Rich Report Recommends: Ai Fiori Restaurant You Should Try

Rich Report Recommends: Ai Fiori Restaurant You Should Try
Courtesy of Ai Fiori

The economy will take a long time to recover until office workers, tourists, and theatergoers all return to work. 

On Sunday mornings in Gramercy, there are lines snaked out of Gramercy restaurants on every single block, and tourists are also starting to appear in Soho. Brooklyn is bustling, the sidewalk cafes in the West Village are packed with regulars, and lines snake outside Gramercy restaurants.

While the city is slowly awakening from its pandemic-induced slumber, one neighborhood has been hitting the snooze button over and over again. As of March 2020, many of Midtown Manhattan's hotels, fine dining spots and offices remain closed or with limited capacity, making it much longer than expected for the area to reopen fully. There is a distinct sense of eerity when walking around Broadway after 6 p.m., and there have recently been a lot of biker gangs speeding down the middle stretch. Nevertheless, there are more and more reopenings and openings taking place every week.

Considering how hard it is for Midtown to recover, it should come as no surprise that it has suffered the greatest. In the spring and summer of last year, upper and middle Manhattan emptied out because people sought more open space, and the offices found in Midtown skyscrapers began to close as people began to work remotely. The amount of office space leased in Midtown decreased by 25 percent in Q1 2021, while the overall vacancy rate in Midtown increased to 16.8 percent, according to a new report from Cushman & Wakefield. Data from Kastle Systems, an office security company based in New York City, shows that office occupancy rates still remain below 20 percent in the city, although they are on the rise now, according to the firm.

Courtesy of Langham Hotels

According to Governor Andrew Cuomo, another main reason why people go to Midtown is the opportunity to see a Broadway show, which has also disappeared as theaters will remain dark until September, in conformance with the governor's announcement. The restaurants in Midtown have also lost their main clientele because of the lack of office workers and tourists.

As a result of the pandemic, Midtown Manhattan restaurants have suffered particularly and face a difficult road to recovery as many office buildings are still under 15 percent occupancy, and many of the restaurants still are struggling to recover.

“The lights on Broadway haven't come back yet, and we are a long way from seeing the nearly 70 million tourists who come back year after year to eat in our restaurants and drink in our bars,” says Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance.

However, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel, and I am so grateful to have it. New Yorkers who have been vaccinated are coming out of hiding; the city is poised for full reopening this summer; major Midtown hotels are reopening; and many offices have promised that employees will return to work in the summer and fall.

Restaurants in midtown have been responding to this optimism, with tried and true favorites such as Ippudo, Smith & Wollensky, Le Bernardin, and Hutong reopening in recent months, as well as Chef John Fraser's brand new Aegean restaurant Iris which is set to open on April 21 for the first time.

According to a press release by the Times Square Edition, Fraser's Terrace and Garden restaurant will be reopening June 1 as part of the hotel's reopening in Times Square, with 701West, the critically acclaimed restaurant, opening "in due course."

To stay afloat during the pandemic, Aquavit made use of both its rooftop terrace as well as takeout in order to maintain its business. 

Courtesy of Liz Clayman

It's fair to say that Fraser is optimistic about the fortunes of Midtown, although he acknowledges the uphill battle he faces in his effort to open Iris so soon after the pandemic started. Since Fraser started construction before the pandemic, he waited until 50 percent capacity was allowed before opening Iris.

According to chef Emma Bengtsson, whose Midtown Scandinavian restaurant Aquavit received a Michelin star last summer, the crowd at her Michelin starred restaurant coincided with Fraser's hopes.

In March 2020, Bengtsson was forced to close his restaurants in order to keep the business going so she launched a limited delivery menu. During the summer, she was able to launch an al fresco dining space for her customers, but it became too cold to sit outside (the courtyard reopened on May 13).

It was still worth opening the restaurant for Bengtsson, even though it wasn't making a profit.

As a result of the sudden reopening of Altamarea Group's Midtown Italian restaurant, Marea, Ahmass Fakahany, CEO, got the job done very quickly.

In contrast, the group's other Midtown restaurant, Ai Fiori, located at the Langham Hotel on the 2nd floor, was only allowed to open during a brief period of indoor dining last year because they had no usable outdoor area. In addition to having the indoors open since March, the 11th floor of the building just received a new outdoor terrace, and it will be open until the end of the year.

In addition, Fakany reported that 65 percent of the guests at Marea, a restaurant that used to host a lot of power lunches, were new to the restaurant during Covid. In his opinion, young people seemed to be enjoying the social atmosphere of the restaurant, as no one sat down and worked on business deals. He also mentions that they've seen an increase in walk-ins as a result of their elaborate outdoor seating set-up with stunning flowers and a neon sign, which has attracted a great deal of attention on Instagram, which has resulted in a lot of Instagrammers.

Despite being closed for more than a year, Smith & Wollensky reopened on April 20 with indoor and outdoor dining after being closed for more than a year. Hutong, a Chinese restaurant within the Bloomberg Building that does not have any outdoor space, first reopened on October 15, 2020, when indoor dining was temporarily permitted. It then closed again in December, and reopened on February 14, 2021. Gabriel Kreuther, an Alsatian restaurant with a Michelin star and an outdoor patio, reopened last September after suffering a major fire last September. Le Bernardin, meanwhile, was forced to close in December, and reopened again in March after being forced to close in December.

There are still a few iconic restaurants that appear to have closed permanently, including the historic 21 Club (although rumors have circulated that it might reopen in the future), David Pasternak’s fish temple, Esca, and the clubby Hakkasan, among others. Moreover, it appears that Agern, a temple to Nordic cuisine from Claus Meyer that resides at Grand Central Terminal, has permanently closed, as it does not appear to have an Instagram account and its website appears to have been cannibalized.

The Modern, The Polo Bar, Le Jardinier, Empellón, The Modern, and Major Food Group's The Grill, which had previously announced that it would not open until indoor capacity was 100 percent allowed—which happened on May 19—are among the stalwarts that are temporarily closed (although several Michelin stars have been renewed recently). Major Food Group, however, has announced that it will only reopen when indoor capacity has reached 100 percent. There has, however, not been any announcement yet regarding the reopening date. Major Food Group, however, has expanded significantly in Miami and reopened Dirty French in downtown Miami.

Courtesy of Adam Goldberg 

Despite the fact that Empellón's chef-owner Alex Stupak opted to reopen his two more casual downtown locations, Empellón Al Pastor and Taqueria, last spring, he has yet to reopen the fine dining flagship restaurant in Midtown (though he intends to do so at some point in the future). Despite reopening their main dining room for reservations, the Polo Bar has yet to announce a date for the reopening of its private dining room. The Modern is still closed and hasn't posted an Instagram post since June 19, 2020, despite the fact that the MoMA has reopened. Even though the restaurant has reopened, it hasn't posted an Instagram post in a year.

Rather than targeting tourists and five-day-a-week office workers as they have in the past, these restaurants have opened up in Midtown with the hope of reaching a different type of customer.

For one, Fraser is banking on people's celebration moods, even if they are celebrating the fact that they are waking up and going to work.

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