RSVP: Dinner with Andy Warhol and Paige Powell

Interview photographer and friend of Andy Warhol, Paige Powell, recalls post-work activities with the iconic pop artist.

I started taking photographs while studying abroad, but didn’t really get into it until I moved to New York, in December 1980. It was a combination of being influenced by Andy Warhol, and I was also a part-time photojournalist for a Japanese magazine called Brutus. Interview came later, in ’81, after I’d knocked on their door and asked for a job.

I didn’t realize I was [entering] this scene. That’s what it was, in hindsight, but at the time none of us knew. We were young and [had just] moved to New York. At the time, you didn’t really move here unless you were in finance, with the end goal of making a fortune. But [our] goal was about being creative with no ceilings—to really go for it and do whatever you wanted to do, and to be around like-minded people. To be where your passions lied. Coming from Oregon, I thought, this is it; I loved the city and the way it felt. So much energy and creativity. The fast pace… I liked everything about it.

This image was taken at a Japanese restaurant called Nippon. The owner of it later become the first chef in America to be allowed to serve potentially deadly fugu, or blowfish, the most poisonous fish [available] in America. He had been a university professor in Tokyo. He had a fancier Nippon around East 57th Street, but this was the more casual, country-style Nippon, at Third Avenue and 60th Street. I was with Andy Warhol, Grace Jones and Dolph Lundgren, as well as Richard Bernstein.

Andy and Grace were very close friends and Andy really loved going [to Nippon], going to the movies, and then Serendipity’s afterwards for a sundae. That was like a [quiet] evening [for him]. At Interview back in the day with Andy, everyone had these really elaborate parties and dinners. Going out to dinner with a bunch of friends [wasn’t] considered “going out.” Sometimes, after being out every single night, we’d have eight [new] invitations, but we’d go, “Oh, we can’t go out.” [A small dinner] is sort of what Andy loved to do when he wasn’t running around.

Going out to dinner was a big thing with artists because they normally worked in studios alone all day, so that was the time to come together. Everyone really looked forward to it. Especially someone like my friend Tama Janowitz, who would be alone in her apartment writing all day. She loved it; it gave her extra energy and material to write about.

Nippon wasn’t a hip restaurant, but that’s what we liked about it—low lighting, bamboo, very simple. It felt more like you were in Kyoto. It was serene and contemplative compared to a lot of the other restaurants. The music wasn’t contemporary—the owner seemed to prefer opera. He was a really special and cultured [person]. At the time, he would go down to the White House to [serve as chef] for different ceremonies, like parties for the ambassadors from Japan or the Prime Minister.

This was right around the time Keith Haring painted Grace Jones. I just remember going to the studio [for that]. The dynamic was great. Grace Jones—she had such a wonderful sense of humor. Such a diva, but she’s fun.

On another evening at Nippon, they had a lobster tank and Andy ordered the lobster. When it came to the table, he was horrified that this living creature was killed. He [had been] seeing a lot of crystal therapists [so it figured]. After the lobster, he became macrobiotic. [If nothing else], he was experimental.

Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol, Grace Jones and actor Dolph Lundgren at Nippon in 1985, courtesy of Paige Powell. Paige Powell is now available at Gucci Wooster bookstore.
Discover More