George Lang, the legendary restaurateur whose creations included the Café des Artistes, has died.
The New York Times reports that Lang, who was 86, died on Tuesday following a battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Although the Café des Artistes was perhaps Lang’s most famous and enduring property, he had a hand in numerous others, including the Four Seasons and Gundel, a historic Hungarian restaurant. Born in Hungary in 1924, he immigrated to the United States in 1946 after enduring time in a forced-labor camp and near execution for his activities in a fascist militia he joined in order to hide his Jewish identity. World War II also claimed the lives of his parents, who died in Auschwitz.
Lang’s unbelievable tale of survival, which included escaping to Austria in a coffin, was mirrored by his remarkable career in the American restaurant industry. After getting his start first as a dishwasher and then selling wedding banquets for a Houston Street Greek Orthodox church, Joe Baum hired Lang to develop and oversee projects for Restaurant Associates.
It was in this capacity that Lang served for three years as the director of the Four Seasons, after which he began his own consulting business, George Lang Corporation, and in 1975 took on what would become arguably his most famous project, the Café des Artistes. Lang transformed the Hotel des Artistes’ shabby ground-floor restaurant into a romantic dining destination that would endure until 2009, when the bad economy and labor issues forced him to close the restaurant. It was subsequently bought and renamed Leopard des Artistes by its new owners.
As the Voice reported a few years ago, Lang was an avid cookbook collector: Some 3,000 titles filled his office. Lang himself authored The Café des Artistes Cookbook and The Cuisine of Hungary, as well as a memoir, Nobody Knows the Truffles I’ve Seen. Here’s hoping that wherever he’s gone, there’s no shortage of such exotic delights.