The Magic Curtains

Customers raising a cup at the bar in The Four Seasons may think they’ve had one too many when they notice the gentle undulations of the curtains covering the towering windows.But what they are witnessing is one of the bar’s unique charms – a phenomenon that appeared as if by magic.

When the restaurant was taking shape in the late 1950s, the enormity of the 18- to 22-foot high windows posed a serious challenge. Fabric curtains would fade and wear in the bright sunlight streaming in from the street, and an artisan came up with the solution: curtains made of tiny anodized aluminum loops.

The artisan was Marie Nichols, who fashioned the curtains by turning millions of loops into chains. The finished curtains were matchless. But on the day they were installed, the workmen noticed something very odd, even possibly calamitous. The workmen quickly placed a call to Philip Johnson, the architect in charge, who arrived to find the bronze-hued curtains rippling from top to bottom.

Mystified, Johnson thought the movement must have been caused by air currents, or perhaps the trains rumbling beneath Lexington Avenue. In any event, he knew a phone call to Joe Baum of Restaurant Associates was in order. On viewing the spectacle Baum declared it “beautiful.” Johnson too came to love the mysterious rippling – caused, he mused, by “the shock of New York.” Today neither those who first saw the “magic curtains” nor the countless people who have since wined and dined in their shadow could imagine the elegant Pool Room or Grill Room without them.

— Page 105, The Four Seasons Book of Cocktails (Sterling Publishing, 2010)

Paging Pablo Picasso

The Bronfman family, who built the Seagram Building and actively participated in the development of its vast new Four Seasons restaurant, sought in the late 1950s to exhibit the work of some of the finest modern artists, including Pablo Picasso. When they reached Picasso, he declined to create a sizable painting to display in the restaurant, pleading too little time. Instead he offered a curtain he designed for the Paris production of the ballet The Three-Cornered Hat, a prize that had been promised to New York’s Museum of Modern Art but was found to be too large for the museum walls.

The Bronfmans pounced on the offer and bought the curtain to hang in the Four Seasons Pool Room. But Restaurant Associates vice president Joseph Baum had doubts about its placement. “It depicted a bullfight,” he explained, “and I just didn’t think that would go down well with customers dining on tournedos of beef.” In the end, the Picasso curtain was hung in the spacious corridor between the restaurant’s Pool Room and Grill Room on a 20-foot-high travertine wall. To say the least, it was a dramatic surprise for arriving diners — but since 2015 it has shone forth at the New-York Historical Society Museum.

To this day artworks are exhibited in the downstairs lobby on East 52nd Street. In times past, the most famous included Jackson Pollack’s Blue Poles and Joan Miro’s Composition. And, in fact, in the 1960s The Four Seasons was the scene of a series of important exhibitions, some showcasing such emerging artists as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg.

—     Page 157, The Four Seasons Book of Cocktails (Sterling Publishing, 2010)