“I will never leave this place,” Glenn Bernbaum, owner of upscale New York restaurant Mortimer’s, repeatedly told me as his friend and attorney.
In the early hours of September 8, 1998, Glenn died with his boots on and peering into his cloudy bathroom mirror, suddenly stricken with liver failure. He fell backwards and hit his head on the tiled wall. Throughout all of his shaving and showering, he never thought a bathmat would be his last stand, and Glenn “didn’t go gently into that good night.”
He landed on his back in the tub — and at that moment, Claus von Bulow, Henry Kissinger, Dominick Dunne, Bill Blass, Kenny Lane, Nan Kempner, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie O, and lustrous luminaries of all shapes and sizes didn’t want to toss their salads over lunch over Palm Beach gossip and Locust Valley plans.
For more than 20 years, Mortimer’s has been a magnet for everyone who was special. (A new book Mortimers: A moment in time, by Robin Leacock, Robert Caravaggi and Mary Hilliard, has just been released and evokes the dizzying heights of social advancement for the likes of Carolina and Reinaldo Herrera, CZ Guest and Brooke Astor.)
Now Mortimer’s would be closed, closed forever.
My only specific instruction, as written in Glenn’s last will, which I painstakingly wrote, was: The moment I die, close Mortimer’s, bolt the front door.
At 7 a.m. that day, Mortimer’s charming, battle-scarred Maitre Robert C. called me to inform me of Glenn’s death. Robert knew directly, not by listening, that I had spoken to Glenn at Mortimer’s many times during our late afternoon meetings dating back to the 1980’s.
Glenn called after lunch: “Mr. Golub, if you don’t have anything better to do, come over and let’s talk about my estate, I need a new will.” (Later in life I learned that almost everyone needs a new will because so many heirs consider themselves unworthy prove.) Whatever I had on my plate that day wasn’t going to be as much fun as talking to Glenn about his will and everything else under the Sun, including his favorite subject — his net worth.
There were more stories in his repertoire than celebrities in his address book, and many of their troubles were part of our consultations. Needless to say, everyone who was anything has eaten or wanted to eat at Mortimer’s. In a will that lasted 10 years – several more followed – he bequeathed all his worldly possessions to the animals at the Bronx Zoo. I urged him to be specific, but he refused to name any of them personally.
In a will allegedly written in the late 1970s by Roy Cohn, then no longer an Esquire, Glenn named Maître d’ Stefanos Zachariadis his sole heir. However, after Stefanos was convicted of wanting to murder Glenn to hasten his inheritance, there were more than enough reasons to write a new document.
On the day of Glenn’s death, having arrived at Mortimer’s to carry out his instructions (stopped en route at Lexington Hardware to purchase a large padlock and a six foot chain), I was escorted by the police to his private quarters above the restaurant . A burly police officer from the 19th precinct stood guard in the apartment in front of the bathroom and presumably informed me. “There is no evidence of third-party negligence.” The wrong audition for law and order continued: “The body is behind this door, Mr. Bernbaum is dead.”
I would have to take his word for it. No civilian is allowed to see the corpse, although when it comes to making wills and eventual tracking, I’m usually happy to observe the cadaver or mortua persona. Professional courtesy, free of charge.
Glenn and I didn’t have much in common, but we were good friends, probably because I grew up in a rental house right above my dad’s grocery store. The grocery store is a bond that connects. Known for its fine French cuisine, French bistro decor and acquisition of Mortimer’s Space, Orsay has felt a nudge towards the front door for the past several years. Think Pacino Godfather III: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
Over time, avoiding the corner of Lexington and East 75th Street became increasingly difficult. In early April I gave in and decided to have lunch in Orsay without a reservation.
Upon my arrival, Olivier, the maître d’ in a gray suit, without hesitation, led me to the left. It was the room I used to meet Glenn in, and Olivier’s outstretched hand pointed to the exact banquette and table. Of course I sat there.
After the usual settling-in, I ordered the grilled Scottish salmon fillet, a frisee salad and a glass of iced tea. I’m on a strict diet, but I was oddly hesitant and considered the chicken hash or the famous Mortimer’s Twin Burgers because I heard Glenn’s distinctive, husky voice affirm, “They’re the best things on the menu to date.” I whispered, “Stop it Glenn, the kitchen is closed.”
The waitress, an attractive brunette in her 20s named Devon, brought me the iced tea. In that moment, I felt compelled to tell her who I was, along with an insatiable need to talk about Mortimer’s and Glenn. I wasted no time in telling her how he died and that I closed up shop. I included the fact that Glenn died upstairs. Then, subconsciously, I murmured, “If these walls could talk…”
Devon didn’t hesitate.
“You mean that old man up there? I’ve seen him walking around with his cane, his hand is always shaking. I know he’s the owner – I mean, he was the owner a long time ago. I recognize him.”
I asked, “Did you know that the upstairs, now the function room, was Glenn’s apartment?”
She just said “yes” and walked away.
After that revelation, I looked idiotically at the old man and told myself to eat and go while nervously poking at the salmon. My appetite was gone.
Minutes later Devon came back accompanied by another waitress who couldn’t wait to say something to me. “I saw the old man upstairs a lot, it’s scary to go there because he’s walking around, there’s a lot going on up there. Even the exterminator is talking about seeing him, he’ll be here in the morning and you can come and talk to him.”
A few days later, to further my exploration of the occult, I enjoyed another lunch in Orsay. This time I spoke to Claudio, the Wednesday maître d’, who informed me matter-of-factly: “I saw the old man, he always wears a dark suit, he’s walking around upstairs, I can hear him. His picture appears on the restaurant’s security cameras. Even the exterminator (still nameless) saw him early in the morning. He goes into the party room and disappears. The whiskey bottles, wine glasses at the late night bar sometimes make noises, they touch, they rattle. I don’t pay attention because if I do, the rattling gets louder.”
If that wasn’t great Stories from the Tombmy waiter Ryan, who looked like a part-timer GQ Modell, out of earshot of Claudio, added: “Here was a Bengali busboy who said during the early pandemic he saw the old man and heard the serenade from bar bottles and glasses. I’m planning on getting a Ouija board to work very soon and we’ll see.”
Now I’m determined to find the old man in the suit. This isn’t my first rodeo. When it comes to scary and weird Psycho Actor Tony Perkins was my brother-in-law. Norman Bates would insist I go upstairs in Orsay and bring Mother and Glenn their supper.
Aaron Richard Golub is a prominent New York City-based trial attorney who has worked on high-profile cases with Tom Brady, Donald Trump, Martin Scorsese, Brooke Shields, and Gisele Bundchen. He was featured on the cover of new York Magazine and GQ’s 12 Guys You Should Know. He is the author of The big cut and recently completed a new book, noise.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/workers-believe-glenn-bernbaum-late-owner-of-mortimers-haunts-orsay?source=articles&via=rss Workers believe Glenn Bernbaum, the late owner of Mortimer’s, Haunts Orsay