Some odd things have happened in Manhattan since the recession set in. Cheap became chic, rents actually fell and many of the city’s most exclusive restaurants had empty tables.
Like consumers elsewhere in the country, New Yorkers have cut back on restaurant spending. Zagat Survey recently reported that its New York City surveyors are eating out an average of 3 times per week, which is down from 3.3 to 3.4 times per week during the past four years. And when New Yorkers do dine out, Zagat found that nearly half of those surveyed, or 41 percent, say they are doing so at less expensive restaurants.
However, a recent stroll up Third Avenue on a mild Wednesday night offered some signs of life in the city’s restaurant scene. As I walked uptown to my apartment, I passed several restaurants bustling with business. Diners spilled out onto sidewalk tables, enjoying one of the last warm evenings before the cold weather comes. At a popular hamburger restaurant, a line of people formed along the sidewalk. And on the street, deliverymen zipped by on bicycles laden with takeout orders.
As I walked by the restaurants, my stomach growled and I wanted nothing more than to pull up a chair, pour myself a glass of wine and place an order. The frozen pizza I planned on heating up for dinner was in no way appealing.
These restaurants weren’t meccas of culinary innovation. Most were small bistros and pubs, places that don’t require a reservation and places where whatever cuisine they serve—be it classic American, Chinese or Mediterranean food—they do reliably well. In short, they are comfortable neighborhood restaurants, satisfaction almost certainly guaranteed.
My walk home also showed the damage wrought by the recession. I saw several boarded-up storefronts that were once restaurants, and others with sparsely filled dining rooms that probably won’t last much longer.
The city’s restaurant scene isn’t out of the woods yet. All those people I saw at the restaurants may be spending less than they once did, and those waiting on their delivery orders may have been more likely a year ago to dine out than call for takeout. While those little pubs and bistros appeared to be thriving, many of the city’s fine-dining powerhouses have fallen, one by one.
That said, New York is the city that never sleeps and loves to eat. And in those busy neighborhood restaurants, amid the cheerful hum of conversation mixed with the clink of plates and in the cozy glow of tabletop candlelight, I saw a glimmer of good things to come.— [email protected]