NYPL Exhibitions

Joe Baum

The impresario of power lunch in New York was Joe Baum (1920–1998), the restaurateur whose grandest creations included the Four Seasons, the Forum of the Twelve Caesars, Windows on the World, and a new version of the Rainbow Room. Famous for their spectacular designs, innovative menus, and towering prices, Baum’s restaurants set the standard for high-style New York dining from the 1950s through the 1980s. The Four Seasons, which opened in 1959, became so famous for attracting the famous that 40 years later Alex Kuczynski of The New York Times compared it to the ultimate high school cafeteria: “Every table is the cool table.” Baum presented New Yorkers with seasonal ingredients, hand-crafted cocktails, even dining out as an exercise in good nutrition (though that innovation did not last long). Above all, Baum introduced restaurants as a form of theater, an idea still associated with New York’s splashiest restaurants. Some of his establishments failed, others flourished, but each new restaurant embodied what he called “a big idea,” and when the doors opened, New Yorkers came running.