And a small glass of Chateau Plonk, please

L ast week saw not just the initial failure of Hank Paulson’s bail-out bill but also the death of the $800 bottle of wine.

“It’s just not OK to have that on your expenses at a time like this,” one restaurateur says he has been told by banker clients. In this cut-throat world of mergers and firings, one imagines the quickest route to being fired would be to get carried away with a client and put a particularly fine Château Margaux on the office tab.

Inevitably, the owners of New York’s 22,000 restaurants are worried about how to survive the downturn. In previous periods, many have had to close, bringing that number down to 16,000.

According to Alex Von Bidder, co-owner of the Four Seasons — the ultimate power-lunch hot spot in Midtown — the answer is to be careful in good times as well as bad. “We never sell $800 bottles of wine,” he tells me. “In these times we know we lose the bankers who’d come in from the suburbs on a Friday or Saturday night, so we are careful about pricing, staffing, etc. It’s about quality, not quantity.”

Indeed I notice that lunch or dinner companions are more careful than usual about what they order: it’s one course, not two, and no coffee.

But then everyone is trimming back — and, for once, there’s no shame in it. If they used to take limos, now they take taxis; if they took taxis, now they take the bus or subway. I’ve also seen society women scale back their requests from friends for philanthropic money. Those just seem tactless at a time like this, despite their valid arguments that charities are losing out too.

Ironically, people are buying more designer clothes — because they’re on sale. Salespeople call to say they’re willing to come to your home to show you clothes if you haven’t time to visit the stores.

Private clubs are also increasingly the preferred dining spot for many New Yorkers. These are no longer aimed at rich wealthy Upper East Siders. One hot club is the Montauk Club in Brooklyn; it invites members to bring families and friends, but it costs $500 a year.

So thrift is the new chic in New York — and, as one dinner companion and I reflected on it last week, we felt relieved. “It’s almost like people can really be themselves for the first time,” he said. “There’s no longer that need to pretend to be something you are not. The reign of Gatsby is over.” V

Digg StumbleUpon Facebook