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— DIANE CLEHANE

What recession? The dining room at 55th & Fifth was buzzing with the usual assemblage of bold face names, social swans and television types that tucked into their Cobb salads with gusto while digesting some of the week’s harrowing headlines. Hollywood figured heavily into many of today’s conversation with folks reeling from the shocking death of Heath Ledger and others seriously contemplating the possibility of a celebrity-free Academy Awards. IGM’s Fern Mallis, who is days away from kicking off Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, hopes cooler heads will prevail on the left coast and everyone is back on the red carpet come Oscar night. “With the economy tanking, it’s not about seeing pretty dresses on the red carpet,” says Fern. “It’s about having so many people being put out of work as a result of the strike. We need this Oscar to happen for a lot of reasons.” The one bright spot: since the stars aren’t working at the moment, Fern expects a slew of celebrities to show up at Bryant Park. At the top of her wish list: George Clooney. “I’d always find a seat for him.’ Perhaps when the newly minted best actor nominee wraps up his rumored role in the negotiations to get everybody back to work, he’ll make time for a pit stop in New York. Here’s hoping …

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong, Sharon Hoge and a table full of handsome gents.

2. Richard Rubenstein.

3. Peter Price.

4. Esther Newberg with ‘Barefoot Contessa’ Ina Garten.

5. Harper Collins’ Jane Friedman.

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