A Hidden Nest Atop Barneys to Make Deals 

May 02, 2012

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Michele Kleier Talks About Fred's at Barneys


GOLDEN birds are painted onto the thick columns of Fred’s at Barneys New York, the coolly elegant ninth-floor dining room of the department store. They perch stiffly, arch their necks and hold their beaks high; their plumes are perfectly groomed, their bodies remarkably thin. There is no question they inhabit the higher branches of their kingdom, much like the diners chirping beside them.

Fred’s may not shout its position in the city’s lunchtime pecking order like the testosterone-heavy Le Cirque or Four Seasons. But this aerie, designed for flagging shoppers, has slowly lured diners like Sofia Coppola, Barbara Walters, Christine C. Quinn and Hillary Rodham Clinton from more conventional spots to see and be seen.

And it’s not just ladies who lunch at Fred’s. Larry David, Bruce Springsteen, Donny Deutsch and Ronald O. Perelman have been spotted there, along with plenty of hedge-funders. The Tisches, whose Loews Regency Hotel serves the city’s premier power breakfast, are regulars. Fred’s is practically the Corcoran Group canteen.

“I’ve closed my best deal either at Fred’s or on the golf course,” said Pamela Liebman, Corcoran’s president, who always puts in a special order for a piece of salmon or tuna over spinach. She said she persuaded Mrs. Clinton to speak at a company meeting after she was seated next to her. “You never know who you might see,” she said.

Bathed in gentle light, the dining room is wrapped in honey-colored wood paneling and gray wallpaper with a faint overlay of tree branches. On weekdays, it fills with immaculately preened women of all ages whose dominant hair colors tend to be amber and butter blond. Everything about Fred’s feels civilized: the ordering, the eating, the horse trading and the back-stabbing.

Few here have actually come to shop, and not a Barneys bag is in sight. No one is really there for the food, either, but the salads are massive and delicious. Diners, many with aged hands and young faces, dig into deep bowls of Fred’s $26 chopped chicken salad, and its $32 niçoise with grilled tuna. The bread has a mythical status with this “bread is the devil” crowd. It’s dense, buttery and chewy. Insiders ask for the whole-grain version, which is sliced thin and hints of honey.

Where the beautiful and powerful congregate, of course, so do the merely rich. The girlish chatter of the social set floats constantly over the clink of glasses and the clatter of silverware. On a recent afternoon, these diners sternly exerted what power they had, demanding of the wait staff: glasses of water with ice, but not too much ice; bread that was warm not cold; half a salad; a handful more potatoes; more lemon. One cranky dieter squawked: “Just bring me a plate of vegetables.”

Two friends debated the nose of another diner — real or fake? — and ruminated on second husbands (must they be Jewish?), the gastrointestinal results of homeopathic diets (unfortunate) and whether it’s appropriate for grandmothers to shop at Forever 21 (the verdict is still out). Snide jabs passed through the room about whose spouse was unfaithful and about the bride and groom whose parents wouldn’t meet until the wedding reception.

The deal makers have their own uses for this deep-pocketed backdrop. Michele Kleier, who runs the brokerage firm Gumley Haft Kleier and stars in the reality show “Selling New York,” has dined at Fred’s since it opened in 1996, often with her daughters, Samantha and Sabrina. Ms. Kleier always asks for a circular table facing the entrance. She orders the $32 Jumbo Lump Crab Meat and Shrimp salad, has bread “when I’m not starving myself” and occasionally indulges in “the most fabulous French fries.” Then she waits for marks to walk in.

“All of our clients who we haven’t seen in three months, if they see you at Barneys at Fred’s,” Ms. Kleier said, “you get a call the next day.”


Hot Property Book

The stars of HGTV's “Selling New York” let fans step inside the high-profile world of Manhattan real estate in a wild and one-of-a-kind novel of stormy egos, sumptuous homes, and staggering fame and fortune. Written by Michele, Samantha & Sabrina Kleier.