Customers at the Japanese Restaurant Nobu

Photo: Mark Peterson/Corbis via Getty Image

For New York’s anniversary, we are celebrating the history of the city’s restaurants with a series of posts throughout the month. Read all of our “Who Ate Where” stories here.

Few lunch more decadently than law students with summer internships at white-shoe firms in Manhattan. No one knows exactly how the tradition began, but for interns of Davis Polk, Cravath (where I “summered” in 2005), Cleary Gottlieb, Fried Frank, and dozens of others, the summer lunch is often a multicourse, multi-hour affair at one of the city’s swankiest spots. Never was this more true than in the heady decade leading up to the 2008 recession. “Summers,” as they are known, might’ve been 25, living in an NYU dorm with four roommates, and tasked with document review, but at midday they were royalty, lunching on foie gras, filet mignon, and the dish that defined the moment: Nobu’s black cod with miso.

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“Twenty years ago, that cod was revolutionary,” says Sarah Warren, a lawyer at a downtown firm who frequently lunched at Nobu. “We’d order multiple so everyone could experience it.” The meals were filled out with yellowtail sashimi, rock shrimp, and platters of sushi. “Sushi was not prevalent like now,” says lawyer Jennifer Colyer, remembering summer lunches at Nobu. “People were still feeling their way around.” The lunches were finished off with a more familiar, turn-of-the-century staple: chocolate lava cake.

Nobu was a coveted lunch spot at many downtown firms, and summer created an opportunity — just enough of the city’s wealthy and well known had absconded to the Hamptons, so a bunch of junior lawyers could get in. “I had the secret phone number for reservations,” says Elana Sinensky, a 2000 summer associate who was later hired. “I don’t know how I got it, but I did.” Luckily, some celebrities were still hanging around, says Warren, who was once seated next to Keanu Reeves. “It was sceney,” says Colyer. “You wanted to go there.” But among the celebrities and Tribeca locals, no one could miss the tables of soon-to-be lawyers, crisp-white shirts and ramrod posture, which, another frequenter of Nobu remembers, added “an American Psycho vibe.”

A number of lawyers I spoke with also remembered that Nobu was a place where you could have a lunch light enough to actually work afterward, unlike, say, Peter Luger (which required unbuttoning your Theory pantsuit and going into hibernation).  There was always a tension between languorous lunches and actual lawyering. “I remember the panic of being at an insane tasting-menu place with one set of attorneys while someone else back at the office was waiting for something from me,” says my law-school friend Alison Milam of her summer experience.

Following the recession, summer lunches became a more regulated and subdued affair, and in 2017, Nobu shuttered its Tribeca location and moved to the Financial District, capping off the era. But those early-aughts Nobu lunches will be remembered as a time when, as Sinensky puts it, “we would just sit there and feel like we were fabulous.”

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