Marco Maccione is a little out of breath when he answers the phone. With good reason: He’s in the middle of managing the packing and moving of all the parts of his family’s well-known NYC fine dining restaurant. Sirio Macchioni’s Le Cirque has been an important part of the city’s uptown restaurant scene for 43 years now, opening first in 1974 at The Mayfair Hotel on East 65th Street; then at The Palace Hotel in 1997; then at The Bloomberg Tower on East 58th Street in 2006.
Restaurants, like people, have narratives. New Yorkers often find it impossible to feel ambivalent about Le Cirque. This New Year’s Eve, the last dinner was served. By January 5, the restaurant was gone. Eater reported high rent as the reason for closing. The place has lots of stories to tell—from celebrity chefs in their kitchen (try this on for size: Daniel Boulud, David Bouley, Terrance Brennan, Alain Sailhac, Rick Moonen, Jacques Torres, Sottha Khun, Sylvain Portay, Christophe Bellanca, Michael Lomonaco, Alain Allegretti, Pierre Schaedelin, Bill Telepan, Alex Stratta and Geoffrey Zakarian) to the heavy-hitters and power people at their tables.
Marco is one of Sirio’s three sons; he, Mario and Mauro grew up here in the city, working at the restaurant. Each participates in the business in different ways. Le Cirque is actually a mom-and-pop business, with Egidiana (Sirio’s wife) and Sirio as Mom and Pop. It’s also a family business and an “immigrant with nothing comes to NYC and becomes a great success” story, as well. It’s a true New York City story that over time becomes peopled with the immensely wealthy. And as a final touch that shows how our city works, Le Cirque is a French restaurant owned and operated by Italian-Americans.
It hasn’t always been a smooth ride. In 1995, after four years of nominations, Le Cirque won the James Beard Foundation’s “Award for Outstanding Restaurant.” In 2012 the restaurant made HuffPo’s “List of Most Scathing Restaurant Reviews” for the year. Grub Street wrote that the restaurant has faced bankruptcy, class-action and sexual harassment lawsuits. In 2014, Sirio Macchioni was the winner of the James Beard Foundation “Award for Lifetime Achievement.” The essay “What Le Cirque Will Be Remembered For” in The New Yorker reveals a history that’s definitely not lacking in both excitement and controversy.
On the phone, Marco catches his breath in the middle of the chaos of moving day and answers my questions without making me feel as if I’ve imposed on him at all. His beautiful manners are reminiscent of his father Sirio, showing the kind of warmth and hospitality that’s drawn people to Le Cirque since the day it first opened its doors.
Is the restaurant truly closed forever? Perhaps not. The Maccionis are currently working on a plan reopen Le Cirque in a new location by the end of 2018 in a smaller space, yet still uptown.