For nearly a century, the Ciprianis have courted celebrities, princes and potentates — from Ernest Hemingway and generations of Kennedys, Trump and the Clintons, to Taylor Swift, Bella Hadid and Leonardo DiCaprio.
First in Venice at Harry’s Bar — where the dynasty’s founder Giuseppe created the bellini from peaches and prosecco — then at Cipriani restaurants in Manhattan and London, they have made their venues the A-listers’ favorite destination to party.
Now they are trying to raise more than $500 million to turn their chain into a globe-spanning empire, which would make the firm a behemoth with condos in West Palm and Miami, a resort in Uruguay, clubs in Madrid and Tokyo and restaurants in Dubai.
But its star power and ambitious plans belie a family business tarred by secrets and scandals, including tax evasion, mob ties, an ugly war with the Rainbow Room’s owners, Harvey Weinstein’s predation and a years-battle over who even owns the Cipriani name.
Along the way the family, based between Italy and the US, has made themselves friends with the glitterati — but not always with other diners.
“They were star f–kers. When anyone with star power came to the door, everybody fell on their knees,” Dale DeGroff, a New York-based mixologist and author of “The Craft of the Cocktail,” told The Post.
“They were determined to make it a place to be seen. They didn’t treat everybody the same. They treated the stars like gold and the rest of the people were expendable,” DeGroff said.
The family’s high society ties began in 1931, when Giuseppe Cipriani snr. opened Harry’s Bar in Venice, welcoming Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote and Katherine Hepburn and becoming a dolce vita destination in the floating city for artists, writers and aristocrats.
The bar spawned Hotel Cipriani nearby, built in 1958 by the Guinness family in collaboration with Giuseppe senior, and then the dawn of the family’s American dream.
In 1985, Giuseppe’s son, Arrigo (the Italian equivalent of Harry), and Arrigo’s son Giuseppe Jr., opened Harry Cipriani at the Sherry Netherland Hotel on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, a near-replica of the original Harry’s Bar.
“They had this European fine dining sophistication at a time when Italian restaurants in town were more red sauce. They had Italian charm,” a former restaurateur told The Post.
Billionaires like Ron Perelman held court at Table No. 3 and Melania Knauss and Donald Trump partied there in 1998 at a Cipriani dinner and concert series just after they first met.
“Giuseppe is a very smart business man – he set out to push the Cipriani brand forward beyond whatever his father and his grandfather ever envisioned. He was able to make a powerhouse restaurant empire,” Jason Kaplan, a New York City-based restaurant consultant, told The Post of customers who were mesmerized by the charismatic owner.
“The food was never anything spectacular, but you weren’t going there because of the food, you were going there to see and be seen.”
Another long-time customer noted the management’s ability to charge sky high menu prices and still make landing a white table cloth table feel like a privilege, calling Giuseppe “charming as hell.”
But as the Cipriani empire grew – opening a catering hall on 42nd Street, two restaurants in Grand Central and a hotel, restaurant and catering hall on Wall Street – troubles followed.
Then in 1999 they took over The Rainbow Room at the top of the Rockefeller Center, one of Manhattan’s most storied names.
“They didn’t have any idea how to run a complex property like that,” DeGroff said. “When Cipriani came in it was one disaster after another. It was a shadow of what it had been. It was a mess.”
In 2006, Giuseppe Cipriani’s name surfaced in two Manhattan mob trials – Peter Gotti and John Gotti Jr., son of the infamous Dapper Don.
Both times a mob turncoat testified he took a $120,000 payment from Giuseppe to buy mob assistance in settling union protests at the Rainbow Room after the family took it over, The Post reported at the time. Giuseppe Jr. later said the testimony was “all lies.”
Around the same time, Dennis Pappas – Giuseppe’s deputy – admitted that he stole more than $1 million in a health insurance scam while working as vice president of Cipriani USA.
Pappas, it turned out was a convicted felon who had just been released early from prison when he started working for Cipriani USA in 2000. He had been sentenced to 46 months in a plea deal in 1998, admitting to racketeering and income tax evasion charges, after being accused of being a mob money launderer.
The next year, 2007, Arrigo and Giuseppe Jr. pleaded guilty to tax evasion, for defrauding New York state and city of $3.5 million in taxes. They agreed to fork over $10 million in restitution, dodging jail time.
“They screwed a lot of people – he [Guiseppe] was probably trying to get as many deals in place to get him out of debt,” a restaurant industry insider told The Post.
After the conviction the State Liquor Authority threatened to take away Cipriani’s liquor licenses; felons are forbidden from selling booze.
In August, 2008, the father-and-son shelled out a$500,000 to the SLA to settle their case, keeping the creaking empire afloat. They they fled to Europe, leaving Giuseppe’s sons Iganzio and Maggio in charge in New York.
But the scandal was not over: In November 2008, an aide to then New York Gov. David Paterson, Carl Andrews, was accused of pressuring the head of the SLA to grant the Cipriani family a liquor license. The aide resigned weeks later.
“I don’t think they’ve truly paid the price. They never really had to answer for their crimes,” one restaurant industry source told The Post of the father-and-son.
“Arrigo went back to Italy for a few years, his son was on probation… if you told me they went to jail I would probably feel they had some sort of penance but they didn’t even do that.”
It was the end of their Rainbow Room dream: in 2009 Tishman Speyer, the Rockefeller Center’s owner, moved to evict them for not paying rent.
At it could really have been the end of it all. In Europe, the Ciprianis were battling a bitter trademark war with French billionaire Bernard Arnault’s LVMH luxury brands empire, which had become the owner of the Hotel Cipriani in Venice.
In December 2008, Cipriani London – beloved by Jay-Z, Beyoncé, David and Victoria Beckham – was forced to cease operations or change its name when a judge ruled Arrigo and Giuseppe were guilty of trademark infringement.
The courts ruled that when the original Giuseppe Cipriani sold his stake in the Venice hotel in 1967, he also sold the rights to his name. (LVMH acquired the hotel in 2008.)
Cipriani London became C London, and other litigation followed in Europe, but the confusing mess of lawsuits never shut down the empire.
But then in 2018 came another shattering blow — this time thanks to the A-list crowd the Ciprianis had so zealously cultivated.
Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, a serial guest, was revealed to have used Cipriani as a “hunting ground” for women with claims that the disgraced Hollywood producer used its rooftop suites as his personal “sex pads.”
He was convicted of raping Tarale Wuff, a waitress at Cipriani Upstairs in Soho. Even awaiting trial, he was seen at Cipriani Dolci in Grand Central.
But the celebrities were undeterred, and in 2021, Maggio Cipriani opened its $4,000-per year, private-members club and hotel Casa Cipriani in lower Manhattan’s Battery Maritime Building.
Mayor Eric Adams popped to celebrate his election-night win, and it played host to the likes of Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Blake Lively at the 2022 Met Gala after party.
And in an effort to heighten exclusivity, its 4,000-person private members club Casa Cipriani was “actively purging” members, Page Six reported.
That came months after a member snapped forbidden photos of Taylor Swift, for which they were expelled. Cipriani have denied there is a purge under way.
The Cipriani family and LVMH in February agreed to finally end the years-long legal dispute on intellectual property — a move which appears to put the Ciprianis on the path to a global empire.
Last week, Maggio and Ignazio unveiled its latest real estate development — Mr. C Residences — a hotel andprivate residences in West Palm Beach (starting prices, $2 million and up.)
Maggio and Ignazio Cipriani were not available for interview.
For some Manhattanites in the know, gossiping about the family’s history isn’t worth the risk, with one anonymous Casa Cipriani member insisting to the Post: “I can’t lose my Casa membership!”
This article was originally posted here