New York — “the city that never sleeps”, “the city that can survive anything”, “New York City Strong!”. All of that has been tested in this year-long pandemic. The wheels of this city were still turning, just in a different way, and sadly some businesses have fallen by the wayside. A jaw-dropping 1,000 NYC restaurants have shuttered — leaving many unemployed while we were figuring out how to keep ourselves, our spirits, and our city alive.
Three months ago as I took a walk around our neighborhood I saw freezing diners, empty snowy shacks, exhausted and frustrated restaurant workers. Now that Spring has sprung and some restrictions have been lifted, the city seems to have some new life. I’ve seen bustling bars and restaurants, full parks, lines into stores and even the news doesn’t seem as harrowing.
Today we pay homage to 50 favorite haunts of the ‘hood that have sadly had to leave us. Join me on a stroll along memory lane…
EDITOR’S NOTE: We have made every endeavor to check which places are permanently closed. After both The Mean Fiddler and the Loebs Boathouse came back to life after closure during the pandemic — there’s still a chance that some of these wonderful places will be resurrected from what (for now) seems a permanent closure.
9th Avenue Saloon
The “Cheers” of Hell’s Kitchen and a staple for over 30 years! My memories of The Saloon are deep, sometimes drunken, and there are definitely nights I don’t remember. It will forever live on in my memories through the books I have from their infamous community library and the million photobooth photos in my apartment. The bartenders always poured strong, the over-salted popcorn was never ending and there was never a dull conversation or moment!
Adella Wine Bar
We reported back in July that Adella had closed after 7 years at their location underneath Manhattan Plaza. The good news is that the owners, brothers Joe and Peter Rabasco and Bobby Khorrami, have re-opened The Harrow on 10th Avenue this month after winter hibernation.
Part of Chow Down restaurant group, which owns Hell’s Kitchen (the restaurant), El Centro, ‘rita’s, and more, B-Squared would have been 6 years old this year. One of the few places in this neighborhood for specialty pizza from their wood-burning oven. I’ve had many a lovely date or an even better evening with a friend here. If you look through the reviews of this place, you’d be hard pressed to find one without a mention of how great the wait staff were here. My hope is that they have found their next purpose to spread their light!
“My friend and I met up for drinks and pizza there at the end of Gay Pride parade day 2019. We were just going to have a snack and go home. But then we were suddenly ready for a bar crawl. Arriba Arriba and then on to Flaming Saddles. Pride Day rocked — all started by afternoon pizza at B-squared.”
Touted as “NYC’s premier Korean Restaurant!” there was something about this place that made me think “I can’t afford to eat here” and now I regret it. Receiving a very honorable rating of 4.0 on Zagat, the reviewer says: “Classy Korean barbecue is no oxymoron at this Theater District change of pace, where the smokeless tabletop grills and modern setting impress fans; maybe the tabs skew upscale, but the food’s exciting, the service caring and the overall experience satisfying.” Anyone else now craving copious amounts of delicious Korean BBQ?
Niche restaurants like this usually don’t do it for me, but there was a light-hearted, fun, neighborhood feel to this place. Plus, who doesn’t love bacon? And if you’re thinking of vegans, think again — ‘cause Tabitha Brown became famous during the quarantine by giving advice all the while making carrot bacon! This place was always packed with what appeared to be jovial locals, sipping bacon Bloody Marys while snacking on their clothes line of bacon. I can’t think of any other place in the neighborhood where I could order copious amounts of bacon and not be judged for it.
Better Being 940
“We’re in the midst of extraordinary change, obviously,” said Shari Drewett back in July, “but it doesn’t have to be ruinous.” Shari and her wife, chef MK Washko, owned and operated Better Being Catering for a quarter century – until COVID-19 wiped out their business overnight.
With slim margins, colossal overheads, and no clear path to recovery, they’ve decided to leave the city and try something new in the Catskills. They are designing and building alternative living spaces – modern, sustainable homes made from shipping containers.
It’s a long way from catering photo shoots, “but it was right there,” she says. “We just had to think differently.”
WHY, BETTIBAR?!?!?! WHYYYYY?!?! This was one of those #IYKYK (if you know you know) places. Hidden in tourist central, right on Restaurant Row, Bettibar was the place to get a great cocktail and escape the madness of restaurant row. Celebrities, Broadway greats and locals alike communed in this tiny speakeasy and it hit hard when it closed. The silver lining is that a beautiful Bettibar superfan struck a deal to buy a piece of the bar to put in his apartment. Maybe he’ll let me, Billy Porter, and John Hamm stop by to reminisce about Bee’s Knees Cocktails, Meatballs, and good times!
Blossom Du Jour
When Blossom opened up on 9th Avenue, going vegan was becoming an on-trend thing at the time. Blossom was super cute and a breath of fresh vegan air in a sea of Thai, Mexican and Italian restaurants. From buffalo bites to their burgers, there was so much to love here.
Although it is sad that we lost this cute vegan hole in the wall, all is not lost for our vegan neighbors. P.S. Kitchen is still kickin’ and pumping out those super tasty mushroom “Buffalo Wings” and UT47 is blessing us with their vegan Korean Tacos.
Bolivian Llama Party
I’d never heard of this place till I researched neighborhood closings. Bolivian food!?!?! I am so sad I missed it. Touted as “not traditional, not fusion. Bolivian food for NYC”, another one bit the dust here and the saddest part is that it brought food diversity just mere steps from our doorstep. The good news is that although they had to shutter here, they have a new spot in Sunnyside, Queens. If anyone is heading out, please bring me one of everything!
The journey to get this bar open was a long one for the owners. Between battling the community board and more, they didn’t have an easy time opening a space for the large LGBTQ community in the neighborhood. This was also one of the few places in Manhattan that catered to NYC’s large community of LGBTQ POC. It also housed one of the few outdoor dining/drinking spaces at the time in the neighborhood. My hopes are that someone takes the reins and opens the next iteration of a safe space for all LGBTQ people, especially those of us of color.
Cakes ‘n’ Shapes
A neighborhood staple for 33 years, Edie Connelly created magic with flour and eggs. The busy months of brides, birthdays, Broadway, and more are what carried her through the slow months of Summer. With the shutdown coming in the middle of her busy season, there was no other option but to say goodbye. Edie took what she had left of her supplies and started baking for our hospital workers. A legend – she will be sorely missed!
Cara Mia was a pandemic casualty, but they tried hard to make a go of it on 9th Avenue. The video our reader Diana took of customers dancing in June went viral — but the sentiment was mixed with a love of the “New York spirit” and a “wear a mask” message.
Carve Cafe (8th Ave/W45th)
There are two Carve Cafes on 8th Avenue. The one at 8th Avenue and W47th is still in business.
“I live right upstairs from it, and when it closed it seemed the true sign of the pandemic hitting; no more morning pastries and coffees. And their sign saying they’d be back at the end of March, up for months and months, broke my heart.”
This also falls under the category of places I thought I couldn’t afford — but that didn’t stop the rest of the neighborhood from keeping this tiny but mighty restaurant packed on any given night. With anywhere from a 4.0 to a 4.5 rating on a lot of sites Time Out is quoted as saying “…ducking into this unpretentious little spot with its dark wood decor and colorful oil paintings of toreros could prove more transporting than that Broadway show.” If that doesn’t make me feel like I really missed out on something amazing, what will?
“They had the BEST mouth-watering steak I have ever had and the garlic fries were on another level. It was such a wonderful little romantic, cozy restaurant that I always associated with the neighborhood. ”
As a native New Yorker I have a lot of Pizzinions? Opizzas? Pizza Opinions. It is no secret where my favorites are in the neighborhood and I never gave this one a chance. I think it was the HUMONGOUS balls of burrata sitting on a Sicilian square in the window that kept me away. Not because I didn’t want it but because I already take pills to eat a regular slice of pizza, and being a major cheese lover I don’t think I would’ve been able to keep myself away from it upon walking in.
Donna Bell’s Bake Shop
Donna Bell’s served its last scone to customers in Hell’s Kitchen at the end of December. The Southern-style bakery, created by NCIS star Pauley Perrette and her two best friends, Darren Greenblatt and Matthew Sandusky, closed for good after a struggle to survive during the pandemic.
The all-natural bake shop, named in honor of Pauley’s late mother, opened in April 2011. Before the pandemic, Matthew had taken on the shop, working with friends and using his small-batch recipes that featured in the shop’s New York Times best-selling cookbook.
“Donna Bell’s was always the pick-me-up at the end of a long day. I used to peek into the store looking for their delicious chocolate chip cookies or sugar cookies. Friday mornings were always made that much better by the banana scones. The people who worked there were incredible. I will miss this place so much.”
Empire Coffee and Tea
When you ask a local about the businesses they are sad to have lost in Hell’s Kitchen during the pandemic, Empire Coffee & Tea is usually high on the list. They closed on April 24, 2020 after 112 years serving New York. They still have a location operating in Hoboken, NJ.
When the shop closed down last April, barista Marco Anthony struck a deal with the owners of Terra Market, a few blocks away down 9th Avenue (between W39/40th Street), to set up a small coffee counter within their store. There’s still a little bit of the old Empire in the Kitchen.
In March, Chef Dave Pasternack wrote: “To all my friends and loyal customers, it is with great sadness that I am not going to reopen Esca after 21 years.” He’d been a part of a the restaurant since the beginning — most recently with business partner Victor Rallo after buying the business from Joe Bastianich.
There were so many tributes from customers, but more special was the outpouring of love for Dave from those who had worked in his kitchen at Esca over the years.
“For over three-and-a-half years, I stood on the other side of the pass, putting up plates of food with Dave Pasternack. He was the chef, the owner, a maniac about product and a taskmaster when it came to the technical aspects of cooking fish. He wasn’t always easy to deal with, but it was because he had a vision for what he expected Esca to be, and as a cook you needed to live up to it,” shared Chef Jeffrey Butler, owner of Butler and the Board. “Today I found out that his home away from home was closing. It hit me, like I had just lost a friend. Restaurants are more than just a bunch of waiters and cooks. Restaurants create families out of groups of people. I am heartbroken tonight, the New York that I was part of when I was 25 is irrecoverably changed.”
August brought the loss of a colorful character. Ruth Walker wrote: “This week brings another goodbye – to Jerry Melo, whose wave as I pass Friendly Jerry’s on 10th Ave practically daily brings a smile to my face and a sense of gratitude for this tight-knit neighborhood I’m lucky enough to be part of. Jerry, Hell’s Kitchen will be a less colorful place without you. I wish you well, my friend.”
Readers Chris Welty and Lora Aroya discovered this hole-in-the-wall dumpling eatery during the first pandemic lockdown. They said: “During the quarantine months, we had a list of restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen to support by ordering. We would also search for new places to add to the list. That’s how we discovered Foody’s Dumplings. The moment we took a bite from the first dumpling we knew they were special and very delicious. We kept on coming back to them and one day we were very sad when we saw on Google Maps ‘Temporarily closed’.”
The delicious pathway to BettiBar. Hourglass had a long history on Restaurant Row. With over 30 years serving the community, this little gem always made you feel at home, even if they had to kick you out cause they needed the table. There was no pretense here as you got what you came for. You ate well, you drank lots, and you went on your merry way or you went upstairs to Bettibar to keep drinking so other people could eat!
Beth and Josh called time on the Hourglass at the end of September. The Community Board have just approved an application to the State Liquor Authority for a new Hourglass Tavern with new owners. Watch this space…
Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop
Ivan Orkin confirmed in February that he would not be reopening the Gotham West Market location of his popular Slurp Shop. The eatery had been closed since early November 2020.
He had been the anchor tenant of the 11th Avenue food hall, which also lost Corner Bistro and Ample Hills Creamery during the pandemic.
“I had the pleasure of working with Ivan as the opening chef for both Slurp Shop and Ivan Ramen,” said Mike Bergemann, Owner of Corner Slice at Gotham West Market. “Slurp Shop closing was a sad day for all of us at the Market. It is a stark reminder of how difficult the landscape has been for independent restaurants during the pandemic, when even an established restaurateur like Ivan is forced to permanently close a restaurant.”
The W42ST team will miss nights at Kilo, with LJ Hollins making his wine recommendations. He featured in our magazine’s 60th Issue with his local recommendations (including their sister restaurant next door, Nykkei, which also closed during the pandemic).
If you have heard loud sobs, wailing, and sniffling near W45th street, it’s me lamenting the closing of Kodama and their lunchtime offshoot Black Sushi. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 12 years and for as long as I can remember there was a sign outside that boasted over 35 years in Hell’s Kitchen! In my opinion, this was the ONLY spot to go for sushi in the neighborhood. With an always friendly staff and a most delicious sushi menu there was nothing better than popping in here pre, post, or even if you weren’t going to a show. It was clear they loved the Broadway community and neighborhood that they served. Please can someone bring back Broadway Bento Box or the Mamma Mia rolls? This family put in their time and I hope that with this closure they are well, resting, and in a fabulous place in life.
When the pandemic lockdown started to take hold at the end of March, there was a small act of defiance to COVID-19 at Lansdowne Road. As well as the lyrics for Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds being displayed in the window, the music blasted out from the empty bar.
Pat Hughes handed the keys back on the sports bar to the landlord — and at one time it was destined to become The Spot, until there was a fight about a new license for a gay bar. Pat’s still on 10th Avenue at Hellcat Annie’s and Scruffy Duffys.
“Maybe nobody cares but me? Not a regular eating sandwich person but it was my go-to spot to pick up a hearty, stomach-filling lunch if I was going to have a long powerful on-site workday. #10 – Tuna salad, Swiss, sprouts, avocado, on 7-grain. Pesto please, no mayo. And a black coffee. Now, where am I going to get a tasty healthy sandwich?”
This popular hole-in-the-wall ramen place closed early in 2020 and was scheduled for grand reopening as “No Name” on March 13. It would be produced by ramen master Matsumura Takahiro, who has established eight noodle brands in Osaka including ‘Human Beings Everybody Noodles’. ‘The Most Deserted Ramen-Bar In The World’ and ‘The Most Hopeful Ramen Bar in the World’. Unfortunately, we are still waiting…
Mont Blanc 52
Hell’s Kitchen lost Mont Blanc on W52nd Street between 8/9th Avenue in September.
“It is with great sadness and disappointment that due to the pandemic, we must close our doors,” said longtime restaurant manager, Maria Lohmeyer. “Thank you to everyone who ate and drank and befriended us over the years. It has been an honor to serve the community of Hell’s Kitchen, Broadway, and the world.”
Back in May 2016, the Swiss-Austrian restaurant closed at its original location on W48th Street after a 5-year battle to stay open. Mont Blanc had been in the neighborhood for over 30 years at that point.
Balz Eggimann, a Swiss banker, became the owner of the new venture, and Maria came back as day-to-day manager when the new business Mont Blanc 52 opened in October 2016.
Morning Star Diner
Sting’s favorite corner looks a little different. At 57th and 9th (the name of the singer’s 2016 album) the Morning Star Diner closed in December.
“After more than 30 years serving this community, Morning Star is closing its doors,” announced owner, Harry Demosthenous. “We wish to thank all our customers for your continuous support, and ask that you support the next eatery that will occupy this space.”
As someone who worked at Blockheads just across from it (and for the same owners) I have a long history with these places. I also used to perform 3 times a week just below it at New World Stages. Before it was MTHR Vegan, It was Mother Burger, and before that it sat empty for a while. Either way, in a neighborhood with so few exceptional outside spaces this one also hurt.
“I am jonesing for Blossom’s onion rings and all the cauliflower and shroom goodness at MTHR!”
I had the pleasure of meeting the man himself once at the Taste of Hope Charity event that benefits the ACS & The Hope Lodge. Who knew this little taco shop was trying to do some good all the while making delicious shrimp tacos? I feel like a lot of people either really liked this place or didn’t, there was no in between. My feelings are and always have been that it added to the food diversity of the neighborhood as really good grab and go. Amazing quick bites are always essential in every neighborhood!
Sean and Jessica Byrne poured their hearts (and dollars) into this 10th Avenue bar. Scotty was a late night mainstay bartender who was a great host.
“10th Ave’s best dive bar. Drinks weren’t cheap but the bartender was always generous.”
Well, it’s no secret I have an affinity for gay bars. This one hit me hard ‘cause it was where I spent some formative gay years. From dancing the night away, to the free happy hour sliders or pizza back in the day, to sobbing over some stupid boy in the basement by the bathroom. They also touted themselves as Hells Kitchen’s first gay bar. If this is really a fact, it just hits a little harder. In honor of its departure, pour yourself a really strong drink and dance one out for our friends from Posh!
Real Pam Thai
There is a lot of delicious Thai food in this neighborhood but this place was the real deal! I really need someone to get Pam on the phone. HK resident Tom Fervoy really said it best in this quote from when it closed. “This one hurts.This cut is one of the deepest, Pam was the first, bringing the heat to the theater district before it became THE trend of the past two decades, followed by a flood of Thai places up and down 9th Ave. How many nights did I walk by late on the way home from work and wave to Pam herself, in her chef whites, sitting in a front window booth after the pre-theater crush? Too many to count. To say Pam and her family and staff were local treasures would be an understatement. Her absence from the neighborhood makes the #COVID19 gutting even more real and painful and permanent. New York City will recover and thrive and set trends again. But the ‘after times’ will never taste as good, as authentic as when Pam was our queen.”
This falls under things we took for granted in this neighborhood, aka sitting beside a huge chandelier sitting on a platform eating Pad Thai. Room Service was the go-to place for an affordable and very delicious lunch and a cute affordable dinner that felt like it should be costing you way more than what you were actually paying. So many meetings, post-audition work throughs, dinner with friends from out of town and so much more happened here. A place that always provided without fail.
Rustic Table served its last “Early Lunch” and “Veggie” in mid-December. The owners, Jordan Hadani and Guy Weizmann, announced the closure just after Governor Andrew Cuomo said that indoor dining would stop again.
“We wanted to thank you for five beautiful years! We were so proud to serve New York’s community members, actors, executives, tourists, officials and many others. We are immigrants to NYC, we worked very hard and Rustic Table was our American dream come true,” said Jordan and Guy.
“We will miss Rustic Table, especially the feta cheese scones, which we used to get every morning at the start of the quarantine. Before the pandemic, we hardly ever managed to go there because of the long line, but during COVID it became one of our go-to breakfast places.”
Samudra (formerly Aaheli)
W42ST reader Uri Finzi told us: “I will miss the dear friends at Samdura Indian (was Aaheli before). The host would throw rose petals at us in the beginning of every dinner. Still the best Indian in Hell’s Kitchen.”
Lauded by many a critic as one of New York’s top Thai restaurants, this restaurant was beloved by not only the neighborhood but also the foodie community of New York. The delicious Southeast Asian Cuisine by Ratchaburi-born chef David Bank brought the neighborhood a unique communal style eating and dining experience that made this place extra special. You may already know Chef David from the always busy and super tasty Pure Thai Cookhouse. Alongside our obsession with Taladwat was Eater NY raving and lamenting the loss of this iconic establishment.
The Coffee Pot
The Coffee Pot was a venture to fill the space next to Jasper’s Taphouse and Kitchen. When they heard that Erol Zeren and Daniel De Marchena needed to find a new home for Kahve — this was the perfect place in between their two pre-COVID stores on 9th and 10th Avenue. By the time that W42ST awarded Kahve their BEST Coffee Shop Award in September, Coffee Pot was Kahve!
Theatre Row Diner
There’s nothing more upsetting than the loss of a New York Diner. This closure in August sent reverberations around the neighborhood.
When the second great gay migration happened, the first being from the West Village to Chelsea, then Chelsea to HK, Therapy was here and established to welcome the community to our new neighborhood. One of the few LGBTQ bars in the city that not only served food, but really, really good food, Therapy was always there to provide a place for some of the best drag entertainers to do their thing, host many a fundraiser evening, or just a place to kick back and shake your groove thing. Therapy always managed to be constantly full and consistently delicious.
This bar wasn’t on W42nd Street for long, but it managed to drag a Broadway crowd over to the west side.
“A great neighborhood hangout. And the home of the Broadway Trivia League. Tuesday nights, 10pm until whenever, it was filled with laughter, dancing, community.”
We also note with sadness other neighborhood places that have closed: Abitino’s Pizza, City Sandwich, Gustaly, Haru, Maison Sevilla, Mazella’s Market, Sangria 46 and The Distillery.
Additional research by Phil O’Brien and W42ST readers.