Charming, accessible seafood restaurant the Mermaid Inn is closing its original East Village location after more than 17 years in operation, co-owner Daniel Abrams confirmed with Eater. Abrams and partner Cindy Smith decided to close the restaurant in the wake of failed attempts to reach a workable rent deal with the location’s landlord amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
“The situation is untenable,” Abrams says in a phone interview. “The PPP has run out. There’s no money to pay landlords. We go to landlords like beggars hoping they’ll give us a handout.”
In the East Village, the original Mermaid Inn built a strong fanbase over its reasonably-priced oysters, crab cakes, and lobster rolls — and its killer happy hour deals. The restaurant has been closed for the duration of the pandemic, as options like delivery and takeout were not profitable enough and outdoor dining didn’t make sense for the restaurant due to its small frontage, Abrams says. At least 40 people will be laid off with the restaurant’s closure.
The Mermaid Inn’s three other locations remain in place for now, although the Upper West Side spot is the only one currently open for customers.
On Monday, Abrams and Smith sent an open letter to Eater detailing the decision to close the restaurant and explaining in depth how government aid in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program failed to support the restaurant in a longterm way. In the letter, they outlined how much money the Mermaid Inn contributed to NYC’s economy over its lifespan — including $15 million in payments to vendors, and another $15 million in wages to over 3,000 employees — to demonstrate the impact of one restaurant closure in the city.
“We are providing these numbers to show the effect the closing of a SINGLE restaurant has,” they wrote. “Now multiply that by THOUSANDS of NYC restaurants closing.”
Abrams added that the financial struggles do not stop when the restaurant closes down. He declined to disclose precisely how much the East Village shop owes — they’ll be able to renegotiate some of their debts through the Mermaid Inn’s other locations, he says — but generally, for an independent restaurant of the Mermaid Inn’s size to close down on short notice and with no incoming revenue, it’s reasonable to expect a debt load of $100,000 to $150,000 to break a lease and pay off vendors and other outstanding bills.
“Not only are we using our livelihoods, but really, we’re losing our futures,” Abrams says.
Abrams and Smith continue to operate three other locations of the Mermaid Inn in Chelsea, Greenwich Village, and the Upper West Side, as well as J.G. Melon’s West Village spot and Italian restaurant Sirenetta on the Upper West Side. They were planning to open another location of Mermaid Inn on the Upper West Side this year, Abrams says, but reached a deal with the landlord to get out of that lease after the pandemic hit.
Abrams and Smith’s open letter: