The day Lehman Brothers filed for chapter — Sept. 15, 2008 — the Grill Room was once nearly empty. Julian Niccolini, the maitre d’hôtel and a co-owner of the 4 Seasons eating place, was once taking calls nonstop. The calls got here from Wall Boulevard government assistants, canceling the reservations of the so-called Masters of the Universe who had transform the Masters of Not anything.
The cancellations piled up, and people who saved their reservations tempered their spending. “Plenty of iced tea,” Mr. Niccolini mentioned, “and little or no wine gross sales.”
Lehman’s chapter, the biggest within the nation’s historical past, marked the top of an technology and taken the monetary global to the threshold.
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“Everyone concept that it could by no means finish, and everyone was once consuming the costliest wine at the menu,” Mr. Niccolini mentioned. “After which that day took place, and it was once like the top of the sector.”
If there’s a particular person with a singular and candid standpoint at the cultural swings on Wall Boulevard for the reason that disaster, it may well be Mr. Niccolini. He’s a restaurateur to the titans of finance and a raconteur whose personal wanton habits — a sexual abuse case that led to a misdemeanor plea — makes him one thing of a smudged window into an in a different way an opaque global.
Mr. Niccolini has been serving lunch to Wall Boulevard’s elite since 1977 and will relay by means of reminiscence the desk numbers of leader executives like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone, and the drink possible choices of Pete Peterson, Mr. Schwarzman’s co-founder in Blackstone, who have been President Richard M. Nixon’s trade secretary.
“Oh, my God, Bruce Wasserstein,” Mr. Niccolini mentioned, invoking the past due funding banker, who pioneered the artwork of the opposed takeover. “Each time he did not get the precise desk, I were given a telephone name from his assistant, my God, looking to shoot me down.”
Numerous ink has been spilled over the last 10 years about whether or not Wall Boulevard’s basic ethos has modified. Did the near-death enjoy itself — or the rules that got here after — essentially exchange the souls of Wall Boulevard’s higher echelon?
Many on Wall Boulevard like to mention so. Classes were discovered, they are saying.
However Mr. Niccolini has had a table-side view of moguldom for many years, and he is aware of what he noticed.
Within the aftermath of the disaster, whether or not out of a way of guilt or anxiousness about sending the flawed message, there have been makes an attempt at frugality. “Folks began to look at what they have been spending,” he mentioned. And no one sought after to be showy: “Non-public occasions went means down.”
However that thriftiness evaporated in an issue of months. “The whole lot turned into the similar once more, as a result of those other people have cash,” Mr. Niccolini mentioned. “Do not omit that section. They have got cash. They wish to spend cash.”
Bonuses returned to Wall Boulevard by means of the top of 2009 — Goldman Sachs’s bonus bills reached $16.7 billion, the easiest degree in its historical past — and the monetary energy avid gamers returned to the 4 Seasons.
“You already know, part the folk on this position might be prosecuted,” Oliver Stone, the movie director, informed me with a way of glee in 2010 as he surveyed the Grill Room. It was once simply sooner than the premiere of “Wall Boulevard: Cash By no means Sleeps,” during which he revisited Gordon Gekko’s universe and a post-crisis “Wall Boulevard.”
Even the ones laid low by means of the disaster, like Dick Fuld, the general leader government of Lehman Brothers, discovered safe haven on the 4 Seasons. “He used to return from time to time,” Mr. Niccolini mentioned. “He was once now not handled any other than another other people.”
There were longstanding adjustments, after all. However the person who sticks out to Mr. Niccolini displays a metamorphosis in societal attitudes greater than trade beliefs.
“A few of the ones guys, like Lewis Glucksman from Lehman Brothers, each and every time he used to return to the 4 Seasons, sure, after all he had three-martini lunches,” Mr. Niccolini mentioned of the now deceased 1980s Lehman leader government, who helped groom Mr. Fuld. “There was once not anything flawed with that, you realize? As a result of the ones other people had some more or less other charter. There have been other people that might in truth drink a three-martini lunch and return to paintings.”
The one individuals who did not drink have been Mr. Peterson and Mr. Schwarzman, Mr. Niccolini mentioned. “However Sandy Weill,” he mentioned, relating to the previous head of Citigroup, “he loved his cocktail.”
He is much less sanguine concerning the transfer towards extra informal get dressed: “I am looking ahead to Dan Loeb to turn up with footwear on,” he mentioned relating to the activist hedge fund supervisor, with a handy guide a rough chuckle. “I imply truly, no. It is nonetheless Park Street, consider it or now not.”
Whether or not over beverages or duck, a part of what lengthy mattered concerning the 4 Seasons was once being there.
“It was once necessary to be observed, to hold on negotiations privately however in sight of others,” Paul Freedman wrote in his 2016 ebook, “Ten Eating places That Modified The usa.” The 4 Seasons, with its cathedral ceilings, allowed consumers to “see their neighbors, listen their very own confidential dialog with out problem, and now not be overheard — all in a serenely sumptuous surroundings,” he wrote.
Mr. Freedman’s ebook discusses the 4 Seasons previously annoying. It closed that 12 months, shedding its position within the Seagram Development on Park Street, however with plans to transport a couple of blocks away. Only some months sooner than, Mr. Niccolini pleaded to blame to misdemeanor attack. The plea stemmed from an allegation that he had sexually abused a girl the 12 months sooner than all over a birthday party on the eating place. Mr. Niccolini was once additionally the topic of a sexual harassment swimsuit from a former waitress that was once resolved in 1992, even if the main points weren’t made public.
“I have handled it,” he mentioned. “It’s one thing of the previous.”
Now the 4 Seasons has returned, reopening only some weeks in the past. The previous has now not affected trade, Mr. Niccolini mentioned, his eating place is already pulling within the moguls once more.
And so the Masters of the Universe — or no less than their assistants — are lining up their reservations another time.
“Everyone needs to select their very own desk,” Mr. Niccolini mentioned, record the names of Wall Boulevard luminaries who had visited the eating place sooner than its opening to assert a place.
“You already know what that suggests? They’re announcing: ‘I’ve extra money than you. I’ve extra energy than you. I’m in fee,'” he mentioned.
“It is about cash. It is about energy,” he persisted. “It hasn’t modified. In reality, it is getting a lot worse.”