“I can’t believe it’s 25 years. It’s like it’s been 25 minutes,” said renowned publisher Joni Evans, a devoted Michael’s New York customer who remembers when the restaurant opened in 1989 on the Italian Pavilion grounds. “It was the place to be seen when you were in book publishing. It was the canteen, and it still is the canteen.”
Michael’s rang in its New York venue’s birthday on November 5th, and with 600 guests from their database of 11,000 regulars, the atmosphere was remarkably intimate. The influx of notable New Yorkers was constant and included top editors, politicians, socialites, Broadway producers and food critics, all of whom are Michael’s loyalists and close friends of the restaurant’s proprietor, Michael McCarty.
McCarty developed a love of cuisine and entertaining by observing his parents’ dinner parties. He later earned degrees from the École Hôtelière de Paris, the Cordon Bleu, the Academy du Vin, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in the Business and Art of Gastronomy from the University of Colorado at Boulder. McCarty soon became one of the originators of farm-to-table dining. While the style has more recently become associated with a Brooklyn aesthetic of paper menus served on wooden tables, Michael’s took a luxurious approach. When developing his first Michael’s restaurant in Santa Monica in 1979, McCarty planted farms and grew close relationships with the farmers to provide his customers with high-quality, local ingredients. “When I started in this business, food was brown, sweet and mushy,” McCarty said. “We were about being green, crispy and acidic.”
Sure, the food was innovative and highly palatable, but with absolutely no advertising, how did Michael’s establish itself as the ultimate industry hub? Strategically situated in the Theater District on 55th Street, fashion flagships, museums, hotels and offices close by made it the ideal power lunch—or even breakfast and dinner. “I can get more work done in an hour and a half lunch at Michael’s than I can in a week of trying to follow up with people on email and trying to get phone calls returned,” said New York Fashion Week founder and past CFDA Executive Director Fern Mallis. Whenever Mallis tries to impress a new client, she takes them to Michael’s. “It always works.”
Actor John Gabriel is one of many who spoke highly of Michael’s incredible warmth and generosity. “Whether you were a major star, a semi-star or not even a star at all, [Michael] just gave a feeling that you were very important,” he said. “Michael made you feel at home and as if you belonged.”
Other patrons have developed a passion for the restaurant’s aesthetic. For Artnet News critic-at-large Blake Gopnik, it’s all about the design. “I can’t tell if I’m at Michael’s or at MOMA when I come here,” he said. When asked if Michael’s art-filled walls have become like a second home to Gopnik, he replied: “This is like a museum to me, which is even more important than a home.”
While McCarty points out that the restaurant has evolved, not mutated, to meet contemporary needs, it is Michael’s notoriously sincere hospitality that keeps its 57 tables eternally occupied.
Click through the gallery of notable guests sharing their most memorable Michael’s moment.