Albany History: Drinks to Go, Pandemic and Lobbyists
“They had my favorite nightclubs, Ashford and Simpson, which came out of a flapper,” Merjian recalled, referring to an effervescent pop duo. “I called my mom and said, ‘I’m going into the restaurant business. I don’t know what it is, but my office will be the grand ballroom at the Waldorf.
It was for 14 years that he worked on the staging of performances and birthday parties.
Now, even though the Waldorf is closed for a top-to-bottom makeover, hotel managers have chosen it as the winner of an oral history contest. A spokeswoman said it was open to former employees (but not current employees) “because we wanted to hear as many first-person stories as possible from the people who really lived through it.”
Merjian’s contest-winning memoir was about Frank Sinatra, who had lived at the Waldorf in the 1970s in what had once been Cole Porter’s suite. Merjian was introduced to Sinatra after he helped plan a Friars Club event for Sinatra’s fourth wife, Barbara. “I said, ‘MS, I’ve been a fan of yours since I was probably 12,'” recalls Merjian, now general manager and chief operating officer of Pelham Country Club in Pelham, NY. “He said, ‘Nice to meet you, kid. I look forward to a great evening.
It must have been, because several years later the hotel commissioned Merjian to coordinate the party for Sinatra’s 75th birthday. He had an idea: why not close the hall to everyone except the 200 guests. “We never closed it for anyone,” he said, “but we did for Frank.” And when Sinatra managers requested that the marquee above the hotel’s Park Avenue entrance say “Frankie’s Place” on the night of the party, he crafted a cover that fits over the Waldorf sign.
He also worked on the party for President Bill Clinton’s 50th birthday. “Hillary asked me to find the person to bake the birthday cake,” he said. (He recommended William Greenberg Desserts Bakery.) Coincidentally, Merjian left for the St. Regis shortly after Sinatra’s death in 1998 and worked there until it closed during the pandemic.
The contest prize is a weekend at the Waldorf after it reopens next year. Merjian said he was looking forward to taking his wife, Heide, along. They met as colleagues and got married on the famous Starlight Roof.
This time they should put on their bathing suits if they come back. ‘Where we got married will be a pool’ once renovations are complete, he said, ‘but that’s fine’