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On the House: Kill the Television

On the House is our weekly column written by the owners and operators of the great food and beverage establishments of New York. Your resident proprietor is William Tigertt of Freemans.

2006_09_onethehouseA.jpgEvery room, be a bar, restaurant, or lounge needs a point of focus, a central design element that draws the attention of patrons and grounds the space. Every great room has it, some as obvious and eye-catching as the Buddha ice sculpture at Megu or subtler like the curved cantilevered leather wall at Craft. For many restaurants, the bar provides this key element, with its bustling crowd and towering backdrop of shinning bottles. Unfortunately, over the past year or so a new design feature that has long conquered the rest of the country has started to make serious in roads into Manhattan. That evil interloper is the flat paneled television.

I blame several converging forces for this disturbing trend. The first one is the South Korean semiconductor industry.

The first one is the South Korean semiconductor industry, which has taken a once luxury item costing tens and thousands of dollars and put it within reach of the everyman. I’ve seen 42 inch LCD’s in dozens of bodegas around town, lingering above the Boar’s Head counters and rows of male fertility supplements. The technology curve has rendered this once sought after status item to common place dreck, but for some reason, many restaurateurs and designers still associate the flat panel with luxury and throw it into their designs with careless abandon.

The second factor I blame is the World Cup. This past year, many bar owners figured out that if they played the European World Cup games they could pack out their bars and restaurants on off hours. If the establishment had any sort of cultural bend, be it Italian, Cuban, Japanese, or God forbid English – they would automatically have a huge built in fan base that would even pay a hefty cover charge to skip work, scream at the top of their lungs, and drink pint after pint of lager at 10:00AM on Tuesday. Sales of TV’s and projectors in New York shot up almost as fast as bar profits this past summer. The dirty little hangover of this otherwise great global sporting event is the fact that these thousands of TV’s that were brought in to satisfy the World Cup pan epidemic, stayed put. Restaurant and bar owners are cheap. We will count out toothpicks if we think that it will save us money. Once these sets were “temporarily” installed for the Cup they never left.

So what’s so bad about a little TV? Plenty, but let me start, by doing a carve-out for the little guy. If you’re a neighborhood sports bar or dive joint that has built its business on all the alumni from Whats Matta U coming out on game day, drinking pitchers, and eating wings, then God bless. You are part of a great American tradition and should be commended for providing this civic service to the fine people of New York. My beef is with causal and fine dining restaurants and bars that should know better.

TV’s are distracting. Evolution has tuned our hunter-gather eyes to pick up movement in the periphery. Servers and guests alike are pulled out of their dining experience and jobs by the presence of a TV. It’s an unwanted guest, demanding attention, and drowning out conversation. New Yorkers don’t have much in the way of private space. Unlike most of the country we don’t have long solitary commutes by car or spacious suburban dens to decompress in. We rely on bars and restaurants to be our personal parlors, to entertain and bond with our friends or have a solitary moment with beautiful glass of wine. In this sacred space there is no room for Judge Judy or the PGA Golf Championships. They are not worthy of being in that central focal point.

And please don’t take the high road and go all indie on me screening Fellini films and pretending its just pretty pictures. If I want to explore the complex abusive relationships of Giulietta Masina, I’ll pay five bucks and do at home. Don’t make me watch it over antipasti and my date’s shoulder. Both fine cuisine and cinema require the attention of multiple senses to fully appreciate. Don’t mix the two. Hang a nice print instead.

The violating venues across the city are numerous. I’m not going to shame my peers and name names. You know them. Out of this autumn’s batch of new openings, half a dozen have slipped TV’s in somewhere. It’s not too late to save New York though. TV’s are but inanimate objects that can be turned off or removed altogether. Vote with your feet. I won’t eat anywhere that has a TV playing. I advise you do to do the same. Or, if you must for sake of decorum, tip the bartender and ask them to turn it off. We don’t have to take this insidious invasion of our personal space sitting down. After all, in the end, the customer is always right.


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