WHEN MICHAEL AND TINA RULED THE WORLD

It was where Andy Warhol held court and John Lennon enjoyed his last supper. Bowie, Basquiat and Madonna were regulars. Originally published in Issue 53 of The Rake, Stuart Husband writes that in 1980s New York, the restaurant Mr Chow was where the glitterati went for a bite to eat. And the husband and wife behind it were Michael and Tina Chow, whose rise and fall through international society played like a Chinese opera…

Tina and Michael Chow outside Christies, New York, 1979 (Photo by Dustin Pittman/Penske Media/REX/Shutterstock)

One evening, sometime in the mid eighties, the film producer and director Brett Ratner went to New York City’s Midtown for a Chinese meal. “I’m sitting there, and right next to me you’ve got David Bowie,” he recalled. “Sitting across from me is Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Madonna, too, and Francesco Clemente. This place instantly became my favourite restaurant in the whole entire world.”

By now, you’ve probably twigged that Ratner hadn’t popped into the Golden Dragon Buffet or the Old Sichuan. He’d opted for a place where the melange of celebrities was as piquant as the chicken satay or the green prawns: Mr Chow. Presiding over the revels — Julian Schnabel’s 40th birthday party, say, or Warhol’s 58th — were the restaurant’s charismatic hosts. Michael Chow, Shanghai-born and Europe-schooled, would be acting as beetle-browed ringmaster, immaculate in his bespoke Hermès suit, keeping a beady eye (encased in his trademark chunky-framed, starchitect-style round glasses) on his Armani-clad Italian waiters as they filled flutes, changed tablecloths, or painstakingly deboned rare, fresh pieces of fish. His wife, Tina, half-American, half-Japanese, whose gamine beauty saw her serving as model and muse to the likes of Helmut Newton and Cecil Beaton, would be sharing fashion- or art-world gossip with friends like Herb Ritts and Karl Lagerfeld. Like Studio 54 in the previous decade, it seemed that this 57thStreet establishment had captured the super-heated New York zeitgeist. It was the place where Warhol held court at a long table, several times a week, “not eating”, said Michael, “just pushing his food around”; it was the place where John Lennon ate what turned out to be his last supper. “Every city has a time,” Michael told New York magazine, when attempting to account for his restaurant’s folkloric stature. “The twenties was Berlin, the thirties was Paris and Shanghai. And then in the fifties, everything is Rome. And then in the sixties, it’s London. Then the seventies in L.A., and then eighties art-world New York. We are always in the happening city.”

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Stuart Husband

Published

January 2021

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