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Joe Allen, Icon Behind Popular Theater District Restaurants, Dies at 87

The eponymous owner of Joe Allen has died

“It’s Only A Play” Cast Photocall Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage

One of the earliest voices of Manhattan’s Restaurant Row died this week. Joe Allen, who opened popular Theater District restaurant Joe Allen and has been doing business in the neighborhood for close to 60 years, died on February 7 at an assisted living facility in New Hampshire. He was 87.

Allen’s son, Taylor Lumia, confirmed his father’s death to the New York Times on Monday. After his restaurants Joe Allen and Orso were temporarily closed due to the pandemic last March, Allen relocated to an assisted living home in New Hampshire, a short distance from where Lumia lives in Maine.

When Allen opened Joe Allen in 1965, West 46th Street was a far cry from the Restaurant Row of today. The Theater District neighborhood had yet to earn its name at the time, but Joe Allen gave it a solid head start: The restaurant became known for its staff of would-be actors and as a site of Broadway stargazing for visitors to New York City. “There was nothing quite like the restaurant in the mid-1960s, and it took off,” according to the Times.

Allen opened Orso next door in 1983 and over the years would work with partners to bring versions of both restaurants to cities like Los Angeles and Miami Beach, along with several international outposts. Many of his satellite restaurants have since closed but successful Joe Allen restaurants remain open in London and Paris.

Allen was born in Brooklyn on February 20, 1933 and grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens. He lived in an apartment above Joe Allen and Orso when in New York City.

Days before restaurants were shut down for indoor dining service in March 2020, Broadway closed its doors voluntarily, pointing to restrictions on audience sizes and the risk of the novel coronavirus spreading indoors. Close to a year later, restaurants and bars are still reeling from a loss of foot traffic to the neighborhood and a general downturn in tourism. “Whether we like it or not, we’re joined at the hip to theater... The years the shows crash and burn, we don’t do well,” as Allen put it in a profile for the Times from May 2016.

Some restaurants closed their doors permanently, but Allen hoped to weather the storm. Shortly after the onset of the pandemic in New York City, Joe Allen and Orso temporarily closed their doors. The former restaurant was able to reopen with the return of indoor dining last October, only to temporarily close two months later in December. Orso appears to have since reopened.

“We’ll be back. Broadway will be back. Wait for it,” the restaurant shared in a social media post announcing the closures.