- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009

NEW YORK | The recession has reached the ritzy Rainbow Room, the special-occasion spot that overlooks Midtown Manhattan from high above the tourist-attracting Rockefeller Center skating rink.

With business slowing and a lease dispute ongoing, the venue’s Italian-themed Rainbow Grill restaurant plans to shutter as of Jan. 12, a spokesman said Saturday. Its bar, banquet space and the weekend dinner-dancing sessions that reflect its glamorous history will continue on the 65th floor.

“It’s a very difficult decision to make, given the sort of status of the Rainbow Room as one of these quote-unquote New York City icons,” said Ben Branham, a spokesman for the operators, the Cipriani restaurant empire. “The move is made, definitely, as one of protecting the venue.”

He said it was not clear how long the restaurant would be closed. During the downturn after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the eatery - where a recent dinner menu ranged from a $28 rice pilaf to a $53 rib-eye steak - shifted to lighter fare for several months.

About 30 to 40 of the Rainbow Room’s 120 workers would lose their jobs, said Mr. Branham. He didn’t have figures on the extent of the slowdown but said there was still demand for the storied establishment.

“People still very much think of the Rainbow Room as a destination for special events and one that evokes a certain New York City charm,” he said.

The Rainbow Room has symbolized cosmopolitan elegance since it opened in 1934, during the Great Depression. It is located above NBC’s studios at Rockefeller Center, offering Art Deco ambiance and glittering vistas of the city skyline.

Generations of celebrities have performed and partied there. Frank Sinatra once showed up on the same night as Bob Dylan. Famously unruly Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards donned a tie to see a Marianne Faithfull show there.

The venue’s periodic dinner-and-dancing nights still call for suits and dresses - if not tuxedos and evening gowns - and feature a big-band orchestra.

The Cipriani family, which runs a roster of swank spots including Harry’s Bar in Venice, has managed the Rainbow Room since 1998. The Ciprianis asked the city Landmarks Preservation Commission in August to give the Rainbow Room landmark status, amid negotiations over its lease.

The Ciprianis said landlord Tishman Speyer has had the venue appraised as office space worth $8.7 million a year in rent, more than twice the current rate.

A Speyer spokeswoman didn’t return a telephone call Saturday, but WNBC-TV reported Friday that a spokesman said the landlord had no plans to convert the space.

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