Nello Balan
One rainy morning in May, I was walking along Madison Avenue when I passed NYC's famed Nello. I peered through the window of the restaurant, which is more reminiscent of a London private club, and spotted Nello Balan surrounded by fresh-cut flowers and three beautiful women. In the middle of the dining room, there was a young woman playing cello. I observed this New York moment as Nello created the most elaborate floral arrangements. He invited me in for a champagne lunch, and we chatted.

Hampton Sheet: You've been credited for starting the nightlife and buzz in Southampton many years ago. Why is Nello Summertimes not opening this year?

Nello Balan: To quote my dear friend Bob Dylan, "The times, they are a-changin'." The Southampton of 2007 no longer exists. The super-elite crowd prefers to stay at home and barbecue in their $50 million-plus mansions, like my friend John Paulson. They spend less time in the Hamptons and more time in Europe. So a super concept like Nello cannot be supported there and the effort is no longer worth it. I'm still involved financially in the new place, Nammos, and I'm sure they will do a fine job.

What are your plans this summer?

Working on my book, spending more time with family, traveling, and a few projects that I will disclose in due time.

To what do you attribute your ongoing longevity and success with Nello on Madison Avenue?

I envisioned this success when I first opened 20 years ago. I chose a certain style that I've followed ever since.

The New York Times called you the "maestro of publicity" and praised your restaurant for its theatrical dining experience, calling it "magnificent." What do you say about that?

I'm thankful for such a great compliment.

How do you respond to critics who claim your food is overpriced?

Overpriced, I'm not. Expensive, I am—for I offer only the best in teatro mundi, and in the heart of the shopping mecca of the world. It's the longest-running show with a full house every day.

You are the master of buzz. It's an art. The mood in the restaurant is constantly changing, and every day is different.

It's called flair.

What sets you apart?


Who are your greatest supporters?

My children, my associate and friend for 25 years, George Nicholas, and my mentor, the late Mr. Ezier.

I always knew that you were an artist, but I never knew that you were a painter.

Well, let's put it this way: You brought it back out in me that day you stopped over to the Southampton restaurant with your painting you were working on, which inspired me to paint again. I used to paint when I lived in Jerusalem.

What would you be if you weren't a restaurateur?


What is your philosophy in life?

Noblesse oblige.

What's your greatest indulgence?

Sleeping at the opening-season gala of the Met, especially if it's Madame Butterfly. I hate the first act.

Michelangelo or Rodin?

Brâncusi. He was the father of modern art, and I don't think he gets enough credit.

Hemingway or shakespeare?

Comte de Lautréamont, the father of surrealism.

Beethoven or Puccini?

Mozart. He was innocent and unsurpassed in purity.

Tupac or Eminem?

Jay-Z, although I loved Tupac Shakur. He was a great friend.

Prince Charles claims, as you do, that he is related to Vlad the Impaler.

Well, I guess my family has grown. And I don't mean Cousin Cousine.

What do you most value in people?


Tell me a secret.

I will tell you, but then I have to kill you.

Godfather or Goodfellas?


Horst or Newton?

Peter Beard, unfiltered photography.

What's your state of mind most of the time?


Paris or London?

New York, although both those cities are not exactly chopped liver.

Everest or K2?


What are your favorite restaurants aside from your own?

Cipriani, Pushkin, and Balthazar are among the many great restaurants in New York.

Where did you learn how to cook?

My aunt Anna, who became a nun, taught me. I used to visit her at the monastery, and she used to visit us at the family vineyard, where I spent my summers as a child. She instilled in me the respect and love for natura magica.

You meet all kinds of people from all over the world. Who do you think has the best sense of humor?


Casablanca lilies or Bulgarian roses?


Caviar or foie gras?

White truffles.

Bordeaux or Burgundy?

Tous les deux.

What about the world economy according to "Nello"?

Nello: London, Paris, Beijing, Jerusalem, Istanbul....

Since you speak many languages, which one do you think in?

A hybrid—it is the nec plus ultra of languages. For example, when I think matzo balls, Yiddishe Mama comes to my mind....

What are some of your favorite words in the languages that you speak?

Amour, Nachtvogel, Baruch ata Adonai, Caballero, Caelestis, Ty ochen krasivaya, Inima, Auguri! I wish you all a beautiful, peaceful, and enjoyable summer. Stay healthy and wealthy!

"Prince of Darkness" - A portrait by Peter Beard with Elizabeth Hurley
Lothar Matthaus with Grant and Madison Balan
with Mickey Rourke
Nello, the artist
with Lisa Falcone
with Arnold Schwarzenegger
Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine Mikhail Prokhorov
with Lotte Verbeek (Showtime's The Borgias) with Charlize Theron
with Daphne Guinness
by Joan Jedell