Status Feud

Article excerpt

The once-elegant Rainbow Room sits empty on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, the victim of a fight between a powerful landlord and a famous restaurant operator.

It was probably the most cinematically perfect space in New York. It had that stylishly streamlined modern look -- elegant crystal chandeliers here, a revolving dance floor there, long velvety draperies beyond. And it had those magical views that made the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building seem small enough to reach out and touch.

Of course it was cinematically perfect. Helping with the decoration was Vincente Minnelli, who went on to direct, among other movies, "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever."

Now, as it has for more than three years, the Rainbow Room sits empty on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, the victim of a fight between a powerful landlord and a famous restaurant operator. They tussled, before judges and arbitrators, over everything from multimillion-dollar rent increases to metal detectors by the elevators downstairs.

On Tuesday, the Rainbow Room moved a crucial step closer to winning a rare interior landmark designation when the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission agreed to schedule a public hearing to review it. But that may be too little, too late. The bar that was so popular in the 1990s has been chopped into sections, and some restaurateurs say that part of the floor below the Rainbow Room itself -- the floor with the big banquet room and the gleaming kitchen -- has been leased to an accounting firm.

"New York and New Yorkers loved the Rainbow Room," said the restaurateur Drew Nieporent. "It's just one of a kind -- the building itself, and it was a destination for both food, wine and song. And certainly some of the greatest parties I've ever attended were in that room."

The application for the landmark designation is a remnant of an angry feud between the Cipriani family, which ran the Rainbow Room, and Tishman Speyer Properties, which had been the landlord since the late 1990s. It was the Ciprianis who filed the application to the landmarks commission, perhaps knowing that landlords sometimes oppose landmark status because it limits the alterations they can make. And limiting the way a space can be remodeled can limit the way it can be used or the rent that can be charged.

The Ciprianis have been out of the picture since 2009, when Tishman Speyer evicted them, but the landmarks commission takes its time. There are no big-tipping customers anymore, just prospective restaurateurs and real estate types. For a restaurant that figured in so many first nights, so many first dates, so many boldface encounters, it is impossible to know how many bottles of Champagne were not drunk, how many dances were not danced, how many anniversaries were not celebrated, how many famous elbows were not rubbed. …

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