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Archive for the category “Some Interesting Guests…”

Wendy Gillette, CBS Weekend Travel Show Reporter for “NYC Getaways” VISITS “Private Hotel + Pure Food”, Ithaca. . .

Wendy Gillette

Wendy Gillette is a television reporter, anchor, host, voiceover artist, producer, writer, and Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere editor based in New York City. She has more than fifteen years experience working for local television stations throughout the United States and more than ten years at the network level.





Tulku Sherab Dorje visits Private Hotel and Pure Food!


Tulku Sherdor came by this past Sunday for lunch. Born in Montreal, Canada in 1961, he began studying Buddhist Insight meditation from a very young age, and met his principal teacher, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, in Nepal in 1981. He was fortunate to study with other pre-eminent masters of the 20th century, including His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Khetsun Zangpo Rinpoche, Dung Say Trinley Norbu Rinpoche, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, and many others. He completed a 3-year lama retreat in the Karma and Shangpa Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and a year-long solitary retreat in the Chogling Tersar practice lineage held by Tulku Urgyen. Over the past 20 years he has traveled far and wide, teaching and working with and translating for a great number of distinguished Nyingma and Kagyu meditation masters, such as helping Trangu Rinpoche establish the monastic retreat program at Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in the early 1990s; helping Kenpo Sonam Topgyal Rinpoche re-establish the vajrayana Buddhist tradition for the Chinese community in Thailand in the mid-1990s; and working closely with his precious teacher, His Holiness Orgyen Kusum Lingpa, to advance many philanthropic projects in Tibet dedicated to world peace.
Tulku Sherdor is renowned as a scholar and interpreter of Tibetan Buddhist teachings into English, and known for his quiet yet humorous and insightful manner.

Krishna Das nominated for Grammy!

kd yes

Kirtan at the Grammys? Now that would be cool. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

Chantmaster Krishna Das, the legendary “rock star of yoga,” has earned a nod from the Grammy nominators for Live Ananda, which is up for Best New Age Album of the Year. It is only the second time in history, to our knowledge, that a kirtan album has been in the running for the music industry’s top prize; the first time was in 2003, when Jai Uttal’s groundbreaking Mondo Rama was nominated in the same category. (No, there is no “Kirtan” Grammy category, or even “Yoga Music” for that matter – yet.)

That’s right. From here on out, KD shall be known as the Grammy-nominated chantmaster of American yoga.
Well, that is, until — and if — we can call him the Grammy-winning blahblahblah. That would be a first for the little devotional-music niche that is call-and-response chant, itself a mere drop in the catch-all bucket of “new age” music.

Live Ananda was recorded, well, live at Ananda. Ananda Ashram, that is, the Yoga Society of New York’s retreat and spiritual center in Monroe, N.Y., at the feet of the Catskills and the heart of the Bhajan Belt, where KD used to hold yearly workshops. Live Ananda captures five long, sweet songs — each a KD classic from his early recordings — co-performed with an exuberant audience of chanters during a three-day retreat in 2007. It was released in January 2012 without a lot of fanfare as far as we could tell, digitally only and only through iTunes (much to the dismay of Apple haters everywhere, and those of us who still like to have and hold an actual CD, complete with cover art and liner notes). UPDATE: Nina Rao tells us that Live Ananda is going to be re-released this month in “hard” form — cover art, liner notes and all.

I have to confess: this was the one KD release that I did not own. I mean, I’m as big a KD fan as you can find (bias alert!), but somehow I couldn’t get too excited about this CD. After the brilliance of Heart as Wide as the World (2010), KD’s first studio album in 12 years (with Grammy-nominated producer David Nichtern), maybe it felt anti-climactic – I played that disc night and day for months. Plus, I already owned — and loved — every single live recording he ever did. That and a pesky password problem with iTunes kept me from downloading it when it came out, and I just never went back — until this morning’s announcement. A Grammy nomination? How come I don’t own this?!

Well, now I do. And you’ll want it too, because, well, it’s Grammy-nominated. That, and it’s classic KD all the way: soulful, deep, heart wide open to the world, singing for his guru and taking us right along with him to that place he goes…
The much-anticipated Grammy nominations were announced by The Recording Academy Dec. 5 at a concert broadcast live from Nashville, Tenn., marking a count-down to the 55th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10. Nominees are selected by voting members of the Recording Industry Association of America, who can each vote in up to nine music categories.

What would KD do?
So, now that KD is officially a nominee, we can’t help but wonder if he’ll capture one of the coveted live-performance slots at Music’s Biggest Night (even if he is scheduled to be at Blue Spirit in Costa Rica at the time — that’s what satellite feeds are for, right?). What would KD do? Wouldn’t it be something to witness the chantmaster and his band on stage at the Grammys, leading the superstar crowd in the Hare Krishna Mahamantra, broadcast live to the world?

Stranger things have happened at the Grammys. Have you watched this awards show lately? This is the night the music world’s biggest stars pull out all the stops, and sometimes go right over the top. (What was up with that Nicki Minaj “exorcism” last year?) With that kind of act to follow, KD might need to take a page from a memorable music video in the closet of his past (one we venture he’d prefer to forget)…something involving snake-dancing goddesses and a decidedly Christ-like KD, perhaps?

Naaah, that’s not gonna happen. A duet with Sting for Mountain Hare Krishna has been suggested, a nod to Pilgrim Heart (1998). Or how about a pair-up with Bob Dylan for Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, ala KD’s surprise move at Omega Ecstatic Chant last fall — have you seen this?


Gramercy Park Hotel Days… Revisited?

Steven Weissberg visits us again! Photo of Steven (the former owner of the Gramercy Park Hotel) and I this morning reminiscing about the GPH’s glorious past and his future involvement with Private Hotel and Pure Food…

Krishna Das, a Dream that continues for over 50 years….

Michael and Krishna Das sit in the Shantideva Temple, Ithaca, NY, Sunday morning 14 October 2012.

Cornell’s “First-Year Parents’ Weekend”, On a Fine Sunday Morning…

What a wonderful group of people this weekend! It was Cornell’s “First-Year Parents’ Weekend” and everyone was visiting their Cornell Freshman; the weather was perfect.

The famous sign at Jennings Pond, just down the road…

This afternoon after everyone left I took a walk over to Jennings Pond. It was a near perfect weekend…

Krishna Das and Crew Arrive in Ithaca…

Preparing for a dozen hungry vegans… We have an exciting weekend coming up, Krishna Das ( is scheduled to arrive with his
ensamble, Tulku Sherab Dorje ( and his assistant Jason and finally Petras Vainius and his wife Loreta of the Ann Wigmore Conference ( Lots of good people busy helping other bodies, minds and souls to heal themselves… Amen

Krishna Das performing at the Hanger Theater Friday night.

Krishna Das & Crew having lunch prior to Saturday’s workshop and Kirtan.

Krishna Das with Amit Singh Saturday evening after Kirtan.

Yes, a Pancake Prayer Breakfast with a Buddhist Rinpoche.
Tulku Sherab Dorje in the Shantideva Temple where he led the recitation of the “Heart Sutra”. He has been a student of many of the 20th centuries Buddhist Masters including His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Khetsun Zangpo Rinpoche, Dung Say Trinley Norbu Rinpoche, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche.

and finally on Sunday morning Krishna Das sits in the Shantideva Temple (

and on Sunday evening Petras and Loreta Vainius arrived. Recently returning from the Ann Wigmore Memorial Education Fund Conference held in Lithuania.

Steven Weissberg, Last Night’s Guest… Forty Years Later, Memories from The Gramercy Park Hotel…

 Steven Weissberg arrived last night with his son Jonathan. Steven and I have been close friends for over 40 years. Below are two articles that I’d like to share. I find it ironic that for so very many years I would frequent his hotel, sometimes I would even live there; now the day arrived that I can repay Steven for the many favors he and his family extended me with a tear…

Heartbreak Hotel

For nearly 50 years, the Weissberg clan has been quietly running the legendary Gramercy Park Hotel. But when David Weissberg jumped off the roof last month, his death exposed a family torn apart by drugs, illness, financial woes, and family feuds. Is it too late to restore a New York institution?

By Sarah Bermard, New York Magazine, July 8, 2002

(Photo: Photograph Courtesy of Gramercy Park   Hotel)

It was a typical weekday afternoon in Gramercy Park: High-school kids were crowding the corner of Lexington Avenue and 22nd Street. The park gates were swinging open and shut for a steady stream of local nannies pushing strollers and guests of the Gramercy Park Hotel, escorted by hotel doormen in their forest-green uniforms. Steven Weissberg, CEO of his family’s 509-room hotel, was in his second-floor office returning calls. His wife, Cameron, was out on Long Island with their young son. On the fifth floor, Steven’s younger brother, David, and his wife, Marilyn, were arguing in their suite. This was not unusual; since their wedding at the Elvis Presley chapel in Las Vegas two years ago, they were known for their tempestuous rows. But this time, Marilyn had packed her bags and insisted she was leaving for good. David suggested they go up to the roof garden for air. Marilyn agreed, hauling her suitcases with her. After a few minutes in the penthouse party space where Humphrey Bogart married Helen Menken, Marilyn said good-bye and took the elevator eighteen floors down to the lobby.

Left alone, David made his way to the roof’s northeast corner. He unbuckled a fanny pack containing $4,000 in cash and dropped it on the floor before climbing up onto a ten-foot ledge. He removed the gold Ten Commandments necklace he always wore and clasped it in his hand. Then, just as Marilyn emerged from the hotel’s revolving door, David jumped. He landed in front of the hotel bar.

“Marilyn was hysterical,” says a witness. “She sat down right next to him with her back against the wall. The doorman from the building next door tried to console her.” Moments later they were joined by Steven, who would spend the rest of the day huddled in the hotel’s lounge with the police as Marilyn was taken to the hospital to be treated for shock. “Someone on my staff came into my office and told me. I went downstairs,” he says, “and saw the horror.”

For Steven, his brother’s death was only the latest in a string of family tragedies set against the background of the shabby genteel hotel whose history is intertwined with theirs.

“It’s like they’re the Kennedys or something,” says a neighbor. “They have their own family curse.”

“Well, the Kennedys did stay here,” sighs Steven. “Maybe they rubbed off on us.”

Beloved by celebrities and civilians alike for its threadbare charm, the Gramercy Park Hotel is a one-of-a-kind New York institution. In an era of corporate chains and high-end Ian Schrager-style boutiques, it’s a throwback, an eccentric family-run operation in stately, if neglected, prewar quarters, where rooms under $200 a night make up in size what they lack in amenities. Guests still get metal keys instead of plastic key cards, and the kitchenettes come equipped with hot plates instead of microwaves.

To many, its retro character is part of the appeal. But to competitors, it’s a fabulously underdeveloped opportunity. A week after David’s death, André Balazs, the proprietor of the Mercer and the Château Marmont, invited Steven to dinner. “It’s been a dream of mine to own it,” confides Jeff Klein, owner of the ultraluxe City Club Hotel on West 44th Street. He isn’t the only one. “Seven years ago, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it,” says restaurateur Jonathan Morr, who owns the Townhouse Hotel in South Beach. “I’d just go and sit in the lobby and think about what I’d do with it. I called my broker and said, ‘I want to take it over!’ But the father didn’t want to sell.”

“Every hotelier in the world loves that hotel. It’s something everybody, anybody, would want to put their hands on,” says Morr. “Tell Steven to call me.”

The hotel’s most coveted asset, of course, is its enviable location opposite the city’s only gated, private park, accessible solely to those fortunate enough to have a key, a privilege that comes with a Gramercy Park address. Once a bastion of late-nineteenth-century elegance, the park itself has become a lightning rod for high drama in the form of legal combat between Aldon James, president of the National Arts Club, and the park’s trustees over everything from tree pruning to racial sensitivity. Picking sides in the various battles has become a favorite dinner-party pastime for residents, as has speculating on the outcome of the district attorney’s investigation into the club’s finances. But while the neighborhood gossip swirled around them, the Weissbergs, the largest lot holders by far, remained curiously and determinedly below the radar.

David’s death changed all that, shining an unwelcome spotlight not only on his family’s problems but on the hotel’s uncertain future. To observant regulars, it has been clear for some time that all was not well. Eighteen months ago, Herbert Weissberg, the 89-year-old family patriarch and once a hotelier of some renown, reluctantly gave up the day-to-day running of the hotel because of failing health, but the succession has been far from smooth.

Last winter, Steven, who had been appointed CEO by his father, fell out with his older half-brother, Martin, 59, who’d been in charge of the hotel’s advertising and marketing. Accusing him of stealing from the hotel, Steven launched a $1 million lawsuit claiming Martin not only made “extortionate threats” against him but also used the hotel coffers as his “own private candy store.” Martin quickly countersued, denying all charges and claiming he was owed $500,000 in unpaid services.

In March, Steven uncovered a cache of assault rifles, shotguns, and ammunition that David, 46, was hiding in his room and the hotel’s basement. Steven called the police, and the story made the tabloids. David’s drug use had been an open secret for years. He and Marilyn had attended a methadone clinic together, and because of several earlier heroin arrests, the new gun rap could have landed him in jail.

Then, one Monday night in April, to the astonishment of those both working and drinking there, Steven abruptly closed the hotel bar and restaurant — with neither warning nor explanation.

None of this could have been easy for Steven, who had already endured his own personal tragedies — the death of his first wife from cancer in 1997, followed shortly by the death of his 19-year-old son from a drug overdose.

“It’s been one monumental tragedy after another,” says Arlene Harrison, president of the 2000-member Gramercy Park Block Association. “It’s hitting him more and more every day. But Steven was not the cause of all of this. He is not the person that made the problem.”

The Gramercy’s guest book would rival a Liz Smith column for name checks. Babe Ruth was an early patron; Joseph Kennedy rented out the hotel’s third floor when his son John was 11. In the seventies, it was such a rock-star haven that Cameron Crowe insisted on filming scenes of Almost Famous in the lobby. Debbie Harry took up residence; the Rolling Stones stopped by. “When I was a kid, I used to hang out and have Shirley Temples and eat dinner in the restaurant,” says fashion photographer Terry Richardson, whose father lived in the Gramercy for seven years.

More recently, an hour or two at the piano bar would almost guarantee a glimpse of Matt Dillon, John Waters, Ethan Hawke, Steven Tyler, or Andy Garcia. Chloë Sevigny seemed to conduct all her interviews in the low-lit lounge. And one night around 11:30, Phyllis Love, the regular Monday pianist, met Jewel and her date for the evening, Leonardo DiCaprio: “We weren’t supposed to let people sing — most people can’t sing — but she said she’d sing something I would know how to play. So she sang ‘Summertime.’ There was a huge round of applause that must have woken someone up because, believe it or not, I had a complaint as soon as she finished. But she did give me a nice tip.”

The hotel had its share of homegrown celebrities, too. There were the octogenarian silver-haired Harvey sisters — Jacqueline and Evelyn — who dressed identically and sipped multiple martinis at their VIP table facing the bar. Aunt Bee, 96, the hotel’s oldest tenant, has kept the same room for 60 years; during the summer months, she can be spotted sunbathing in the park, with the help of a tinfoil-covered album cover tilted toward her face. European travelers are a constant presence, none more notorious than the Savile Row–suited businessman who drank six Bombay Sapphire martinis directly after arriving from London. When finished, he headed to his room, only to reappear shortly thereafter sans suit, ready to order another.

The week after his brother’s death, Steven Weissberg is on an FF&E tour, accompanied by Yvonne English, his head of housekeeping. “Furniture, fixtures, and equipment,” he notes. Weissberg is in the early stages of a modest refurbishment that he hopes will make up for the years of benign neglect the hotel suffered under his ailing father. David Rockwell bamboo, Frette linens, and Jonathan Adler rugs may never make it to the Gramercy, but at least the black-and-white TVs were replaced with color sets and DVD players; coffee-makers and microwaves are edging out the dangerous hot plates.

Returning the faded lobby to its former glory is his next goal. He’s already fixed a series of chandeliers at the entrance. “Five years from now, I want to see the hotel look like it did 50 years ago,” he says. “I want to bring back the Roaring Twenties with chesterfields, the leather wingbacks with gold nail heads.”

Another plan is to increase the number of monthly tenants in the hotel, à la the Chelsea Hotel. He’s thinking of transforming the roof garden into a high-end cocktail lounge like Grand Central’s Campbell Apartment, or building out two family-size apartments there that he hopes could draw $1,000 a day. Steven opens the door to Room 721–25. It’s a two-bedroom suite with an enormous terrace overlooking the park, which he wants to rent for $10,000 a month. He strides out onto the AstroTurf. “This is where I lived with David in the mid-seventies,” he says. “We lived here with nine dogs.”

As he walks the halls, Steven keeps up a running narrative on everything from the status of newly ordered clock-radios to how he played bass guitar in his college band. It’s hard to avoid the sensation that he’s trying to distract himself from his many sorrows. The visit to the morgue to identify his brother was his third trip in five years. In 1997, his wife, Madalyn, lost her fight with colon cancer. She was 46. They had been married for eighteen years. “We met at the Roxy,” he says with a smile. “I was wearing a black silk suit and roller skates.”

After her death, Steven moved his two sons, Michael and Jonathan, out of their Upper East Side apartment and into a suite of rooms at the hotel to be closer to his family. Uncle David, in and out of rehab for his $500-a-day speedball habit, had never spent much time with his nephews, largely because Madalyn wanted to protect her children from his erratic behavior. Her instincts turned out to have been right: On the night of his 19th-birthday party at the hotel, Michael collapsed from an apparent drug overdose — in David’s room. “From what I understand, he was unconscious for a while,” says a hotel-staff member. “If someone had noticed, he could have been saved.” It is something Weissberg refuses to discuss. “I’ve had a lot of loss. My wife. My son. David,” he says. “How do I do it? I don’t know.” He pauses: “See that air conditioner? I just bought a hundred of them.”

During his heyday, Herbert Weissberg’s empire included the Biltmore in Palm Beach and the Ponce de Leon hotel and casino (now known as the Condado Plaza) in Puerto Rico. In New York, he owned the Paramount and the Taft, now the Michael Angelo in midtown, before buying the Gramercy. Steven learned the trade by osmosis. During college at the University of Arkansas, while Bill Clinton was governor, he managed the Sam Peck, a hotel across from the state capitol. He moved to Detroit after his father acquired the famed 1,136-room Sheraton Book-Cadillac and renamed it the Detroit-Cadillac. Three years later, he returned to New York to run the Lancaster on Madison Avenue and 38th Street, known today as the Jolly Madison. Meanwhile, even though Herbert had sold the majority of his holdings in 1967 and moved to Florida to semi-retire, he couldn’t resist one last fling with the Gramercy. When an interim operator defaulted on payments, Sol Goldman, the building’s owner, tempted the family with an offer to take on the Gramercy’s lease. In 1976, after a nine-year absence, the Weissbergs returned to the park.

Each evening, Herbert and his wife, Ruth, who’ve been married 50 years, ate dinner in the hotel restaurant, a windowless room behind the piano bar where the staff outnumbered the customers and the Continental menu included Jell-O for dessert and kippers for breakfast. Despite the fact that the owners were on the premises, the hotel was on autopilot. “It was either that the owners trusted it,” says Shelley Gold, a lounge pianist for thirteen years, “or it was a form of anarchy that worked.” About two years ago, when a stroke forced Herbert’s second retirement, Steven was officially installed by his parents as CEO. Robert, the oldest of the brothers and a political-science professor at the University of Illinois, had no interest in the family business; David, clearly too troubled to have a role, aspired to be a photographer. Martin, however, Herbert’s second son, was not pleased. “He thought he was going to be the man,” says Shelly Legon, a hotel bartender for seven years. “He thought of himself as the sharpest of the brothers. Even afterwards, when we had a staff meeting, Marty was doing all the talking. Steven never said a word.”

Tensions came to a head in December when Steven unceremoniously fired his older brother, following up a few months later with the lawsuit. In it, he also accuses Marty’s Media Marketing Group of grossly mismanaging the hotel’s Website, at one point even shutting it down and leaving a stream of unpaid advertising bills, including some from the New York Times. The brothers’ five-month silence was broken only when the two were forced to acknowledge each other at the funeral home in front of David’s coffin. According to Steven, Marty tried to address their disagreement, but Steven refused to talk. Depositions in the case begin in August, and neither brother will comment on the details.

Despite the obvious need to drag the Gramercy into the twenty-first century, some of the former staff, many of whom still feel loyal to the hotel after working there for years, are unimpressed with Steven’s efforts in that direction. “One day he says to me, ‘I’m going to put a pizza oven here behind the bar,’ ” says Legon, the former bartender. “What kind of idiotic thing is that? Then he says, ‘I’m going to put a sports bar in the lobby and you’re going to run it.’ I said, ‘What, are you stupid? You’ll cannibalize your own bar here!’

“Despite everything, I love the guy,” says Legon. “I feel sad. A guy who was handed everything can’t figure it out.”

Even before the impact of September 11 on the city’s hotel business, the restaurant was losing $1 million a year, but what, the staff wondered, was the point of closing the profitable bar? Steven argues that it was a necessary move to stop certain employees who were stealing from him. But he had to pay out $300,000 in severance to union employees and forgo $100,000 in banquet bookings. “I had to help one girl re-book her wedding at the Soho Grand,” says Robbin Cullinen, the former food-and-beverage director. “The woman was in tears.”

Steven says he regrets only one thing: the lack of room service. “Breakfast,” he says. “I still feel bad about.”

Every morning, he provides a spread of bagels, Danishes, and OJ from an Igloo cooler in the former bar area to compensate. A few feet away, the smoke-soaked mauve curtains are still hanging; a carton of the hotel’s signature bar snack, Pepperidge Farm Cheddar Goldfish, still sits on a mirrored shelf.

How he handles the food-and-beverage operation will be Steven’s next test. He had decided to lease it out and had been talking to two chefs: Giuliano Bugialli, best known for his Italian cooking classes and TV specials, who was interested in opening a cooking school in the hotel kitchen; and then Peter Vuli, who owns Fino on Wall Street and Vuli in the Radisson on Lexington and 48th. Nothing happened with Bugialli, but Vuli says he has a tentative deal to take over the restaurant in September with a Northern Italian menu. “I was thinking of calling it Brazza,” he says. He has already planned a horseshoe-shaped bar. Steven will say only, “I’m putting everything on hold.”

Inevitably, there is no shortage of suggestions for the Gramercy’s future. Jeff Klein suggests only renovating 50 rooms to create a “hotel inside a hotel” and adding a Les Deux Gamin–type cafe. “It would be a really chic place where people went to smoke cigarettes, talk about literature or art. Somewhere you could run into Damien Loeb meeting with Blondie,” he says. Neighborhood residents, however, are keeping their fingers crossed for Danny Meyer, even though he’s indicated he’s not interested. “There is a lovely space on the second floor overlooking the park,” says James Benenson, who lives in Meyer’s building across from the hotel. “It could be like the Ritz hotel in Boston.”

But any substantial renovation of the Gramercy is a developer’s Catch-22. The Weissbergs’ long-term lease on the property isn’t so long anymore. In sixteen years, they will have to renegotiate with the Sol Goldman estate; the intervening time is long enough to lease out the restaurant but not to justify spending the $15 million to $20 million it would take to give the property the refurbishment it needs, and get much of a return.

“I don’t think just renovating some rooms would be enough,” says Stanley Bard, managing director of the Chelsea Hotel, the other eccentric family-run establishment famous for its artistic following. “You see, they should have done that over the years. We’ve had a restoration program over a ten-year period. We are interested in preserving and propagating a legend. It’s very difficult for a family that doesn’t have public financing or chain financing.”

“A family operation is different,” agrees Ira Drucker, Balazs’s partner in the Mercer and developer of the Chambers Hotel, who met with Steven earlier in the year about possibly partnering on a revamp. “Families doing business tend to hurt each other. The cash flow is probably eroding.” If it is, Steven is not admitting it. “I just looked at an 800-room hotel in Italy,” he notes, “and a 200-room hotel in Aruba.”

Today might be the day Steven finally has a meltdown. His lawyer is expecting him uptown; his mother is calling relentlessly from the hospital where his father is undergoing some tests. And Marilyn, David’s wife, has called the cops. After David’s death, Steven gave Princess, David’s Jack Russell, to a hotel guest who passed the animal on to a friend. But now Marilyn, who has moved back into the hotel temporarily, wants Princess herself. Unfortunately, the dog has disappeared somewhere in the wilds of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Jonathan, Steven’s second son, has been dispatched to the Kennel Club to try to find a replacement. A puppy, it turns out, costs $1,500. “Just put it on the credit card,” Steven tells Jonathan, his head in his hands.

Suddenly, he decides on a motorcycle ride. “It’s too nice out,” he shouts. Five minutes later, he’s revving his red-and-black 1999 Indian Chief up Park Avenue, past the Waldorf and back down Fifth, past the Pierre and the Sherry-Netherland. He drives by the building where he’s considering an office to separate himself a bit from the hotel. He is even thinking that when Jonathan goes to college, he might move Cameron and their infant son, Logan, out of the hotel altogether.

The couple were married Valentine’s Day, 1999, by Mayor Giuliani, and again in a service at Temple Emanu-El. “I converted,” says Cameron, a textile designer who grew up Catholic in Philadelphia. “I worked in the garment district. I always wanted to be Jewish.”

Since Logan’s birth, she’s been active in the neighborhood, partnering with Harrison’s Gramercy Park Block Association to launch Gramercy Babies, a group for new mothers and their kids to meet. For the first time in ten years, there will be an election in the fall for five new park trustees, and Cameron Weissberg is a strong candidate. “I would like to move out of the hotel some day,” she says. “But I love the park.”

Steven says hotel living is not exactly like the Eloise books he read as a kid. “Her parents were monthly tenants,” he points out, “Not hotel owners. And they traveled a lot. I don’t think hotel life is geared towards raising a child. It will be a new era. To be in an apartment, have neighbors, a home. I’d like more of a home.”

But for now, the hotel will have to do. And there are certain perks. After a month of tsuris, Steven takes out his massive chain of keys and opens the gate to Gramercy Park. The ceremonial black ribbon he was wearing for David’s shiva is still in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. “I would not have predicted it,” says Steven, recalling that just three weeks before, the two of them had gone shopping together to buy white roses for their mother on Mother’s Day. “My feeling is that it was his feelings of defeat from the departure of his wife that were the main incentive.” It is possible that there may have been something else weighing on him, too. Only recently, the family had passed the difficult hurdle of the first anniversary of Michael’s death. Around Steven’s wrist is the silver-and-ruby bracelet that Michael used to wear. He walks up the gravel path and turns right. The first green bench has a brass plaque that reads IN MEMORY OF MADALYN WEISSBERG. The adjacent bench is dedicated to Max Weissberg, Steven’s grandfather, and the one after that is in memory of Max’s wife, Rose.

“Okay, Grandma,” he says. “We’ll sit on you.” The clouds shift and the sun’s glare makes him squint. He is tired. “This is a good place to sit,” he says, pausing. “Unfortunately, I need more benches.”


Hotel Gramercy Park and the Spirit of New York

By $blogger.title| April 27, 2008 03:13PM EDT

The audience at the world premiere of the documentary Hotel Gramercy Park offered a snapshot of the venerable hotel’s transformation from seedy palace of sin to mecca of upscale bohemianism.

Hotel Gramercy Park One noteworthy face at last night’s world premiere of the documentary Hotel Gramercy Park was the jewelry designer and Wes Anderson sidekick Waris, who is the kind of lower Manhattan nightlife nabob you might expect to see at the new and improved Gramercy Park Hotel, reinvented by boutique hotel legend Ian Schrager in 2006 as a bastion of contemporary New York cool. But many in the audience looked as if they were probably nostalgic for the old Gramercy, that crumbling palace of faded glamour and rock and roll hedonism which housed everyone from David Bowie to Madonna to the early casts of SNL, where no questions were asked as long as guests agreed not to burn the place down.
The film is about the transition between the hotel’s two eras, which occurred earlier this decade, and about the intertwined stories of the Weissberg clan, owners of the hotel from 1958 until 2003, and Schrager, the Studio 54 co-founder turned tax cheat turned celebrity hotelier. In introducing the film, a three-year undertaking, director Douglas Keeve stood beside a colleague wearing a sandwich board reading “Public Sale—Gramercy Park Hotel Closed—Entire Contents Must Go,” a reference to the liquidation of the hotel’s material assets that took place before Schrager closed it for renovation. Keeve made sure to thank the Weissbergs, whose personal trials and tribulations—which run from drugs to suicide to cancer—are given ample attention in the film. “They went through this with grace and dignity, and I am eternally in their debt.” He went on to give a shout-out to bad-boy artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel, who collaborated with Schrager on the hotel’s redesign, noting, “Schnabel reminds us of the sensuousness of life with his amazing work… and I’ll try not to say any more than that” (Schnabel is a bit domineering in the film). And he recalled his nervousness in showing the final cut to Schrager, recounting how a plumber arrived just before one of the film’s “dicey” parts to talk with Schrager about a leak, prompting Keeve to fast-forward through the scene, then wonder, “What have I done?” According to Keeve, however, Schrager was gracious about the film, telling him, “Don’t touch it, don’t touch it, it’s great. There’s stuff I don’t like, but it’s great.” At the film’s outset, the photographer and former promoter Leee Black Childers, who was also in the audience, muses, “No one has ever given New York credit for its soul, and the Gramercy Park Hotel was New York’s soul.” For the next 80 minutes, Keeve sets out to demonstrate how true that is, using commentary from such éminence grises of the old Gramercy as Debbie Harry and Paper magazine’s Kim Hastreiter, extended interviews with lifelong hotel resident Jonathan Weissberg (the family’s youngest member, also present), and poignant portrayals of three delightfully quirky and quintessentially New Yorkian tenants who decided to stay on during the renovation. But despite Gramercy Park residents’ worries that Schrager would open the door to an invasion of yuppies, the hotel is clearly still a big part of the city’s soul, which is big enough to include everyone from new tenant Karl Lagerfeld to the aspiring young actors who serve as the hotel’s new staff. Probably the film’s biggest laugh was also the reopened hotel’s signature moment: its refusal to allow Paris Hilton into a party. Schrager may have brought the Gramercy upscale, but the hotel still carries a whiff of its old bohemian eccentricity. “The spirit of New York is change,” Childers adds later, and indeed, the Gramercy Park Hotel’s transformation—not the first in its storied history—shows that in New York City, change is itself a form of continuity.
As people streamed for the theater exits afterwards, actor Kyle MacLachlan could be heard exclaiming, “What an amazing story!” Everyone seemed to agree.

Michael Davidman, This Weekend’s Honored Guest wins ALL FIRST PLACE AWARDS in the 33rd Annual Ithaca College Piano Competition


Born in New York City in 1997, Michael Davidman began studying piano performance at the age of six under the direction of Efrem Briskin at the Manhattan School of Music Precollege since 2006 and conducting with Jonathan Strasser since 2009. Being an avid opera enthusiast, exceptional sight reader, and accompanist, he has performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Alice Tully Hall, Music@Menlo’s Chamber Music Festival, InterSchool Orchestras of NY, and chamber with the International Academy of Music in Italy, Spain, and Russia. As soloist, he has performed some of the most demanding concertos with the Yonkers Philharmonic Orchestra, NY Chamber Orchestra, and the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra amongst others. At 15 years of age, Michael has won over a dozen awards. Some of his first place accolades include: grand prize LISMA Foundation 9th International Music Competition in the17-23 year old category at age 15, 2012 Yonkers Philharmonic Concerto Competition, Mary Smart International Concerto Competition, twice in the Manhattan School of Music Precollege Concerto Competition in two age categories, grand prize winner and youngest competitor in the 2009 Wagner College Young Musician’s Competition. Michael has been awarded scholarships by The Chopin Foundation of the United  States, Joyce Dutka Arts Foundation, LISMA Foundation, and the Dianne Danese Flagello Scholarship. Michael has appeared on NPR’s “From the Top”radio program, and was the youngest selected at age 13 to perform in the Lang Lang master class at the Manhattan School of Music. He has performed at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Bechstein Hall, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Steinway Hall in New York, Symphony Space, and recitals in Italy, Spain, and the historic Composers Union in St. Petersburg, Russia. Presently, Michael attends Hunter College High School in New York City. He donates his time performing at senior care facilities, attends the opera, and enjoys Broadway shows.

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