Restaurants and the Recession

by in View All Posts, May 11th, 2009

Reading this piece in New York magazine, I came upon a telling reference to restaurants and the recession:

Even the city’s most upscale restaurants have been humbled. “When the economy goes sour,” says Danny Meyer, the impresario behind Union Square Café, Eleven Madison Park, and Shake Shack, among others, “there are three different kinds of restaurants that do well: the smaller-scale neighborhood restaurants that don’t ask much of you; those that have banked enormous goodwill by offering great value during the boom; and those with proven records of excellence, a sure thing.” I point out to him that two out of three of those types fall into the unpretentious category. “Well, yeah,” he says. “People aren’t going to want to go where they aren’t being hugged.”

And so Molly’s Shebeen, a Third Avenue pub with sawdust on the floor and a bow-tied Irish barkeep, is still doing a brisk business; Cru, which refers to its wine selection as its “wine program,” seems totally dead.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition. In my ideal world there’d be room for both Cru and Molly’s — and, for a brief period around 2004-2005, there was, at least for me. When I worked at Wine & Spirits, I used to love Cru — my colleagues and I would scour the wine list for values ahead of time, and we’d always end up with spectacular meals with interesting wine. Molly’s, meanwhile, is my neighborhood bar and the home of what I consider to be the best burger in Manhattan. There’s no reason why those two can’t coexist in my heart, right?

But at some point a couple of years ago, Cru turned into the kind of place where the waiter found it necessary to admonish me not to steal the silverware (I’m really not that shady-looking, I promise, and besides, I have those knives at home anyway — and yes, before you ask, I did pay for them). And then I broke my ankle, and spent 4 months essentially housebound and on crutches, and Molly’s, despite the slippery-sawdust floors, perpetual-packedness, and spilled-beer potential, welcomed me with open arms for my weekly leaving-the-house excursion. (And Molly’s doesn’t know where I work, but Cru, I’m pretty sure, does, or at least did at one point.)

Should there be room in the food world for both? Of course. But I know where I’m still going to go when times are tight.

Rupa Bhattacharya, Culinary Writer

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