By Stanley Bing
May 23, 2008

Boulevardiers and professional business diners throughout the New York City area have been chattering this week about a recent piece in the New York Times that announced, once and for all, who had been elected the Mayor of Michael’s. That throne went to Joe Armstrong, formerly of ABC and now a consultant, man-about-town and rainmaker. The news conferred upon one fortunate individual a formal level of power and recognition in an establishment that determines much of the reputational action in town.

For those who don’t work in New York and who aren’t in the fields of publishing, media, finance and mogul-stroking, Michael’s is the fulcrum upon which the self-regard of midtown business turns. It’s a restaurant, but moreso, in the sense that food is only a small part of what the institution is about. It’s about where you sit and who you sit with. It’s about who has the biggest pecker in the pecking order. It is the Club for all who wish to belong to a place that WOULD like to have them as a member.

There are and have been many places like it over the years — Les Deux Magots in Paris during the mid-20th Century, the Russian Tea Room on West 57th in the 70s and 80s. Each filled a certain interstitial gap between segments of society. Michael’s has been doing this job for the haute working/ruling class since the late years of the millennium just past, its light, frisky sauces and fresh dayboat scallops providing the glue that has brought together bankers, film-makers, publishers, writers, actors, power players and a host of lesser, fatuous people, and made them feel good about themselves. I have had the honor of being in that last group for some years, having been an early luncher and among the first to have attended breakfast at the establishment, a daily event that now trumps even the Regency on 61st Street in its pretensions and awesome influence of some sort.

The news that Armstrong has been sanctified and installed as the Mayor of Michael’s was in no way news to any of us. Each day he attends, the restaurant puts a little ceramic boot with a cactus in it on his table, signifying his status as an official in the domain. I believe the boot is there because Joe comes from Texas. It’s very nice, and makes everybody just a little bit jealous. I have always felt that, under the circumstances, and given my loyalty to the place, I should have a wing tip filled with pastrami on my table when I am in attendance, but so far have avoided mentioning the matter. These things come with certain recognition, and I surmise that in spite of my stature (or perhaps because of it), I have yet to break through to this level.

Armstrong’s investiture, while in no way a surprise, did throw the entire community into a tizzy of anxiety. Jockeying immediately began for the remaining titles still vacant.

Rumors abound, for instance, that former Governor of New York State Eliot Spitzer is about to throw his hat into the ring for either Governor of Michael’s, or possibly, given the circumstances of his recent change-of-venue, the title of Emperor of Michael’s. Spitzer may have a tough time getting the nomination. He has yet to be seen at the establishment, even though my standing offer for a free lunch has been hanging out there for over a month. If he’s serious about this effort, he should definitely take me up on it. I can guarantee him a very nice table against the wall.

Other positions that are said to be available at this juncture include:

  • King of Michael’s: possible names in the running include Ron Perelman and Harvey Weinstein, although a dark horse candidate like Hallmark nabob Henry Schleiff could not be counted out;
  • President and CEO of Michael’s: Former Disney (DIS) topper Michael Eisner would seem to be a shoe-in here, but the sighting of former president Bill Clinton in the restaurant has cast some doubt on who would be victorious when the battle is done;
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer of Michael’s is wide open right now, but a major player in turnaround at this moment like Stan O’Neal or Alan Greenspan would certainly be a shoe in.
  • Executive Vice President of Public Relations of Michael’s: This is a tough one, but in an obvious position of strength is HarperCollins bigwig David Hirshey (pictured, left, with Michael himself, above) and CBS Corporation’s (CBS) Gil Schwartz, who declines interest but has indicated to friends, on background, that he would serve if drafted.
  • And of course Barry Diller could have just about any position he wants.

I’ll keep you posted on this exciting race and how it develops.

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