Recently, New York magazine featured a story about the Torrisi restaurant team going "old-school." In the photo, the entrepreneurs smile and toast their new endeavor, "Carbone," under the stripped neon sign of vanished Rocco Restaurant.
For those with short memories, the 89-year-old Village restaurant was pushed out last year, even though business was thriving, when the landlord took an offer he could not refuse. Torrisi signed a lease, with a massively hiked rent, before third-generation owner Antonio Da Silva knew what hit him. He fought and lost.
As one commenter says at the online article: "How can you write that they are paying tribute to the 'vanishing relics' when they are the reason one of the real relics (Roccos) vanished? I am very close with the former owner, and they were pushed out only to be replicated and paid homage to? I find it to be so distasteful."
On the next page of the magazine, there's a featurette entitled "History Buffs," about how trendy, monied restaurateurs "seem to be in a race to acquire New York’s oldest, most storied properties."
They write about the Beatrice Inn, which was already Vongerichtified years ago, and about the recent tragedy of Bill's Gay 90s.
Bill's landlord denied a new lease to the 88-year-old business, and handed it over to John DeLucie, who hoped to obtain the wonderful interior details. But owner Barbara Bart was smarter, and she took the memorabilia with her--after a fight with the landlord who wanted it all for his new tenant. As New York wrote, "When chef-restaurateur John DeLucie took the space, he kept part of the prior tenant’s name, but was less successful hanging on to all the furnishings and artifacts that gave the place its character."
Minetta before and after (you can't get in)
We've been watching this trend for a few years now--the "race" to snatch the city's classic places and claim them for the new guard. We witnessed the battle for Fedora ("fauxstalgia joints are tres chic these days," said Grub Street) and the cleansing of Minetta's (much of the city has become "like a theme park of the past, as these restored standards offer a vision of a lost bohemian New York--albeit with a well-heeled clientele and prices to match" said the Times), the "preservation" of CBGB, and much more.
It's bad enough that we lose our classics through death by natural causes, but now they're being hunted. And the hunters want trophies, heads stuffed and mounted in artful poses. When the hunters come for our next favorite place, while they do the killing, while they taxidermy the bodies, they will tell us that they're saving the city. They will tell us that if it weren't for them, we'd have nothing left to remind us of what used to be. They will tell us we should be grateful.
You know what would make me really grateful? If our classic businesses were protected by the city with rent-controlled leases. And if the torch must be passed, let it be passed to people who honestly care about preserving the true character of these places, not for the well-heeled newcomers, but for the regulars.
That would make me grateful.
Bill's Gay 90s