“Hey, can we smoke in here?” asked the actress Natasha Lyonne, 43, in a leopard print dress, holding a pack of cigarettes. She was standing inside the newly opened Caviar Kaspia on the Upper East Side, a sister restaurant to the original in Paris. On Friday, Lauren Santo Domingo, the socialite and co-founder of Moda Operandi, hosted a party there to kick off New York Fashion Week.
“Not when the mayor is here!” Ms. Santo Domingo, 46, responded.
“Come on, you’re the owner!” Ms. Lyonne said, turning to Sarah Senbahar. Ms. Senbahar and her husband and property developer, Izak Senbahar, own The Mark Hotel in New York, which had partnered with Caviar Kaspia as part of the Parisian restaurant’s global expansion.
The guest list of celebrities, fashionistas and the rich and powerful for the evening included Mayor Eric Adams, nattily dressed in a burgundy blazer (“It’s one of my favorite colors. I like the wine-ish color,” he said), who was chatting with Marie-Chantal, the Crown Princess of Greece and Princess of Denmark, and the fashion designer Tory Burch. The pop singer Lily Allen, the actor Justin Theroux and the former political aide Huma Abedin stood nearby. Generous dollops of Osetra caviar were served on twice-baked potatoes (the dish can cost anywhere from $95 to $540, depending on the type and amount of caviar), with the champagne and vodka freely flowing.
There is a permissive sensibility to the original Caviar Kaspia, located on Place de la Madeleine in Paris’s 8th arrondissement. With its distinctive aquamarine table linens, Limoges porcelain and comfortable old-world décor, the restaurant is known as a watering hole where celebrities, designers and fashion editors gather during couture and ready-to-wear fashion weeks. Rihanna stayed up until close to 4 a.m. at the restaurant to discuss her first pregnancy (after her Super Bowl performance, we now know she is into her second) with Vogue last year. Jay-Z and Beyoncé are known to pop in when they’re in town. Yves Saint Laurent, Virgil Abloh and Tom Ford were frequent patrons, to name just a few of the many designers who have favored the joint. Caviar Kaspia is so beloved that people are fond of nicking the eatery’s turquoise blue ashtray as a memento (which can fetch close to $100 on eBay).
“I love it so much. It’s truly a clubhouse where I always run into people, and I swear I always have a good time,” said Mel Ottenberg, the editor in chief of Interview Magazine.
“We’re a bit like a traveling circus,” said Ms. Santo Domingo, referring to the fashion editors and other personalities to whom she’s close, a clique that includes the socialite Derek Blasberg; Vogue’s global contributing fashion editor at large, Gabriella Karefa-Johnson; W’s editor in chief, Sara Moonves; WSJ. Magazine’s editor in chief, Kristina O’Neill; and Vogue’s creative editorial director, Mark Guiducci, among others — all of whom were in attendance that evening at the restaurant’s new Upper East Side location.
“During fashion week, Caviar Kaspia is like our cafeteria,” she said.
In the last three years, Caviar Kaspia has aggressively expanded internationally, first opening in Dubai just two years ago, followed by new locations in São Paulo, Saint Tropez, London and Los Angeles. New York’s Caviar Kaspia came into being after the lease for the clothing and accessory brand Zadig & Voltaire’s location below The Mark Hotel expired at the end of 2021. Mr. Senbahar had observed how customers at his hotel enjoyed ordering caviar, and he was a longtime fan of the original restaurant. He approached Ramon Mac-Crohon, the chief executive of Caviar Kaspia, to see if he would be interested in a partnership.
“When Izak called me, I couldn’t think of a better address,” said Mr. Mac-Crohon, 48, who had previously experimented with a downtown pop-up in the city in 2016. They quickly brought in the French interior decorator Jacques Grange — responsible for the lavish look of The Mark — to do the décor. Though that Friday evening was the first night the restaurant was opening its doors, the space wasn’t finished, and a section intended to be the bar was discreetly partitioned off with black curtains, forcing cocktails to be served outside, where the paparazzi lurked nearby.
Mr. Mac-Crohon said the party should be considered a “grand soft opening.”
Caviar Kaspia was founded in 1927 by the Russian émigré Arcady Fixon, who arrived in Paris after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. By then, French society had acquired a taste for the rare delicacy, which Russians had been eating for over a century. Referred to as “black gold,” caviar has long been prized by conquerors and kings, czars and emperors. According to Inga Saffron’s book “Caviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World’s Most Coveted Delicacy,” Winston Churchill requested 25 pounds of it in 1941 when he dispatched Lord Beaverbrook as a state dignitary to discuss the war with Joseph Stalin. Caviar and champagne parties were so common in the 1920s in Paris that F. Scott Fitzgerald once complained that serving it was “the height of affectation.”
Caviar Kaspia is now owned by Mr. Mac-Crohon’s family, who also count the restaurant Maison de la Truffe among their properties.
Decades ago, wild caviar was once so rare it could command outrageous prices. Today — because of overfishing that has led the sturgeons of the Caspian and Black Seas to be considered an endangered species — wild beluga caviar is banned in the United States. But the rise of farmed caviar in the last two decades has made the delicacy more available and accessible than it once was, with caviar bars popping up across the nation as well as direct-to-consumer caviar companies offering the food at more affordable prices.
Mr. Mac-Crohon said Caviar Kaspia served only farmed caviar from the United States, Bulgaria and Italy.
Still, quantity is different from quality in the universe of Caviar Kaspia. “There’s one question that I hate, which journalists often ask me, which is, is caviar getting democratized? And the answer is no,” Mr. Mac-Crohon said. “There are still different levels of caviar. What is happening is that caviar now has become cool. Before, caviar was for very special occasions, only for Christmas, New Year’s Eve or a birthday.”
Nevertheless, the food’s wider availability helps to explain why his restaurant has leaned into being more of a destination than a delicacy. Whether its arrival in New York City will be a success is to be determined. But with the Parisian pastry and tea shop Ladurée now in SoHo and the Upper East Side, and the members-only London Club, Casa Cruz, having recently opened an outpost on 61st Street, it’s not difficult to imagine New Yorkers embracing this new establishment as a place to celebrate.
The mayor, who said he liked attending New York Fashion Week events because it “feeds the entire economy” — he was hoping to make it to the Michael Kors show — was adamant that “New York City is having a comeback.”
By 11 p.m., Mr. Adams had left, but the party was still thrumming along, with a handful of guests gathered around a long banquette. More vodka had been brought out by the waiters. Bowls of ice, containing open tins of caviar, sat sweating on the tables, with Caviar Kaspia’s mother-of-pearl spoons casually resting nearby (metal or plastic is known to oxidize the roe). The party was winding down. Soon, the fashion set would migrate to London for the next collection of shows.
Ms. Santo Domingo said she could imagine someone having a graduation party at Caviar Kaspia. Ms. Burch and Mr. Ottenberg both said they had enjoyed going to Caviar Kaspia in Paris with their parents.
Its appeal, however, may be much more simple: “It’s cozy there,” Ms. Burch, 56, said.
“For when you don’t have time to fly to Paris,” Mr. Senbahar, 64, said. “I just thought we could bring a little bit of Paris to New York.”