New York's Rainbow Room falls victim to the recession

Glitzy Manhattan haunt of the rich and famous receives eviction order
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Visitors to Manhattan determined to combat the economic gloom might think of riding the lifts to the 65th floor of the Rockefeller Center, take in the view and swallow some bubbles in the celebrated Rainbow Room, an institution born in the depths of the Great Depression.

But the glitzy watering hole that once lured the likes of Frank Sinatra and Keith Richards will be padlocked as of tomorrow. Call it a depression or a recession, either way the Rainbow Room is its latest victim.

A little over one week ago the Cipriani restaurant empire which operates the legendary space, with its Art Deco flourishes, unparalleled views of New York and revolving dance floor, announced that it was closing one part of the place – the Rainbow Grill – because of economic pressures.

But worse was afoot, thanks not just to the dwindling spending power of the city's visitors but to a vicious rental dispute between Cipriani and the owners of the skyscraper, Tishman Speyer Properties. The row culminated late Friday with Cipriani being evicted for good.

Unbowed but clearly in a fix, Cipriani called the eviction notice "frivolous", accusing Tishman of attempting to throw it out to replace the bars and dining tables with higher-earning office space. Cipriani, with other catering and restaurant operations across Manhattan and in Europe, complained: "Unfortunately, we are dealing with an uncompassionate and greedy landlord who has not made any efforts to resolve our differences in a reasonable manner".

Tishman shot back saying it had no intention of gutting the Rainbow Room to make way for corporate offices, a move that in any event would be certain to evoke the kind of outrage Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis mustered when developers attempted to erase Grand Central.

"The Rainbow Room is one of our city's great institutions, and we will immediately begin the process of finding another great restaurateur to operate the space in the first-class manner that New Yorkers and visitors deserve," said Tishman spokesman Robert Lawson.

According to Tishman, Cipriani, which in theory holds a lease that does not expire until 2013, was four months behind on its $500,000-a-month rent for the space, which includes the bar, the grill restaurant and a business club.

Behind the row over unpaid rent is a longer-running dispute over how much it should be, with competing assessments – including that of an independent valuer – being made for the Rainbow Room. If the big band turns up tonight, the sounds they play may be those of a New Orleans funeral march. Or a big trombone raspberry.