Welcome to Year in Eater 2020, Eater’s annual ritual of eulogizing the past 12 months. In 2020’s final days, Eater NY will be posting questions about New York City’s restaurant scene in the past year, with answers from food writers, photographers, chefs, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, and even a few local legislators who helped to support the industry through this enormously difficult year. Now, we ask: What was 2020’s saddest restaurant closure?
Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President: There are too many to count.
Clay Williams, food photographer and co-founder of Black Food Folks: Honestly, I’ve tried not to keep an eye on the ongoing list of closures, it’s all too terrible. But, hearing about The 21 Club, Blue Smoke, and Franklin Park, just this month has been pretty awful. They all have particular places in my personal history as a diner and in covering the industry. It’s hard to imagine this city if they hadn’t been there, or what could possibly take their places.
Kat Kinsman, senior editor, Food & Wine: Each closing was painful because whether or not it was a place you frequented, it meant the loss of livelihood for so many unseen people with nowhere to turn. On a personal level, Gotham and Blue Smoke were fundamental places in my now pretty long tenure as an NYC diner and I felt some pretty strong pangs. As a collective tragedy — so many Chinatown restaurants. They are living history, they are culture, they are community, and they were felled by a lethal combination of economics and xenophobia. It’s deeply disheartening, and I’m so grateful to Grace Young for everything she’s doing with the #savechineserestaurants movement to raise awareness of the humanity behind the meals so many of us have taken for granted.
Jennifer Tam, co-founder of non-profit Welcome to Chinatown: Hop Shing was a devastating, unexpected hit for Chinatown. They’ve served generations of Chinese American families since 1973. A visit to Hop Shing was like traveling back in time to its early days; I would be surrounded by Chinese newspapers, tea cups and small plates of dim sum, and older seniors catching up with friends.
Carlina Rivera, NYC council member: I’m really sad about Rosario’s on Stanton Street closing. I grew up down the street from there, and I can’t tell you how many memories I have of getting a slice with friends there at 3 a.m. after a long night. You would sit by the window and everyone passing by would clearly agree you were doing the exact right thing in that moment.
Priya Krishna, food writer and author of the best-selling cookbook Indian-ish: Glady’s. I’ve been having their slushies and jerk since I moved here, and that menu translated so well to takeout. I’ll miss it so much.
Emma Orlow, writer for the New York Times, Bon Appétit, and Eater: Ugh, so hard to pick just one. They’re all incredibly devastating, especially knowing that it was preventable if the government had actually cared about saving small businesses and their employees. Tamra Teahouse’s closing was definitely sad.
Fabián von Hauske Valtierra, chef and co-owner of Contra and Wildair: Uncle Boons.
Brad Hoylman, New York state senator: Certainly something that also stands out for me is the story of the young restaurateur moving here from Colorado to pursue her dream by opening the Banty Rooster on Greenwich Avenue and then having to close because her landlord wouldn’t renegotiate the rent when her sales plummeted. That’s just cold, heartless greed. She returned to Colorado but I hope she gives NYC another chance.
Lucas Sin, chef at Junzi Kitchen and Nice Day: The closure of the 52-year-old Chinese-Cuban restaurant La Caridad 78 was particularly difficult to hear. As a Chino Latino emblem of the confluence of Chinese food ways, it’s been a huge influence on my thinking on how food and culture evolve in New York City.
Connie Chung, chef and co-owner of Milu: Too many to name. I think Gotham Bar and Grill is sad because it was so iconic and a staple to the NY restaurant scene. Anytime a restaurant that has been around that long closes, it’s very sad. On a more personal note, Dub Pies in Brooklyn. It used to be our go to spot for a post Prospect Park run coffee or Milo. But no more.
Kim Pham, co-founder, Omsom: I know it’s not a restaurant, but I was devastated when Pegu Club closed. One of the first proper cocktail bars I ever fell in love with when I first moved to the city, and truly a tragedy for the community. If we’re talking restaurants, my heart broke to see west~bourne close. Their team kept pushing the thinking of what it means to be by and for the community, doing really beautiful work plus slinging some of the tastiest veg-forward dishes I’ve had in a long time.
Erika Chou, co-owner of restaurants including Wayla and Kimika: Gaia’s Italian Café. Gaia’s was a super local spot I used to go to all the time for lunch down the block from where I opened my very first restaurant (Yunnan Kitchen) nearly 10 years ago. It was such a definitively NY restaurant, under the radar and quirky, so delicious, affordable, and run by a very strong no-nonsense woman who knows her mind and her food. Unique places like this make New York’s dining scene what it is. Gaia, please re-open!
Gary He, food writer and photographer, author of Astrolabe newsletter: Yu Li (Tang Hotpot, The Tang) reached out to me in February about taking pictures for his new spot in the East Village, Doma. We must’ve shot like 30 dishes, some of which would be added to the menu in the months to come. Li seemed so thrilled to be expanding. I walked by the other day and saw “For Rent” signs on the front of the building and it absolutely gutted me.
Melissa McCart, editor of Heated and former Eater NY editor: Mermaid Inn, Jewel Bako, Uncle Boons. So, so many.
Alan Sytsma, editor, Grub Street: I don’t think any single closing was as difficult to take as the realization that each shuttering was just part of the city’s overall loss. Yes, I’ll miss certain places more than others, but I think it’s going to take much longer to shake the lingering effects of the year more broadly.
Note: Some answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.