Sirio Maccioni, the owner and ringmaster behind New York City's legendary Le Cirque restaurant, has died in his hometown in Italy. He was 88 years old. According to his family, he suffered from Alzheimer's disease and the lingering effects of a stroke.
"I am Le Cirque," Maccioni told Wine Spectator in 1995 when reflecting on the storied restaurant's history. For Maccioni, the road to opening Le Cirque was a remarkable journey, an American and culinary dream.
Maccioni was born in the Tuscan town of Montecatini in 1932. His mother died when he was six, his father was killed during World War II, so at age 12 he and his sister moved in with their grandmother. After the war, he attended hotel school and at 17 left to work in France. Following stints at the Plaza-Athénée hotel and Maxim's, he took on opportunities in Switzerland, Germany and a luxury cruise line.
Maccioni eventually arrived in New York City in 1956, working at well-known restaurants like Delmonico's and the celebrity hotspot Colony. It was as maître d'hotel at Colony that Maccioni learned to juggle a "who's who" crowd and create lifelong relationships with celebrities like Frank Sinatra.
In the early 1970s, William Zeckendorf Jr., then part owner and manager of the Mayfair Hotel on East 65th Street, offered Maccioni the chance to open his own restaurant, just to the right of the hotel's entrance. Le Cirque was born, opening its doors in 1974. Almost overnight, it became the hottest ticket in town, with people clamoring for a seat at one of the restaurant's 28 tables.
Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.
The French fine-dining restaurant attracted not just the city's elite, but also top culinary talent. Daniel Boulud, Jacques Torres, Michael Lomonaco, David Bouley and Geoffrey Zakarian are just a few of the leading chefs who worked stints in its kitchen.
"He was and will forever be our mentor," wrote Zakarian in an Instagram post. "An exacting host, a loyal human and more importantly, a second father to me for five years. I was fortunate enough to work under him. I had no idea the significance this magical place would have on me."
Wine was never an afterthought at Le Cirque. Packed with French, Italian and American selections, the wine program held Wine Spectator's coveted Grand Award from 1986 to 2004. "I have been in the business all my life, and the dream of every small restaurateur is to be able to serve the best wine," said Maccioni.
Over the course of Le Cirque's existence, it opened a total of three times: first in 1974, then it reopened in 1997 as Le Cirque 2000 at the Palace Hotel, and lastly in 2006 as Le Cirque, once again, in the Bloomberg building on East 58th Street, which stayed open until 2017. With each move, the elite crowd followed Sirio. The list of regulars over the years included Tony Bennett, Henry Kissinger, the Reagans, the Clintons, Johnny Damon, Billy Joel and Martha Stewart.
"I can describe the ambience in one word," Maccioni told Wine Spectator. "Happy. I want people to feel comfortable. I tell everyone on my staff that if a guest calls them over, the thing to say is, 'What can I do for you?' Don't ask, 'Is everything all right?' That is very pretentious. When you ask, 'What can I do for you?' people open up."
Le Cirque's empire also expanded to more restaurants from Las Vegas to New Delhi. To help manage this growth, Maccioni brought his sons, Mauro, Mario and Marco, into the family business, The Maccioni Restaurant Group. According to Le Cirque's website, there are plans to once again bring Le Cirque back to New York City in 2020.
Maccioni is survived by his wife, Egidiana, their three sons, two grandchildren and his sister.