I have to confess that I once belonged to the social tribe that hangs out at places like Via Quadronno and St. Ambroeus. For most of that period, I had a BMW motorcycle that I could easily park. Now that I have a wife, children and no motorcycle, it’s a little harder for me to get there and spend the time. Even Bottega del Vino in mid-town is becoming a stretch. And I have to say that I have not raised any money there, but I can say that I’ve met some very nice people at ViaQ.
By JULIA CHAPLIN
SHARON COPLAN HUROWITZ was on her second cappuccino and fifth air kiss by 10:30 a.m. She was standing, as she often does Friday mornings, at the long marble coffee counter at Sant Ambroeus on Madison Avenue near 77th Street, a traditional Milanese restaurant done up with pink shimmery mosaics and crystal chandeliers.
Within an hour, Ms. Hurowitz, a private art consultant dressed to the nines in an ivory Miu Miu jacket and Chanel ankle boots (”because you never know who you are going to run into,” she said) had cemented dinner plans with a neighbor, set up an appointment to view an edition of Roy Lichtenstein prints, and swapped business cards with a Chelsea gallery owner.
On alternate mornings, Ms. Hurowitz, who lives in the neighborhood with her husband and two children, has breakfast five blocks away at Via Quadronno, another Italian restaurant specializing in thick cappuccinos, flaky croissants and a well-heeled clientele.
”We always joke that Via Quadronno got my husband hired,” Ms. Hurowitz said.
When her husband, who runs a hedge fund, was negotiating for seed money with an investor, they realized both their wives frequented Via Quadronno and knew each other from mornings at the coffee counter. ”It was as if it solidified the deal,” Ms. Hurowitz said. ”It was like they can trust us. They know where I’m going to be every morning.”
Such are the benefits of belonging to a Manhattan social tribe (or several tribes) whose members regularly languish for an hour or two on weekday mornings at European-style cafes. Drawn from the self-employed ranks of late-rising professions like fashion, art, publicity and Web publishing, these affluent breakfast clubbers avoid Starbucks as too common, preferring locales where it is not unusual to see black S.U.V.’s and chauffeured BMW’s idling outside.
Favorite restaurants include Via Quadronno and Sant Ambroeus on the Upper East Side, Pastis and Soho House in the meatpacking district, Cafe Cluny and a downtown branch of Sant Ambroeus in the West Village, and Balthazar in SoHo.
Unlike the ”power breakfast,” that well-documented institution that plays out among corporate executives at the Regency and Four Seasons hotels, members of the late-morning breakfast tribe, who gather from 9 to 11, don’t have to put in an early appearance at an office.
But don’t be fooled by the casual vibe and the late hour. These breakfast clubbers are not slackers. The scene at the European-style bistros and ristorantes is all about business and social networking, just as much as it is at lunch at a restaurant like Michael’s (popular with the publishing crowd), or at dinner at Phillipe (hip-hop moguls, fashion designers).
Habitués say table-hopping and small talk are easier in the morning, in a sunny corner of a clubby cafe. ”I talk to people at breakfast that I might never otherwise talk to,” said Steven Shailor, an interior designer seated at the communal table at Cafe Cluny on a Tuesday last month at 11 a.m. ”It’s like an unspoken camaraderie. It’s about making the choice of not having to be in an office by 9 a.m. and you’re going to meet other like-minded people — idea people.”
Mr. Shailor wore blue corduroys and a sweatshirt covered in dog hair from his yellow Lab, Buck, who was tied to a bench out front on West 4th Street. Rotating his breakfast routine between Sant Ambroeus downtown, Pastis and Cafe Cluny, he said he has struck up conversations over cappuccino with Mario Batali, Malcolm Gladwell and Jan Hashey, a power real estate agent.
An ideal breakfast-club hangout includes free newspapers, including a few French and Italian publications, and some authentic well-dressed Europeans to read them. Cappuccinos, delivered silently by waiters in ties, should cost upward of $4, with the bill for a full breakfast including tip costing $20 to $25, enough to discourage out-and-out idlers.
On a typical morning at the downtown Sant Ambroeus, you may spot Calvin Klein reading the newspaper, Isaac Mizrahi visiting with friends or Lapo Elkann, a freckled Fiat heir, conversing in Italian with the waiters about soccer matches.
This fall, during the three and a half months that the producer Brian Grazer was in New York filming ”American Gangster,” he held meetings in jeans and sneakers most mornings at Sant Ambroeus, or at the Mercer Hotel in SoHo.
”I was at Sant Ambroeus at my usual table one morning and I noticed seven or eight of these super fashionable Italian kids sitting there,” Mr. Grazer said. ”I was so curious that I blindly went over and introduced myself. We ended up talking for an hour.”
One of the young men was Mr. Elkann, 28, who is known for the embroidered Italian flags on his custom shirt cuffs. (He inherited his grandfather Gianni Agnelli’s fashion sense, as well as his Caraceni suits.) ”He was so cool that I decided to do a Fiat tie-in for the sequel to ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ ” Mr. Grazer said. ”I’m flying to Italy to meet with him about it.”
Olaf Breuning, a Swiss-born artist who shows at Metro Pictures, was drawing in a dog-eared sketchbook at Balthazar one morning last month. ”People know I’m here and if they need to find me they stop by,” he said. ”It’s like my office.”
Mr. Breuning, who lives and works in an apartment in Battery Park City, arrives at Balthazar by 8:30 four mornings a week. If all goes well, the maître d’hôtel seats him at his favorite round red leather banquette in the back corner, where Mr. Breuning orders breakfast and sketches, and then by 9:30 receives friends, gallerists and curators.
”I work at home and it’s very nice to get out of the house,” Mr. Breuning said. ”I like the warm yellow light. And it’s so big and airy here.”
Balthazar, the nine-year-old French brasserie that seems lifted from belle epoque Paris, may be the most clubby of all Manhattan breakfast spots for movers in the fashion, dot-com and design worlds. At 10 a.m. on a Thursday before the holidays, Sarah Brown, the beauty director of Vogue, who schedules meetings there three mornings a week, was having scrambled eggs. She was with Peter Lichtenthal, an executive at MAC cosmetics, when she spotted another regular, Vanessa Weiner von Bismarck, the fashion publicist. Ms. Brown waved. ”I’m forever grateful to Vanessa,” Ms. Brown said. ”That morning when Vincent Longo stood me up, she came over and kept me company so I wouldn’t have to sit there and drink my cappuccino alone.”
Ms. Brown recalled another morning when she was commiserating with a friend who had been fired from a job over a bowl of latte: ”And then Jude Law came over and sat next to us. It cheered us both up.”
By a window sat Rufus Griscom, the chief executive of Nerve.com, and in the ”don’t talk to me zone” by the bar sat Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker Media, who was hiding behind a newspaper. Irene Chung, a design director at Marc Jacobs, was seated with her friend Mandie Erickson, a fashion publicist. ”The fashion people are very obvious,” Ms. Chung said, scanning the room. ”Always with the designer ‘It’ bag, the boot of the season, their piece of Marc Jacobs whatever.”
Balthazar, a late-night celebrity hangout with an unlisted phone number during its first years, has weathered the inevitable transition to a tourist restaurant at night and weekends, popular with suburbanites traipsing around SoHo.
But breakfast remains a relative secret, the restaurant unhurried and filled with people who live or work in the neighborhood, many of them Internet publishers. Keith McNally, the owner of Balthazar and its younger cousin, Pastis, said the breakfast crowds at both bistros have doubled in the last three years. ”Breakfast has become popular because, in the right circumstance, it can be a wonderful refuge,” he said.
Lockhart Steele, the managing editor of Gawker Media, is a regular, who on a different morning was in his usual banquette with Ben Leventhal, the editor of Eater, a food blog that Mr. Steele is an investor in. ”We lead strangely deconstructed lives,” Mr. Steele said. ”Ben works at home most of the time. My full-time job is at the Gawker offices. It would be very easy for us to go weeks without getting together.”
Taking inventory of the room, with its big glass windows on Spring Street, he said, ”There’s a little Internet hive around here so we’ll see people from Nerve.com or Media Bistro or Daily Candy.”
”Who’s that over there making out?” he asked, peering at a couple across the room. ”Definitely not a good place for an affair.”
It goes without saying that the breakfast crowd wouldn’t be caught dead in Balthazar at dinner.
”In the morning you can walk in and actually get a table,” Mr. Steele said, ”whereas almost any other time of day you’re fighting a war here to get in.”
Eventually the caffeine takes effect, and the late-morning breakfast clubbers must move on to start the day. They head to the home office, or the film set, or the design studio.
”Once 11:30 hits, the energy shifts in the city,” Ms. Erickson said.