Eric Adams After Dark: A Private Table and Tarnished Friends (2023)

Eric Adams After Dark: A Private Table and Tarnished Friends (1)

New York’s mayor vowed to boost nightlife establishments in every corner of the city. But again and again, he returns to the same spot, run by friends with troubled pasts.

Credit...Dave Sanders for The New York Times

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By Sarah Maslin Nir and Jazmine Hughes

Before he took office, Eric Adams vowed to boost New York City’s nightlife as both the mayor and a very active participant, visiting venues from Staten Island to Queens, showing up personally to restore the vibrancy of an industry crushed by Covid.

Mr. Adams has indeed become a fixture out after dark, visiting destinations around the city. But a curious and unmistakable pattern has also emerged: Again and again he returns to the same upscale Manhattan restaurant. There, he slips behind a frosted glass partition to a private table where he holds court, while the restaurant stays open until he leaves — sometimes well after its official closing time.

The restaurant, Osteria La Baia, is run by Mr. Adams’s close friends, Robert and Zhan Petrosyants — twin brothers whose businesses Mr. Adams has supported despite the brothers’ past felony convictions, outstanding tax debts and a trail of legal troubles.

In June alone, Mr. Adams visited La Baia on at least 14 evenings, according to New York Times reporters who observed his nighttime outings — of which there were at least 22 that month.

At La Baia, where entrees range in price from about $30 to over $60, Times reporters never observed him paying for his meals. In response to questions from The Times, a spokesman said the mayor personally pays the bill to the restaurant monthly. But the spokesman declined to provide receipts, and the restaurant’s operators did not respond to emails seeking any documents that would support the mayor’s claim.

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If the mayor has failed to pay for his meals, he could have violated the city’s ethics rules, watchdogs said. Public servants are explicitly barred from accepting gifts worth $50 or more from city vendors — a rule that would not apply to La Baia and the Petrosyants brothers. But the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board advises public officials not to accept any valuable gifts that are given to them because of their positions.

The mayor’s pattern also raises questions about who gets access to him.

La Baia opened late last year along a subdued stretch of West 52nd Street. The restaurant’s website describes the venue as coastal Italian; it offers a seafood-heavy menu in an elegant white-tablecloth dining room.

The mayor sometimes stays for three or more hours, and often he is the only remaining guest as the staff waits well after the restaurant’s posted 10 p.m. closing time. His security detail, including his brother Bernard, eats at a separate table on some evenings.

In addition to socializing with the Petrosyants brothers at the restaurant, Mr. Adams receives a stream of guests at La Baia. In mid-June the former mayor, Bill de Blasio, met him there; earlier in the year, Mr. Adams dined at La Baia with former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and posed with the mixed martial arts fighter Dillon Danis, according to social media posts. The outings do not appear on the mayor’s public schedule.

Although he sometimes describes himself as a vegan, Mr. Adams has been greeted by a waiter asking if he will have his usual, the branzino, which is listed on the menu for $55.

Maxwell Young, a spokesman for the mayor, said Mr. Adams conducts both business and personal meetings at La Baia. “Of course, there is nothing wrong with talking city business at a restaurant,” Mr. Young added.

Lots of political figures have their favorite haunts. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani enjoyed cigar bars, and Mr. de Blasio spent leisurely mornings at the Park Slope Y.M.C.A. But Mr. Adams’s allegiance to La Baia stands out, as does his history of supporting the businesses run by the brothers, who pleaded guilty to felony charges in 2014 after being accused in a money-laundering scheme and have a long record of unpaid tax bills and lawsuits.

The 40-year-old twin brothers, who had previously operated businesses in Brooklyn, launched their Manhattan restaurant just weeks after the mayor was elected. Mr. Adams’s frequent appearances at and promotion of the restaurant have boosted its reputation in nightlife columns and social media.

After dining at La Baia’s grand opening in November, Mr. Adams, 61, gushed over the phone to a New York Post reporter about the mushrooms. “It’s a great restaurant,” he told The Post.

The behavior raises ethical questions, said Richard Briffault, the former chair of the Conflicts of Interest Board.

“It doesn’t matter what his intentions are, whether he is giving them free advertising because he’s getting free meals, the fact that he is boosting them is a benefit to them, and it arguably hurts their competitors,” he said. “It could undermine the public’s confidence and the public’s belief that the person in power is using his or her office fairly and impartially to help everybody.”

In his short time as mayor, Mr. Adams has occasionally waded into murky ethical waters. After pledging to pay his own way on a trip to Puerto Rico, he acknowledged flying on an entrepreneur’s private jet. He later said he paid for his seat but did not provide documentation.

The Conflicts of Interest Board ruled that Mr. Adams could not give his brother Bernard a $210,000 job as head of the mayor’s security detail. Bernard Adams was then redirected to an adviser role with a $1 salary. And late this spring, Mr. Adams put his longtime friend, Timothy Pearson, on the payroll of a nonprofit controlled by the mayor for an undisclosed salary, while allowing Mr. Pearson to retain his job as a vice president at the city’s only casino — a move experts said was ethically questionable. Mr. Pearson left the casino job after The Times disclosed his dual roles.

In a statement, Mr. Young called Mr. Adams “an unabashed champion of New York’s nightlife industry” at a time when the sector is struggling to recover from the pandemic.

“He visits venues in every borough and gets energy from being around New Yorkers — and is at work bright and early every morning as everyone can see,” he wrote in an email responding to questions from The Times.

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Eric Adams After Dark: A Private Table and Tarnished Friends (2)

Typically, the mayor’s motorcade — two black SUVs — pulls up after 9 p.m. outside La Baia, where the upscale dining room is decorated in muted taupes and blond wood.

Waiters refer to Robert and Zhan Petrosyants as the owners, though they are both prohibited from holding the restaurant’s liquor license because of felony convictions. Instead, Marianna Shahmuradyan with whom Robert has several children — is on the license, according to New York State Liquor Authority records.

The twin brothers were accused of conspiring with several other men to launder the proceeds of phony insurance claims through shell companies. Zhan was charged in the scheme in 2012, Robert the year after.

According to an indictment filed by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, Robert Petrosyants owned and managed medical billing companies that received money through false insurance claims, then wrote checks to shell companies that falsely purported to supply medical goods and services. Zhan Petrosyants, known as Johnny, cashed checks written to the shell companies at a check-cashing business in Queens in order to conceal the source and ownership of the money and avoid detection by federal authorities, the indictment said.

Both pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Robert Petrosyants was sentenced to six months in federal prison, and Johnny Petrosyants received five years of probation. Each was required to forfeit about $667,000.

Mr. Young, the mayor’s spokesman, described the friendship between Johnny Petrosyants and Mr. Adams as born out of the mayor’s efforts to help people through difficult times.

“Mayor Adams does not believe in judging people based on the worst mistake they’ve ever made,” Mr. Young said.

Being mayor of New York is intensely stressful, and Mr. de Blasio said he believed La Baia had become a place where Mr. Adams could relax. (Mr. de Blasio once hosted a fund-raiser at a restaurant run by the brothers.)

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“I think when you are mayor, you need an outlet,” Mr. de Blasio said. “I think this is one part to unwind, it’s one part thinking stuff through with people he trusts.”

For Mr. Adams, the Petrosyants brothers appear to be those people.

“That continues to be the nature of their relationship — one of friendship and mentorship and support,” Mr. Young said. “It’s a personal relationship, and there is no business relationship, and has never been a business relationship.”

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But those lines have blurred at times.

At the time of their arrests, the brothers ran a restaurant in Brooklyn, Woodland, at which Mr. Adams was also something of a regular.

Mr. Adams, then Brooklyn borough president, had held fund-raisers and parties for staff at the restaurant on Flatbush Avenue in the bustling mix of commercial and residential properties near Barclays Center. But complaints about excessive noise at Woodland mounted and eventually led Mr. Adams to convene a neighborhood meeting in the fall of 2016.

There, he urged those assembled to give Woodland a fair chance, according to Regina Cahill, the president of the North Flatbush Avenue Business Improvement District, who attended the meeting.

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Mr. Adams never noted his relationship with the Petrosyants brothers. The restaurant was permitted to keep operating.

“He never disclosed that he had more than a casual patron relationship with them,” said Ms. Cahill, who learned of it some years later, she added. “We were surprised.” A few years later, Woodland lost its liquor license and closed after further complaints from neighbors. Its owner, a business partner of the Petrosyants brothers, said at the time that the complaints were grounded in racism directed at the restaurant’s largely Black clientele.

The Petrosyants brothers have worked together on several other restaurants, leaving a trail of lawsuits and unpaid bills in their wake. The landlords of Forno Rosso, an Italian restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn at which Robert was a manager and guarantor on the lease, last year sued him and an associate in an effort to recover what they say is more than $500,000 in rent and other costs that went unpaid since April 2020 while the restaurant continued operating.

Johnny Petrosyants said by email that the landlord rejected good-faith efforts to settle the unpaid bills; Scott Loffredo, a lawyer for the landlord, said no such efforts were made.

The brothers and entities connected to them have been sued by landlords, investors and others for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In some of the cases, they have denied the charges while citing the hardships of Covid. The brothers and some corporations connected to them have at times failed to pay state and federal taxes, records show.

The Petrosyants brothers have been occasional campaign donors to Mr. Adams: Robert gave his Brooklyn campaign $1,000 in 2013, and Johnny gave his mayoral campaign $1,000 in 2020. Ms. Shahmuradyan gave $5,000 in April 2018, of which the campaign refunded $3,000 to meet public matching eligibility requirements, according to campaign finance records.

In an email, the Petrosyantses said they had taken a plea deal in the criminal case on the advice of their lawyers. They said their federal taxes had been fully paid, and overdue personal and corporate state taxes were largely paid, though records suggest Johnny Petrosyants has outstanding I.R.S. liens in New Jersey. They did not respond to questions about their relationship with Mr. Adams.

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The Petrosyantses’ restaurant is not the only nightspot the mayor is drawn to. He sometimes starts his evenings at La Baia and then heads downtown to a more exclusive locale: Zero Bond, a private members’ club in NoHo.

Late one night in May, Mr. Adams arrived at Zero Bond to meet with the mayor of Atlanta, Andre Dickens. The two public officials headed for an even more private location: a V.I.P. room unlocked with a fingerprint scanner.

For people over age 45, membership at Zero Bond, which opened in 2020, requires a $5,000 initiation fee and a $4,000 annual payment; food and drink are purchased separately. Nonmembers must be accompanied by a member, and the mayor visits as a guest, Mr. Young said, though he did not respond to a question about who hosts Mr. Adams at the club.

Being granted access to private clubs without paying membership dues risks violating ethics rules, said Mr. Briffault, the former Conflicts of Interest Board chairman.

Arthur L. Aidala, an attorney and longtime friend of Mr. Adams, defended the mayor. “I don’t think he feels like going home at 9 o’clock at night and watching whatever is on the television.”

Plus, Mr. Aidala said, he doubted that the mayor’s dining companions would affect policy. “This is someone he is going to have a flatbread pizza with olives and goat cheese on; I don’t think they are the ones who are making any decisions about the City of New York.”

Through his relationship with the mayor, the owner of Zero Bond, Scott Sartiano, has risen: In February, Mr. Adams appointed him to the board of the Metropolitan Museum — one of the most coveted posts on the New York social circuit.

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Mr. Young, the spokesman for the mayor, said that Mr. Adams pays for his meals at Zero Bond, but did not provide details or supporting records. Through a spokesman, Mr. Sartiano declined to be interviewed for this article or provide any records, except to say that the club itself did not pay the mayor’s bills at Zero Bond.

Mr. Young provided the names of a handful of restaurants outside Manhattan that he said Mr. Adams visits regularly, including Zona de Cuba, a Latin rooftop restaurant in the Bronx. Alexander Chan, the general manager, said Mr. Adams comes in about once a week, alone or with a guest. He orders from a vegetarian menu and pays the bill himself, Mr. Chan said.

“It’s really nice to have the mayor come and help out and come by the restaurant,” Mr. Chan said.

But on other occasions, the mayor’s outings beyond La Baia or Zero Bond appear to be steered by the same small group with whom he often spends his evenings.

In June, the mayor attended a private dinner sponsored by the Florida-based luxury magazine Haute Living at a Madison Avenue restaurant.

“The city’s going to come back, you feel the excitement, you feel the energy,” Mayor Adams said to guests who nibbled morsels of tuna belly and raised glasses of a 25-year-old Scotch that retails at $2,900 a bottle.

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Beside him, once again, was Johnny Petrosyants — a friend of one of the magazine’s principals, Kamal Hotchandani.

In an interview, Mr. Hotchandani said he met the mayor at a dinner at Zero Bond, and that despite a flurry of social media pictures linking them, they didn’t know each other well. He said the mayor’s commitment to the city’s nightlife is welcome, and suggestions that he’s spending too much time at nightclubs are overblown.

“He’s really restoring the city that never sleeps back to that,” Mr. Hotchandani said. But he added that he was surprised to hear that the mayor spends so much time at a single restaurant.

“At the end of the day if you’re the mayor of the most powerful city in the U.S. and the world,” Mr. Hotchandani said, “would you recommend spending 50 percent of your time with one person or spreading the love? I’d recommend spreading the love.”

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To many people steeped in New York City’s nightlife, Mr. Adams’s enthusiasm and attention are welcome. And the mayor himself seems unconcerned that commercial interests might capitalize on his presence.

“It ain’t an album release party until the mayor gets here,” the rapper French Montana said in an Instagram video on June 19 at a party where the musician racked up a tab of more than $26,000, according to his posts.

Mr. Adams appears over his shoulder: “And you know this is going to be a hot album!”

William Benson, the founder of the luxury brand Billionaires Row and a friend of Mr. Adams, praised the mayor’s efforts to connect with a powerful constituency.

“The players come out at night, the money guys, the bankers, the athletes, it makes sense for the mayor to go and rub shoulders and build relationships,” he said. “Those conversations don’t start from 9 to 5.”

Reporting was contributed by Michael Rothfeld, Nate Schweber, Sean Piccoli and Sadef Ali Kully. Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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