In 2007, the Delphi Restaurant, on the corner of West Broadway and Reade, closed after 37 years. Wrote the New York Sun, "The restaurant is closing because of a clause in its 12-year old lease that would increase the rent to$55,000 a month starting November 1, up from its current $11,000." Said one of Delphi's long-time waitresses, "It's not about what the neighbors or the community wants."
In an area Zagat calls "Bouleyville" for its proliferation of restaurants owned by the same celebu-chef, David Bouley was then planning to open an "upscale Japanese-themed restaurant called Brushstrokes" in the Delphi space. That was two years ago. A liquor license battle ensued, fierce enough for Bouley to call it a "witch hunt." The Delphi waitress may have been right, but Bouley won the fight in March 2008.
Today, the building looks gutted and ready for demolition, marked by a big red X.
Through the end of 2008, the Department of Buildings shows complaints about after-hours work being done against a stop work order and "site conditions endangering workers."
This is a landmark building. The blog Haute Notes wrote extensively on its history, which dates back to 1860: "By the time of the First World War, photos show fine etched-glass entry doors and a sweeping canopy sheltering Vogric's Café. Its Slovenian owner advertised the Knickerbocker beers and ales brewed in Manhattan by Colonel Jacob Ruppert."
Most curious are the seeming ghost signs on the facade, which show a giant hand holding a paint brush and the words: "Brush Up Business with Paint, Paste, Paper, & Push." (Here, "push" means to sell, writes ForgottenNY.)
Frank Jump, in his excellent ghost sign blog, dates the signage to the 1910s. But Haute Notes writes, "the signs don't appear in any of the historic photos, even those from the 1940s."
Was the ghost sign somehow uncovered? Or was it put there later on, maybe for a 1970s movie, and made to look like the 1910s?
Whatever the story, it seems one of two things will happen to this building: Bouley will eventually move in or it will be demolished. Either way, we'll probably lose the signage, as we lost the Delphi, a once-strong survivor in a vanishing part of town.
As a 2003 Downtown Express put it: "Whenever a trendy new bistro opens up, or a chain spreads its wings and expands into occupied territory, I imagine the neighborhood’s longstanding restaurants must brace themselves for the competition that comes along with gentrification... however, Delphi has held its own for many years, defiantly refusing to be intimidated by the influx of new options for hungry Tribecans."
Bouleyville was originally slated to get its trendy new bistro up and running here by the spring of 2009. Perhaps, still haunting its tomb, the spirit of Delphi continues to defy.