Downtown Manhattan is fast becoming a food MeccaNov 12, 2015
Can Downtown Manhattan, which notoriously lacked good places to eat, suddenly be on the brink of having too many?
The question may seem ridiculous only to those who don’t know what’s going on. The roster of world-famous chefs and owners suddenly poised to open places below Chambers Street and the Brooklyn Bridge by 2017 might come as a shock to uptown types who think “downtown” ends at Tribeca.
The Downtown invasion includes Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Joel Rubuchon, Nobu Matsuhisa and Drew Nieporent, Wolfgang Puck, Tom Colicchio, Keith McNally, April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman, Jose Garces and Wylie Dufresne.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Photo: Getty Images)
Many of the planned venues are gigantic — especially Vongerichten’s 40,000-square-foot seafood marketplace and 10,000-square-foot fine-dining spot at the Howard Hughes Co.’s new South Street Seaport. Others will be at funky and/or untested sites, such as Bloomfield and Friedman’s unnamed dining room and lounge at the top of 70 Pine St.
Mega-markets with on-site noshing options are coming, too: most prominently, Eataly, which is to open in April with 40,000 square feet at 4 World Trade Center. They’ll add to a local mix that already includes Le District (300 seats) and Hudson Eats (600 seats) at Brookfield Place; Pier A Harborhouse at the Battery (1,000 indoors and outdoors); and Industry Kitchen beneath the FDR Drive (300 indoors and out).
No wonder everyone’s forgotten the old Pier 17 places.
The district is home to 62,000 people including in Battery Park City — compared to just 5,000 who called the lower tip of Manhattan home as recently as the late 1990s.
But whether the swelling population is enough to sustain so many pricey new places on top of the ones already there will test Downtown’s claim to being a truly 24/7 district equally suited to living, working and playing.
Cushman & Wakefield’s Bradley Mendelson, a leading retail broker who has negotiated many restaurant leases, says, “Are there going to be enough people to fill them all? I don’t know the answer.”
He said, “There is no rule of thumb” on how many residents in a neighborhood are needed to support a certain number of seats.
But Mendelson cited the unforgiving economics of opening a major new restaurant in Manhattan: “Unlike a retail store which might be a loss leader for a designer or a brand name, a restaurant has to make money. For a place paying rent of $1.2 million a year, it has to do $15 million-$16 million to turn a profit.”
He notes, though, that most of the ambitious downtown arrivals enjoy an advantage that somewhat reduces their risk. They’re all part of something else — office buildings, hotels, malls — where landlords helped pay for buildouts, and in several cases formed partnerships with the eatery operators.
Both the high-end and casual spots are bringing, not only up to 5,000 more seats, but cuisine of a higher level to a part of town dominated until recently by steakhouses, the Stone Street alfresco mall, and fast food — a vestige of when “Wall Street” shut down at 5 p.m., leaving streets lonely at night and on weekends.
Danny Meyer’s North End Grill and Blue Smoke, and Stephen Starr’s El Vez, are thriving thanks to Battery Park City residents and Goldman Sachs employees who live or work just steps away.
And, with so many glamorous companies moving downtown — including Condé Nast, Time Inc., SNY, Revlon, Hugo Boss and WPP’s GroupM — there’s little chance the area’s overall restaurant boom will turn into a bust. Employees of creative, tech and media firms tend to be more culinarily adventurous than beef-centric bankers and brokers, and chefs such as molecularly-inclined Wylie Dufresne will need them.
Karma McDermott, a partner in Steven Kamali’s SKH Realty, said, “I can’t imagine [a glut] would happen even if everyone opens at same time. It will strengthen the residential market and bring even more people downtown.”
To succeed, however, the new establishments must also draw customers from farther afield. Failure to do that doomed a previous adventurous effort, SHO Shaun Hergatt. Not enough gourmands were willing to seek out an esoteric menu on a second floor behind a scaffold on barricaded Broad Street.
But most of Downtown enjoys heavy foot traffic. While relatively few people stroll the Hudson Street sidewalk in front of today’s Nobu, tens of thousands walk past its future home at 195 Broadway daily.
What about the gazillion tourists visiting the 9/11 Memorial and other attractions? Some retailers and restaurateurs grumbled in the past that they don’t actually spend much in the area, which they visit briefly before heading to hotels uptown.
Danny Meyer’s North End Grill (Photo: Astrid Stawiarz)
That’s changing, however. According to the Alliance for Downtown, some 3,460 new hotel rooms in construction or planned will soon join the area’s current 5,225 rooms — which are already more than twice as many as existed 10 years ago.
One new hotel, the Larry Silverstein-developed Four Seasons on Park Place, would seem to provide a built-in clientele for Wolfgang Puck’s celebrated steakhouse, Cut.
But, given some New Yorkers’ stubborn aversion to the Wall Street area, questions remain about other locations.
Will Nobu fans who’ve flock to the Tribeca original for 20 years follow it to 195 Broadway, where it’s moving in 2017 at the corner of Fulton Street? Will chef/owner Tom Colicchio and Balthazar/Pastis creator Keith McNally draw the crowds they’re used to farther uptown to the new Beekman Hotel on a narrow block below City Hall?
Dufresne once drew fans to funky Ludlow Street — but will they find William Street, site of the new AKA Wall Street Hotel, too staid?
Downtown Alliance president Jessica Lappin says, “With 60,000-plus residents, over 300,000 workers and almost 15 million tourists a year, it’s pretty darn hard to have too much of a good thing.
“Whether it’s an A-list chef or a hip, fast casual destination I’m confident that the full range of eateries opening downtown will prosper.”