High-profile habitues of fabled Midtown French restaurant La Grenouille are chasing frogs’ legs and foie gras elsewhere due to a mysterious, near-three-months shutdown.
Owner Philippe Masson shuttered the place when it failed a June 27 pressure test on gas pipes after new meters were installed.
The fabulous frog was supposed to reopen on Sept. 7 following its normal summer vacation but remains dark.
But some regulars are buzzing that there’s more to the prolonged closure than a gas glitch, as it occurred against the backdrop of bitter lawsuits between Philippe Masson and La Grenouille’s former manager — his older brother, Charles Masson.
“It smells fishy,” said one customer who first alerted us to the situation. “It’s a tiny building. How long does it take to fix a gas leak?”
City Finance Department records show that Philippe mortgaged a piece of the chateau-like townhouse to Charles last month to “secure payment of an indebtedness” of $3.17 million.
Philippe’s lawyer, Larry Hutcher, said it was to settle a claim Charles filed against Philippe in 2021 hoping to regain control of the restaurant.
The brothers’ mother, Giselle, booted Charles in favor of Philippe before her death in 2014.
Charles accused Philippe of defaulting on loans and treating La Grenouille as a “personal ATM.” Philippe claimed that Charles was trying to hijack the building from him so he could sell it for up to $40 million.
La Grenouille, at 3 East 52nd St. since 1962, is the last survivor of the city’s era of “Le’s” and “La’s” when French cuisine reigned supreme.
The dining room’s gold fabric walls and red banquettes, a three-course menu starting at $185, and a sexy upstairs private room continue to draw a boldface crowd.
“It’s so good,” said socialite Dori Cooperman, who goes for lunch and private dinners. “It’s old-school glamour, the fresh flowers and amazing food.”
Regulars over the years have included Michael Bloomberg, Woody Allen and Madonna — at least before Philippe instituted nightly jazz performances that include his own vocals. (“I’ve never done the jazz,” Cooperman chuckled.)
Other recent customers include John and Margo Catsimatidis, Huma Abedin and Sandra Lee.
But dark windows and an empty outdoor shed cast a pall on the swanky block between Fifth and Madison avenues.
Vagrants took over the shed and filled it with garbage which has since been removed.
A recording on La Grenouille’s phone line states, “The Buildings Department has approved our plans [for gas repairs] and we’re just waiting for Con Ed to reopen out gas line. Con Ed, where are you?”
In fact, however, the restaurant “does not have gas authorization from the DOB,” said Con Ed rep Jamie McShane. “We cannot have gas flowing where there are leaks.”
DOB spokesman Andrew Rudansky corroborated: “DOB has told their plumber on four separate occasions that in order for the gas to be restored they need approvals from the FDNY for the fire suppression hood, which is a critical safety feature for commercial cooking equipment.
“To date the plumber has not provided evidence that the fire suppression system is working,” Rudansky said.
Philippe’s recent campaign to draw a younger clientele with nightly cabaret acts of which he’s the singing star caused Carrrie Cort, a regular of 28 years to sniff to the New York Times, “That’s not what La Grenouille is.”
Hutcher didn’t respond to requests for comment on the gas situation.
Neither Charles Masson nor his lawyer returned emails.