If you enjoyed the elegant drama of Capote vs. The Swans, you likely noticed a silent character – La Côte Basque. Like their real life counterparts, La Côte Basque was where the swans came to dine, but even more importantly, to see-and-be-seen. The show is based on a best-seller, Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era by Laurence Leamer. Since its debut, people’s renewed interest in the life of the swans, and the places they frequented, prompted us to do a deep dive into New York restaurants that stood for luxury.

Famous restaurants like La Côte Basque and The Colony were among the original dining hot spots, where what you wore and who you knew mattered. Sadly most of the iconic establishments where the swans gathered closed, and along with them went the “ladies who lunch” concept. “Ladies who lunch” was coined by Women’s Wear Daily publisher John Fairchild, who often sent photographers to wait outside the restaurants. The few institutions that remain, like La Grenouille and The Plaza, continue to uphold the grandeur of a bygone era.

La Côte Basque was originally opened by the infamous Henri Soulé in 1958 at 60 West 55th Street. Henri Soulé was an immigrant from France known for his ego and unsavory tactics to oppose employee protests and unionizing. Getting to know Soulé’s character, there is no doubt that a show based on his life story would produce just as much, if not more, drama than Capote vs. The Swans. While controversial, the restauranter was also known for introducing classic French dishes to Americans and launching an entire generation of French chefs.

Henri Soulé opened his first restaurant, the famous Le Pavillion, in 1941. The restaurant first launched at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, where Jean Drouant and Henri Soulé, hired as a maître d’hotel, were selected by France to run the restaurant at the French Pavillion. After a successful two year run, the restaurant moved to Manhattan under the ownership of Henri Soulé. Le Pavillion had an exceedingly expensive menu, but that did not stop people from traveling to New York in order to experience it. Some argue that, by comparison, Le Pavillion was far more sophisticated than La Cote Basque, but La Cote Basque was modern and therefore more fashionable. Both thrived, and getting the best seat at both meant you truly made it. Henri Soulé was very particular about who he let in and where people sat, going as far as to create a section called Siberia. The best seat in the house was known as the Le Royale.

Executive Chef at the helm of both Le Pavillion and La Côte Basque was Soulé’s fellow countryman, Pierre Franey. The haute-cuisine menu, often presented on silver platers, included classic French dishes like Filet of Beef Perigourdine, and imported fresh seafood items like bass and langoustines. While Soule was known for staying out of the kitchen, the dining room was his domain. Former patrons and staff remember food being presented, carved, and plated tableside by Soulé himself. Unfortunately disputes over staff hours and wages forced chef Pierre Franey and majority of the staff to walk out and quit. The restaurant closed in 1971. Today’s Le Pavillon at One Vanderbilt Ave, opened by chef Daniel Boulud, pays homage to Soulé’s Le Pavillion.

La Côte Basque opened on the site of the old Le Pavillon, which Soule moved to the Ritz Tower on 57th Street. The swans demanded perfection, and the detail-obsessed Henri Soulé was happy to provide it. From the finest table linens and expensive fresh cut flowers, to impeccable service and oversized portions, everything at La Côte Basque was utter perfection. Who came in and what they were wearing was as much part of the conversation as the food. It was the ideal setting for Capote’s Esquire Magazine story, “La Côte Basque 1965.” Those who could afford it, came here to escape to a different world. Red leather banquettes, freshly imported seafood and seascape murals by Bernard Lamotte helped patrons feel like they were on vacation. As expected, where you sat, and who you were with mattered. Paparazzi knew this was the place to get lucky with a celebrity sighting, especially since the swans, Truman Capote, Jackie Kennedy and even Duchess of Windsor became regulars. Henri Soulé died in 1966 and bequeathed both Le Pavillion and La Côte Basque to his lover and the restaurant’s coat check girl, Henriette Spalter.

In 1979 French restaurateur and chef Jean-Jacques Rachou took over, purchasing La Côte Basque and moving the restaurant to 5 East 55th Street. Some would say that La Côte Basque became the blueprint for French cuisine in New York. At its peak it was a gathering place for anyone who enjoyed its over the top splendor, and a promise of an excellent meal. While restaurants like La Côte Basque became associated with socialites, they were also places where you can bring your family for an educational outing that taught you about food and proper etiquette. La Côte Basque closed in 2004.

The Colony, a favorite of Jackie Kennedy Onnassis, Truman Capote and Diana Vreeland, was where you came to enjoy what most people called “sophisticated WASP” cuisine. The restaurant was located inside a residential building with a big lobby and high ceilings. The inside was beautifully decorated, right down to the bar’s blue-and-white striped linen wallpaper. The legendary speakeasy bar and restaurant opened in 1919, during the era of “Cafe Society,” a phrase coined by writer Maury Henry Biddle Paul. Among the most popular places that thrived during that era were; El Morocco (the first to use a velvet rope), Stork Club, 21 Club, Delmonico’s, and Cafe Society (the first integrated and progressive nightclub.) Colony was founded by Joseph Pani, who then sold it just three years later to employees Ernest Cerutti, Chef Alfred Hartmann, and Gene Cavallero. At first it catered to rich men who wanted to wine and dine their mistresses. Once the curious Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt discovered it, the fate of The Colony was to serve the famous and upper-class customer.

The Colony, not to be confused with The Colony Club, became an elegant and lively mainstay for 50 years, and had many devoted patrons. Among them were the swans, the Vanderbilts, the Kennedys, Ernest Hemmingway, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Elsa Maxwell. On any night of the week you could dine next to who’s who of New York society. The Colony was where you came to have an experience. They even had a Van Cleef & Arpels vitrine in the lobby – just in case your date was feeling generous. As far as restaurants go, Colony was not just a fashionable place to get food. It began as a speakeasy, and therefore had a boisterous energy, ensuring a fun atmosphere. Regulars often spent both lunch and dinner here, with the best tables being in the front. Getting the right seat meant “you’ve arrived.” In fact, the most loyal patrons treated the place as more than a restaurant. The owner, Gene Cavallero, provided special favors, like extending credit to those who were down on their luck or providing a section and food for pampered pets. Cavallaro’s son, Gene Cavallero Jr, managed the restaurant in the same way, bestowing favors and catering to the every whim of his famous patrons. It is perhaps for this reason that when the restaurant was to suddenly close, many were devastated. Loyal patrons considered it their home away from home and the party to bid the place farewell was something we dream of seeing in person. The Colony closed abruptly in 1971 due to high costs.

Other New York hospitality legends to know are Quo Vadis, Café Chauveron and Caravelle. All were favorites among high-profile patrons, like the Vanderbilts, Astors, Kennedys, and of course the swans. When the last of the glamorous restaurants listed here closed, there were speculations that the art of hospitality died along with them. We dare say that fine-dining is back and can still be experienced at new and classic places like The Polo Bar, The Lowell Hotel, The Carlyle, The Plaza, The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin and La Grenouille. Co-founder of La Grenouille, Charles Masson Sr., worked under Henri Soulé at Le Pavillon.