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Cirque de Sirio: as the Opulent New York Bistro Turns 20, King Sirio Tells All -- Why Le Cirque is Still the Big Top, and Why it's There to Stay

"Don't promise anyone anything," Sirio Maccioni is saying with a note of concern. That might sound like a credo on successful restaurateuring, but he is admonishing a member of Le Cirque's staff to handle the day's lunch crowd delicately. This was one...

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"Fifteen years ago, people were hiring public relations people to tell the press that they were having lunch at Le Cirque. Now, these people come in and say, 'Sirio, please, don't tell anyone I'm here.' I think it's time again to be positive."

A phone call from Mayor Giuliani's secretary interrupts, and Sirio throws up his hands. "If the mayor wants to come, he can come," he says, reluctantly taking the call. "I like the mayor," Sirio says afterward. "Not because I like his politics. His father is from Montecatini, like my father. I never judge on politics -- Richard Nixon was here for dinner on Friday, and he was such a nice man! Now, I wasn't too fond of what he did, but I believe that we all do things wrong sometime. Half of Italy is in jail!"

Nothing provokes Sirio's ire more than criticism for being overpriced.

"Last night, I went to a so-called restaurant on Second Avenue where I had an overcooked bowl of pasta for $19, two pieces of veal for $22, and there was not a flower, no person in a jacket. I spend $50,000 a year on flowers -- do you think I do that for me? I do it for everybody who comes here."

Sirio has a word or two for people who think they don't get enough attention.

"I am here, my sons are here...are we supposed to improvise la commedia divina for everyone who comes to lunch? Of course not. How does someone who owns five restaurants give everyone personal attention? I am here six days a week, 14 hours a day."

Sirio is the first to admit that he needs more time off, and his three sons, Marco, Mario and Mauro, will soon be helping out more, in addition to opening their own restaurant on West 55th Street.

"It will basically be the polar opposite of this place," says Mario. "Whereas this is more of a dinner place, ours will be more for lunch. We found a space in a clean, modern building and it's being designed by Adam Tihany. We wanted it to be colorful and exciting, no dress code, for a younger crowd."
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