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How The Quilted Giraffe became the Studio 54 of haute cuisine in NYC

This quirky restaurant perfectly encapsulated the era in which it was born, as a generational portrait of the effervescent post-modernist creative and artistic scene of 1980s New York.

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The Quilted Giraffe opened its doors in 1975 as a modest Second Avenue eatery that would eventually move to a luxurious space in the heart of Manhattan, in the Sony Building, through an avant-garde redesign frequented by New York’s high-profile celebrities. There, beyond the aesthetic elevation, the menu would cost about $75 per diner, with an average bill per table of $442 -about $1,050 in today’s currency.

For many years, The Quilted Giraffe served as a temple of haute cuisine on Madison Avenue, as the restaurant for New York’s elite in which, beyond the gastronomic rituals or evenings, hedonistic episodes of ostentation, excess, money, euphoria and decadence were constantly staged around its tables, bathrooms or in its lost and found room. Anything was possible there.


Barry Wine‘s idiosyncratic restaurant became the most expensive restaurant in the United States, between 1975 and 1992, which gathered at its tables personalities such as Woody Allen, Madonna, Mick Jagger, Trump, Jackie O, Gwyneth Paltrow, Diane Sawyer, Yoko Ono, Bernie Madoff or a male cast of Wall Street who called themselves ‘the lucky sperm club’. All of them were part of and/or danced at the same endless party that was The Quilted Giraffe.

As if it were an eclectic play performed by celebrities, this restaurant stood as the place to see and be seen. Although at the center of that circus the big star was its executive chef and owner Barry Wine, whose kitchen ran like clockwork as he entertained his customers with practical jokes, hung out in his kitchen with Madonna, or kept the diners’ anticipation going with experiments or games like once pulling a customer’s loafers out from under the table to return them to him later under a layer of silver as a surprise ‘dessert’. It was a place suspended between sumptuousness and sleaze that was also co-run by Susan, Barry’s now ex-wife, in charge of front-of-house operations.

Its elegant dining room decorated with simple but extravagant elements, with walls adorned with herds of giraffes, was the nexus of movie stars, artists, rock legends, business tycoons and powerful politicians who clinked champagne glasses on tables with caviar, illegal substances and lots of black truffles. Although, if there was one star dish that dazzled at The Quilted Giraffe, it was the so-called ‘beggar’s purse’, which consisted of a package of beluga caviar and crème fraiche topped with gold leaf, which the diner had to eat in handcuffs.

On any given night, its reservation list seemed like a ‘who’s who’ of the New York elite, where you could find everything from John Weir Close to Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton or Adnan Khashoggi, at different numbered tables set up in the same space and atmosphere of ostentation, excess and lust that had become the earthly paradise of the upper echelons of New York in the 80s.