We spent an afternoon with the man who keeps power lunch running smoothly at one of New York's most prestigious restaurants

Le cirque 2300Sarah JacobsMario Wainer looks out at the front dining room in Le Cirque.

Tucked inside the Bloomberg Tower at 58th Street and Lexington Avenue is one of New York City’s most famous restaurants, Le Cirque. The restaurant, which was established in 1974 by Sirio Maccioni, has been a staple in the New York dining scene since its inception.

Not only is Le Cirque known for inventing both the crème brûlée and spaghetti primavera, it’s been the launching pad for multiple famous chefs including Daniel Boulud, David Bouley, and Terrance Brennan. A mixture of style, wonderful food, and famous clientele have given Le Cirque its place in New York City’s fine dining history.

Le Cirque has been the setting for the “ladies who lunch” since the ’70s. Judy Taubman, the widow of property tycoon Alfred Taubman, told Vanity Fair, “That was the place, where you used to see everyone you knew. And when there was somebody you didn’t know, everybody wanted to know, Who is she?”

Mario Wainer, who’s been the maître d’ and manager of Le Cirque for 25 years, has helped seat a list of famous guests that includes Beyonce and Jay Z, members of The Rolling Stones, former US presidents, and even the pope. His work is like a song and dance between the waitstaff and the guests — he greets regular diners like he would an old friend, and sees that everything is running smoothly.

We followed Wainer on a typical Tuesday during Le Cirque’s lunch hours, and learned how the power lunch has changed in his time there.

The restaurant sits inside the Bloomberg Tower in Midtown Manhattan. Many Bloomberg reporters, including food critic Peter Elliot, hop over to Le Cirque for lunch.

Sarah Jacobs

Le Cirque's front dining room seats about 120 people.

Sarah Jacobs

There's also the Le Cirque Cafe, which has full service at night, although some lunchtime regulars choose to eat their meals at the bar.

Sarah Jacobs

Fitting for its location, the cafe even has its own Bloomberg Terminal.

Sarah Jacobs

Towering through the first and second floors of the restaurant is a 27-foot refrigerated wine tower, which can hold over 3,000 bottles of wine.

Sarah Jacobs

Robert Cenedella's painting 'Le Cirque -- The First Generation' hangs on the second floor and depicts the famous personalities that frequented the original location of the restaurant. (This is Le Cirque's third location since opening.) You can spot Richard Nixon, Diana Ross, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Barbara Walters, and in the center, Wainer in his suit and bow tie.

Sarah Jacobs

'One time there were two presidents here at once,' Wainer said, pointing out a picture depicting Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. 'They were dining together, of course.'

Sarah Jacobs

Le Cirque has stayed a family-owned business throughout the years. Sirio Maccioni has employed his three sons -- Mario, Marco, and Mauro -- to help keep the restaurant running smoothly.

Sarah Jacobs

The restaurant has been the subject of many books, as well as a documentary called 'A Table In Heaven'. Here, Wainer points himself out in the book 'A Table at Le Cirque'.

Sarah Jacobs

Before the lunch rush begins, Wainer usually calls to confirm any bookings for the day.

Sarah Jacobs

Today, the restaurant is expecting 50 to 60 people for lunch -- a typical number for the winter season.

Sarah Jacobs

The lunch menu includes a two- or three-course prix fixe option in addition to the Le Cirque classics, like the Le Cirque Salad and tuna tartare. The restaurant welcomed a new chef, Massimo Bebber, just this February.

Sarah Jacobs

Some regulars prefer to have the same table, same waiter, and same drink whenever they dine at Le Cirque. 'We're creatures of habit,' Wainer said.

Sarah Jacobs

By 11:45 a.m. the restaurant is ready for the lunch crowd. 'Lunch guests usually come between now and 2:30 p.m.,' he said.

Sarah Jacobs

On this particular Tuesday, Wainer was expecting a couple of regular heavy-hitters, including Alya Ahmed Saif Al Thani, the permanent representative of the State of Qatar to the UN, and William Lie Zeckendorf, grandson to real estate tycoon William Zeckendorf, Sr.

Sarah Jacobs

Although official business hours begin at noon, the first guest arrives at 11:45 a.m. on the dot, just as Wainer expected.

Sarah Jacobs

Wainer greeted every guest like an old friend at the door -- shaking hands left and right, and giving hugs.

Sarah Jacobs

Wainer speaks five different languages, including French, Italian, and Spanish. On any given day, he's greeting customers in all five.

Sarah Jacobs

Here he seats Zeckendorf at his regular table.

Sarah Jacobs

During the lunch rush, Wainer is pacing the floor, making sure guests are happy.

Sarah Jacobs

He'll make his way back to the kitchen to check on the staff there, too.

Sarah Jacobs

Many orders of the tuna tartare were making their way out the door to hungry guests. It's one of Le Cirque's most popular dishes.

Sarah Jacobs

There's generally about 10 front-of-house staff working lunch.

Sarah Jacobs

Over the past two decades, Wainer has seen a decline in the classic idea of the 'power lunch'. 'Everyone is so connected nowadays -- people don't want to leave their desks during the work day,' he said. 'People go out for drinks after work, but during the day it's generally less.'

Sarah Jacobs

He noted that people are also not drinking alcohol at lunch the way they used to. 'People change with the times,' he said. 'Today they order iced tea, sparkling water, or a soda.'

Sarah Jacobs

Regulars like Alya Ahmed Saif Al Thani often text Wainer's work phone to make their reservation for the day.

Sarah Jacobs

But those who don't have Wainer's cell phone number can use OpenTable to make your own power lunch reservation at Le Cirque.

Sarah Jacobs

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