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Closing Time: Lessons Learned From 8 NYC Shutters

By James Mulcahy
November 11, 2013
Photo by: Gabi Porter

Hybird, we hardly knew ye. If this Questlove-fronted, Stephen Starr-backed fried chicken joint with a ton of hype closed after only a few months, how is it possible for any NYC restaurant to make it? It's a hard-knock life for restaurants and bars in NYC, and this week we're taking a look at some recent high-profile closings to see if we can sniff out some lessons about the biz.

  • Hybird

    Even with the backing of Stephen Starr and a big name like Questlove, this fried chicken stand in the Chelsea Market couldn't fly for more than about five months. Reports named low sales as the primary culprit for the shutter, and we're guessing that any expansion plans for the business have flown the coop.

    Lesson: A celebrity owner just isn't enough to draw New York audiences in. Much of the hype when the venue first opened was around the Roots musician rather than the chicken itself, and once that died down there were longer lines at the neighboring Lobster Place than there were here.

  • Tribeca Canvas

    Masaharu Morimoto's long-awaited - and we mean long-awaited; this one was on "soon-to-open" reports for over two years - TriBeCa eatery went bust after a few short months, with crowds staying away from his take on Asian comfort food after initial reports were less than stellar.

    Lesson: If you're going to open - OPEN. If something has been on the radar for too long, New Yorkers are already over it before they've even see it. The space's second act proves the point - right after closing, Morimoto revamped the entire space and menu, and reopened the venture as Bisutoro, a similar concept (with more whiskey) that has already been getting better buzz. That offers a bonus lesson - second acts are possible in the NYC culinary world, as long as you act fast.

  • L'Amant

    This was one of the best cocktail bars in the city - for a hot second. The colonial-themed lounge served up some expertly crafted drinks, had an awesome two-for-one happy hour and felt like a teeny, romantic spot that no one else knew about it. This past spring it closed seemingly as fast as it opened, being replaced by the buzzier (and more food-focused) Wallflower.

    Lesson: There is such a thing as being too good a secret. New York is drowning in a sea of artisanal cocktails, and if you want to draw a steady crowd, you really have to stand out. Or at least get the bartenders in. There's a small band of folks on the mixology scene who can draw attention to a place, and sadly neither the public nor the industry boozers caught wind of this one in time.

  • Splash

    The gay mega-club that once defined Chelsea brought in diverse crowds ranging from theatrical geeks on their famed Musical Mondays to club kids who danced the night away on weekend nights. It had a pretty epic run, which is why it came as such a shock to many that it shut down near the end of this summer. There's no word yet on what will take over the space.

    Lesson: The nexus of the city's gay world has moved north to Hell's Kitchen. While Splash was winding down, the crowds were hitting up a new outpost of Boxers, and the finishing touches were being put on Atlas Social Club, which debuted last month to much fanfare. With Rawhide, another Chelsea old-timer, closing this March, it now seems safe to say that much of the gayborhood has migrated above 42nd Street.

  • Chelsea's Eighth Avenue Corridor

    There have been a lot of for-rent signs on Eighth Avenue between 14th and 23rd Streets of late. The closings have affected neighborhood spots more than destinations, with longtimers like Nisos and Gascgogne turning over and making way for new ventures. The latest shutter was trendy Thai eatery Room Service (pictured), which just shut down last week.

    Lesson: Change with the times, or be swallowed up. These restaurants rested on their formulae for years and were successful enough, but once rent prices went up, the model became unsustainable. Newer, fresher concepts promise more crowds. Gabe Stulman's Montmarte has taken over the former Gascgone site (and has tweaked itself twice since, really internalizing this lesson), and Rhong-Tiam is moving into the old Room Service address.

  • Toy and Vinatta Project

    Twins Derek and Daniel Koch thought the way to entertain Meatpacking crowds would be upping the playful touches to their Gansevoort Hotel restaurant Toy. They brought in neon chopsticks and served sushi in toy boats, along with other Asian bites meant to cater to late-night crowds. The whole thing lasted about a year until closing its doors, and the last reports had the concept relocating to another, undisclosed neighborhood. A similar fate befell the Vinatta Project, a casual eatery that tried to make it work in the old Florent space - to no avail.

    Lesson: Meatpacking diners are ready for something different. Sure, they like to party, but a slew of recent closures - from the hip-for-years Bunker to flash-in-the-pan Gunbar - indicate a shift. Maybe the crowds streaming off the High Line are slowly pushing the 'hood to be a little more mature - see the new spin-off of old-school favorite Bubby's.

  • Dans Le Noir

    This French outfit has found success in other cities, with its dining-in-the-dark model, but it never caught on when it opened near Times Square, a location that seemed geared toward the tourists rather than natives. Customers were served by a blind staff and ate their food without any explanations, with the intention of demonstrating just how much the sense of sight powers our palate.

    Lesson: While New Yorkers aren't completely averse to sensory deprivation, with silent and blindfolded meals gaining a following, this one may have been too extreme and disconnected from the local crowd. Baby steps.

  • Pulino's

    This upscale Bowery pizzeria had a pretty good run. Keith McNally debuted it a few years ago with chef Nate Appleman at the helm, and despite a few menu changes since the opening, things seemed fairly stable. It never really caught on in foodie circles, though, and while the house was still full on some nights, that wasn't enough to keep it going. In October, McNally announced that he'd be closing the space at the end of the year and reopening it in 2014 as French-themed Cherche Midi.

    Lesson: If you're going to do the classics, you really have to nail them to survive. New York is awash in pizza joints, and folks love debating their favorites among the top tier. Even though this place had a steady stream of customers and a fun bistro vibe, not many diners would say that the pies here could've been a contender for one of those top slots. In a town full of pizza (and burger, and lobster-roll) obsessives, you really have to deliver to thrive in these saturated spheres.

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