One of New York's most prestigious power-lunch spots reportedly just filed for bankruptcy - here's what it's like to eat there

le cirque 2300Sarah JacobsMario Wainer.Sarah Jacobs

One of New York's most storied power-lunching spots could be on its way out.

Tucked inside the Bloomberg Tower at 58th Street and Lexington Avenue, Le Cirque is one of New York City's most famous restaurants. The restaurant, established in 1974 by Sirio Maccioni, has been a staple of the New York dining scene since its inception.

But Friday, the restaurant reportedly filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. While the future of the restaurant (and its 9 affiliated locations) remains uncertain, the filing is another nail in the coffin of New York's power-dining scene, which said goodbye to the iconic Four Seasons last year.

Not only is Le Cirque known for inventing the crème brûlée and spaghetti primavera, but it's been the launching pad for multiple famous chefs, including Daniel Boulud, David Bouley, and Terrance Brennan. A mixture of style, wonderful food, and famous clientele have given Le Cirque its place in New York City's fine-dining history.

Mario Wainer, who's been the maître d' and manager of Le Cirque for 26 years, has helped seat a list of famous guests that includes Beyonce and Jay Z, members of The Rolling Stones, former US presidents, and even the pope. His work is like a song and dance between the waitstaff and the guests - he greets regular diners like he would an old friend, and sees that everything is running smoothly.

Last March, we followed Wainer on a typical Tuesday during Le Cirque's lunch hours, and learned how the power lunch has changed in his time there.

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The restaurant sits inside the Bloomberg Tower in Midtown Manhattan. Many Bloomberg reporters, including food critic Peter Elliot, hop over to Le Cirque for lunch.

The restaurant sits inside the Bloomberg Tower in Midtown Manhattan. Many Bloomberg reporters, including food critic Peter Elliot, hop over to Le Cirque for lunch.

Le Cirque's front dining room seats about 120 people.

Le Cirque's front dining room seats about 120 people.

There's also the Le Cirque Cafe, which has full service at night, although some lunchtime regulars choose to eat their meals at the bar.

There's also the Le Cirque Cafe, which has full service at night, although some lunchtime regulars choose to eat their meals at the bar.

Fitting for its location, the cafe even has its own Bloomberg Terminal.

Fitting for its location, the cafe even has its own Bloomberg Terminal.

Towering through the first and second floors of the restaurant is a 27-foot refrigerated wine rack, which can hold over 3,000 bottles.

Towering through the first and second floors of the restaurant is a 27-foot refrigerated wine rack, which can hold over 3,000 bottles.

Robert Cenedella's painting "Le Cirque — The First Generation" hangs on the second floor and depicts the famous personalities that frequented the restaurant's original location. This is Le Cirque's third location since opening.

Robert Cenedella's painting "Le Cirque — The First Generation" hangs on the second floor and depicts the famous personalities that frequented the restaurant's original location. This is Le Cirque's third location since opening.

"One time there were two presidents here at once," Wainer said, pointing out a picture depicting Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. "They were dining together, of course."

"One time there were two presidents here at once," Wainer said, pointing out a picture depicting Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. "They were dining together, of course."

Le Cirque has stayed a family-owned business throughout the years. Sirio Maccioni has employed his three sons — Mario, Marco, and Mauro — to help keep the restaurant running smoothly.

Le Cirque has stayed a family-owned business throughout the years. Sirio Maccioni has employed his three sons — Mario, Marco, and Mauro — to help keep the restaurant running smoothly.

The restaurant has been the subject of many books, as well as a documentary called "A Table in Heaven." Here, Wainer points himself out in the book, "A Table at Le Cirque."

The restaurant has been the subject of many books, as well as a documentary called "A Table in Heaven." Here, Wainer points himself out in the book, "A Table at Le Cirque."

Before the lunch rush begins, Wainer usually calls to confirm any bookings for the day.

Before the lunch rush begins, Wainer usually calls to confirm any bookings for the day.

Today, the restaurant is expecting 50 to 60 people for lunch — a typical number for the winter season.

Today, the restaurant is expecting 50 to 60 people for lunch — a typical number for the winter season.

The lunch menu includes a two- or three-course prix fixe option in addition to the Le Cirque classics, like the Le Cirque Salad and tuna tartare. The restaurant welcomed a new chef, Tom Valenti, in January.

The lunch menu includes a two- or three-course prix fixe option in addition to the Le Cirque classics, like the Le Cirque Salad and tuna tartare. The restaurant welcomed a new chef, Tom Valenti, in January.

Some regulars prefer to have the same table, waiter, and drink whenever they dine at Le Cirque. "We're creatures of habit," Wainer said.

Some regulars prefer to have the same table, waiter, and drink whenever they dine at Le Cirque. "We're creatures of habit," Wainer said.

By 11:45 a.m. the restaurant is ready for the lunch crowd. "Lunch guests usually come between now and 2:30 p.m.," he said.

By 11:45 a.m. the restaurant is ready for the lunch crowd. "Lunch guests usually come between now and 2:30 p.m.," he said.

On this particular Tuesday, Wainer was expecting a couple of regular heavy-hitters, including Alya Ahmed Saif Al Thani, the permanent representative of Qatar to the UN, and William Lie Zeckendorf, grandson to real-estate tycoon William Zeckendorf Sr.

On this particular Tuesday, Wainer was expecting a couple of regular heavy-hitters, including Alya Ahmed Saif Al Thani, the permanent representative of Qatar to the UN, and William Lie Zeckendorf, grandson to real-estate tycoon William Zeckendorf Sr.

Although official business hours begin at noon, the first guest arrives at 11:45 a.m. on the dot, just as Wainer expected.

Although official business hours begin at noon, the first guest arrives at 11:45 a.m. on the dot, just as Wainer expected.

Wainer greeted every guest like an old friend at the door — shaking hands left and right and giving hugs.

Wainer greeted every guest like an old friend at the door — shaking hands left and right and giving hugs.

Wainer speaks five different languages, including French, Italian, and Spanish. On any given day, he's greeting customers in all five.

Wainer speaks five different languages, including French, Italian, and Spanish. On any given day, he's greeting customers in all five.

Here he seats Zeckendorf at his regular table.

Here he seats Zeckendorf at his regular table.

During the lunch rush, Wainer is pacing the floor, making sure guests are happy.

During the lunch rush, Wainer is pacing the floor, making sure guests are happy.

He'll make his way back to the kitchen to check on the staff, too.

He'll make his way back to the kitchen to check on the staff, too.

Many orders of the tuna tartare were making their way out the door to hungry guests. It's one of Le Cirque's most popular dishes.

Many orders of the tuna tartare were making their way out the door to hungry guests. It's one of Le Cirque's most popular dishes.

There's generally about 10 front-of-house staff working lunch.

There's generally about 10 front-of-house staff working lunch.

Over the past two decades, Wainer has seen a decline in the classic idea of the "power lunch." "Everyone is so connected nowadays — people don't want to leave their desks during the work day," he said. "People go out for drinks after work, but during the day it's generally less."

Over the past two decades, Wainer has seen a decline in the classic idea of the "power lunch." "Everyone is so connected nowadays — people don't want to leave their desks during the work day," he said. "People go out for drinks after work, but during the day it's generally less."

He noted that people are also not drinking alcohol at lunch the way they used to. "People change with the times," he said. "Today they order iced tea, sparkling water, or a soda."

He noted that people are also not drinking alcohol at lunch the way they used to. "People change with the times," he said. "Today they order iced tea, sparkling water, or a soda."

Regulars like Thani often text Wainer's work phone to make their reservation for the day.

Regulars like Thani often text Wainer's work phone to make their reservation for the day.

But those who don't have Wainer's cellphone number can use OpenTable to make their own power-lunch reservation at Le Cirque.

But those who don't have Wainer's cellphone number can use OpenTable to make their own power-lunch reservation at Le Cirque.
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