Robin Baker Leacock doesn’t remember precisely the first time she went to Mortimer’s, the late, lamented restaurant at East 75thStreet and Lexington Avenue in New York City, but that inaugural visit wouldn’t be her last. “You just knew that when you went in the door, you’d be joining something great,” she says today. “Mortimer’s represented a time for a lot of people when we came together to celebrate nightly. We might not have always known who we were speaking to, and if we did it didn’t matter because we were all having a fabulous time together. “
Those fabulous times helped inspire Leacock’s new book, Mortimer’s: Moments in Timea collection of memories, ephemera, photos, and personal correspondence from the restaurant’s late grand poohbah, Glenn Bernbaum.
“There was a sense of joy and celebration, and a feeling of being carefree that I don’t think exists in social life now,” says Leacock, a filmmaker whose works include It Girls and I’ll Take Manhattan. “There was always a party going on, and interesting people to talk to — it was just fabulous inside. Even if Glenn wouldn’t give you a table, which happened sometimes, you could always hang out at the bar with interesting characters. Some people thought it was elitist, but to me it was a place to see friends. I don’t know what there is like that now; Glenn created a home away from home. “
Mortimer’s: Moments in Time captures that feeling with photographs by Mary Hilliard, remembrances from notable regulars, and a trove of ephemera from old menus to recipes (including the famous meatloaf), party invitations, and Bernbaum’s own correspondence.
“I originally wanted to create an oral history of Mortimer’s, in the vein of George Plimpton and Jean Stein’s book on Edie Sedgwick,” Leacock says. “The idea was to capture a time and place, and the people from Mortimer’s were going to have funny stories for sure. I reached out to my friend Christina Oxenberg to see if she wanted to work on this with me, and she reached out to Taki Theodoracopulos, who wrote us a story. Then, I started calling friends — like Anthony Haden-Guest and Kerry Kennedy — and we came up with these really fun stories. “
It wasn’t all good times, of course. Leacock recalls less-than-idea moments like the time the restaurant was held up by robbers, or when one of Mortimer’s managers was accused of plotting to kill Bernbaum in hopes of inheriting the eatery. “The fact that there was an element of zaniness also kept it going,” Leacock says. “It wasn’t a somber or proper place at all. It was more fun than anything. “
And whether or not you made it through the doors while Mortimer’s was still around, Leacock’s book is meant to make any reader feel like a regular. “If you knew how to be part of the crowd and didn’t take it too seriously,” she says, “you’d be welcomed.”
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