PLEASE SUPPORT W42ST
W42ST runs on limited resources to keep Hell’s Kitchen connected, updated and upbeat. Access is totally free. Please consider supporting what we do so that we can continue our work!
New York restaurant dynasty the Livanos family is bringing longtime favorite Molyvos westward, taking the place of the now-shuttered Esca on W43rd Street and 9th Avenue.
The popular fine-dining eatery, which closed during the pandemic after nearly 25 years of service, recently went before the licensing committee of Manhattan Community Board 4 with plans to open in June in the ground floor of Manhattan Plaza. The new space will remain largely similar to the set up at Esca, with 62 interior seats, a small bar, and a newly covered 44-seat outdoor patio. The community board cited the family’s sterling reputation of operating 18 restaurants over the course of 50 years with zero residential complaints as a pathway to approval, as well as widespread support from local resident organizations eager to find Esca’s replacement.
W42ST caught up with proprietor Nick Livanos as he reflected on his family’s long legacy of hospitality. “My dad, John Livanos, is still active in the business. He started out with a typical Greek immigrant story. Coming here to the US in 1957, he was a merchant Marine who was training to be a captain, but he didn’t like it. He had an uncle in New York who had a restaurant, so he started washing dishes, and before you knew it, he opened up a little luncheonette in the city,” said Nick. “He had regular diners there over the years and then he went in the white tablecloth direction — and that’s when he opened up a restaurant in White Plains called Livanos, which is where City Limits is now.” After several successful years in White Plains, Nick and his siblings Bill and Corina joined the business and the family went on to open restaurants across Westchester and in NYC, including treasured local spots Oceana and Hudson West.
The Livanos are no strangers to Midtown West. Oceana, which originally opened at 55 E54th Street, eventually moved to 20 W49th Street between 6/7th Avenues, and the Livano’s newest restaurant, Hudson West (originally known as Ousia), opened up in the VIA57 WEST at 629 W57th Street between 11/12th Avenues in 2017. Molyvos, the 7th Avenue Livanos outpost near City Center and Carnegie Hall, is a named tribute to father John’s hometown in the northern island of Lesbos, Greece, where the Livanos family still owns a home. “It’s my father’s grandmother’s house — it’s been in the family for 105 years. While I grew up here, I spent every summer in Greece, ” said Nick.
The Livanos centered the cuisine at Molyvos around seafood-focused favorites like fried calamari, grilled octopus, and seafood pilaf, paired with an extensive program of over 600 Greek wine selections, all of which they plan to continue in their new location. “It was very important to us to continue the namesake of Molyvos and the 24 years we enjoyed there,” said Nick.
He cited the support of both the community and his landlords as key to weathering the pandemic as a restaurant owner. While the family’s Westchester restaurants went through a takeout renaissance, the business-district adjacent locations of Oceana, Hudson West, and Molyvos were considerably more challenged by COVID-19. “All three restaurants received PPP loans, and our landlords did work with us,” said Livanos of the shutdown period, noting that when it became clear that Molyvos wouldn’t be able to reopen in the same space, their landlord let them out of their lease early.
After considering several prospective locations throughout Hell’s Kitchen, Nick and the Livanos family came across the space at Esca. “I reached out to David Pasternack (of Esca) and he was very encouraging and told us how wonderful the location is,” said Nick. After further checking out the layout, he decided that the intimate dining room and the elegant patio at W43rd and 9th was the perfect place to begin the next chapter of the Molyvos legacy — “I love the outdoor space at Esca, and that’s what really helped us close the deal.”
More Newcomer businesses
Now, as the family prepares to settle in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, Nick is touched by the neighborhood’s welcoming response. “The outreach has been tremendous,” said Nick. “We are receiving so much love from the local community boards, the 43rd St Block Association, Manhattan Plaza. People keep saying, ‘We’re so excited you’re coming.’’’ Nick likens the Midtown neighborhood’s warmth to that of a “small town”, adding — “I’m not used to that, because the other two restaurants are in commercial districts.”
The vim and verve of the area, even through its darkest hours, has always inspired Nick. During the pandemic, “I always walked Ninth Avenue between Hudson West and Oceana because it was the most festive and had the most activity. Even when the city streets got eerily quiet during the shutdown, I really came to like it. I got to know the different storefronts, and in the end, it was my daily walk that led me to find a Hell’s Kitchen location for Molyvos.”
Nick looks forward to cementing the restaurant’s newest home, especially now that it will be within walking distance from Hudson West (helmed by sons Enrico and Johnny). “We work great together,” noted Nick, adding that all of his children have taken after their parents and work in hospitality-adjacent fields.
Looking ahead, he envisions a long and healthy tenure for Molyvos on W43rd. “It’s a 15-year lease. I see us being there for the full 15-20 years. I love the idea that we’re in more of a neighborhood. When you’re in a corporate setting, that’s very nice too, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you don’t always get to develop those same intimate relationships that happen naturally with your neighbors.”