Divino Ristorante, on 2nd Avenue near 81st Street, has closed after 37 years in business.
The Italian restaurant was opened around 1977 by Mario Balducci and Antonio Bongioanni, who came to America from Northern Italy four years earlier. The restaurant did well and became a local favorite. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a regular; he and his wife enjoyed the romantic Italian ambiance (though the neighbors did not care for the helicopters and snipers that came with him).
After Mr. Bongioanni died in 2007, Mr. Balducci continued to run the restaurant, telling a videographer, "I've been here for 32 years...and I hope to stay here another 32." But sometime in the past month, that hope apparently passed away, too.
I asked the locksmith next door what happened. He said, "One day, they just closed their doors and were gone. That's it." The sign in Divino's window reads, "Because of special circumstances and after 37 years in business, we decided to close."
The locksmith added, "Someone's trying to buy up the whole block. They're buying all the buildings so they can knock them down and put up a high-rise. They're not gonna get us, though."
The eastern block between 80th and 81st Streets is a collection of tenement-style buildings, none over five stories tall, including a narrow sliver of a two-story building with a curious pitched roof. If they all go, then it's goodbye to Pig Heaven, too, a favorite Chinese restaurant since 1984.
(Local reader C.K. has heard the rumors, too, writing in: "The corner buildings on East 80th are being slowly emptied out of tenants above.")
The locksmith then pointed north, "Someone's buying up that block, too. Same thing. Knocking it all down for a new high-rise building."
That block is the same, all low-rise tenements filled with small businesses--including the famous comedy club Comic Strip Live, opened in 1975. But many of those businesses are already shuttered, with For Lease signs on the fronts.
"At this rate, there's not going to be anything of the neighborhood," I said to the locksmith.
*Update: Reader C.K. lets us know that a "for lease" sign has gone up on Divino's. Icon Property Management has the listing, with the space going for $27,000 per month. Is Icon the developer buying up the block?