Story by Rory Winston | Photography by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
What’s in a name? Be it Montague or Capulet, it’s unlikely that either side would question the sweet smell of a successful Tisch. Whether one is an art student in NYU, a duck waddling through Central Park’s Children’s zoo, a man with a business plan, or simply Sam the simpering NY Giants fan, even Dr. Seuss would have had to admit that as philanthropists go “no former performer’s performed this performance.” But I have not come to bury a legacy under sycophancy but to praise Jonathan, a distinguished Tisch family member, and to partake in his most recent adventure.
Rhyming away… Admittedly, I was giddy. The idea that I would soon be interviewing a business magnate who was not only one of the most successful CEO’s alive, but a man who had, himself, regularly interviewed business luminaries over the course of an Emmy-nominated TV show entitled Beyond the Boardroom with Jonathan Tisch was daunting. It also didn’t help to realize that – at the time of this interview – all of New York was readying itself to host Super Bowl XLVII, an unprecedented event that was fostered by none other than Jonathan, who served on the Board of Directors of the New York Giants. That and the fact that I had recently attended a Tribeca Film Institute event – another non-profit organization of which Jonathan was a board member – didn’t do much to steady my nerves.
‘Calm down, he’s just an ordinary fellowship (sic)’ – one that donated 40 million dollars to fund a college for active citizenship and public service, a munificent endeavour to make young people both socially and environmentally conscious even while pursuing commercially viable projects.
I’ll make an appointment, conduct my interview and that’ll be that.’ “Yes, of course, we can meet there,” I heard myself saying; “Of course, I know where the Loews Regency’s located,” I added. And, of course, I also knew that Jonathan Tisch was the chairman of the hotel chain and was, in fact, the co-chair of the entire Loews Corporation; so much for quiescence.
Keep it light, tight; get in, get out. This isn’t a job interview; I’m simply doing my job and it’s Tisch who’s being interviewed. Revved up and grumbling in the subdued manner of a Bugatti Veyron, I shimmied my way down Park Avenue till I got to the esteemed Midtown address of the recently revamped Loews Regency. Walking into the silver-toned alabaster world, I was overwhelmed by the timeless themes; the sensibility smacked of the Gilded Age with a post-modern twist: the grand marble entrance with its deconstructed pipe organ motif, the exuberance for space coupled with recherché design… There were no ostentatious asides, no frivolous tributes to bygone trends and no faux period pieces; rather, there was sheer decisiveness of vision. The renowned Rottet Studio had done its job; or at least it had done the job required by Jonathan Tisch – Jonathan, who had spent the better part of a year and 100 million dollars reimagining the Regency; Jonathan, who would probably keep me waiting, Jonathan who would probably be too haughty if he even did show up, Jonathan whom I would most likely be referring to as Mr. Tisch for the duration of our meeting.
Much to my chagrin, Mr. Tisch was punctual. What was worse, he was giving me his full attention without a tinge of condescension. The rich velvet sofas of the Lobby Lounge coupled with the high-speed internet connections lent an air of whimsy to what could otherwise have easily passed for an austere contemporary proscenium for an operatic version of the Last Tycoon – one in which I would be destined to play a frazzled Didi to Tisch’s Monroe Stahr. As I stood besides Nina Helm’s installation, Brise de Printemps, I noticed the seductive décor against which the vibrantly self-sustained piece was set and understood the implications such a juxtaposition had for my own life: act sophisticated but casual, enthusiastic but not smarmy.
“So you just turned 60, you must be pumped for the Super Bowl and for the reopening of this hotel, it’s a pleasure, how are you,” I had done it; I had managed to squeeze three distinct questions into a single badly phrased greeting. Having a talent of turning a disadvantage into a calamity, I continued, “I heard you had a crazy 3 day birthday party in Miami, I’d love to hear about it.” “Guess what,” Tisch laughed, “you won’t.”
Soon, however, Tisch indulged my laborious brand of over-familiarity and went on to explain how his family – back in the 40’s – started by owning a simple summer camp in Lakewood, New Jersey. He soon related how he and his cousin Andrew eventually became co-chairmen of Loews after having worked their way through every conceivable area of the industry for over 34 years; while Jim Tisch became CEO. Since Jonathan’s brother was a film producer, it was natural that a bulk of the responsibilities as regards the Giants fell upon him after their dad, the business magnate, Bob Tisch, had died. To this day, it was Jonathan’s brother that attended every Giant game. After summarily dispatching the story of his career, Tisch wasted no time in shifting the emphasis from himself to his love child, the Regency.
Like a strange cross between an expectant father and the steady-handed obstetrician, Tisch spoke about the Regency with both rapt expectation and detached understanding as regards its development. As the father, he had wanted to insure that nothing went wrong in delivery and so he brought in talented designers like Rottet Studio, Meyer Davis Studio and Jonathan Nehmer and Associates. As the doctor, he knew that no birth was complete without partners such as Sant Ambroeus for the Bar and Grill and the inimitable Julien Farel for the salon and spa. And as a midwife par excellence, he hand-picked every fabric, approving each aspect involved in the redesign of what was now the 379 guest rooms, the 10,000 square-foot salon, spa and fitness center, and the four totally new private meeting spaces that made up the monolithic hotel.
Bolstered by my placement at one of Tisch’s recently resuscitated Regency power breakfasts, I couldn’t help but recall the opening to the 1955 publication of Kay Thompson’s children’s classic: “I am Eloise. I am six. I am a city child. I live in the Plaza.” It was easy to understand why many referred to Jonathan Tisch as a ‘male Eloise.’ Jotting down an appropriate opening for a would-be biography on the man, I wrote: “I am Tisch. I am sixty. I have become a city. I live and breathe the Regency.” •