When Forlini’s, the old-school Italian red-sauce joint, closed its doors in March after a 70-year run, New Yorkers had one question: Who bought the restaurant? Now, it appears there is an answer. According to WhatNowNewYork, a new “Mexican Japanese fusion” restaurant is taking over the storied space at 93 Baxter Street, at Walker Street, in Chinatown, under the LLC Sohogozo.
The incoming restaurant will be helmed by two DJs Alex Watanabe and Marcelo Baez, affiliated with Sohogozo, a Latin music party hosted at Soho Mexican restaurant Papatzul. It appears the duo have already applied for their liquor license, according to a community board meeting agenda. Watanabe confirmed his and Baez’s involvement in the Forlini’s takeover with Eater, adding that the team “will be showcasing our culinary passion” at the new spot and does not want to be associated with a “party scene.” Carlos García, a partner and general manager from Williamsburg’s Allswell and Clinton Hill’s Bar Bolinas is “working closely” with the team, according to Watanabe.
Forlini’s, which opened in 1956, was located inside of a building spanning 91-93 Baxter Street that was owned by several members of the Forlini family. It was not immediately clear whether Watanabe and Baez purchased both the residential and commercial space, or would be operating just the restaurant zone. Eater has reached out to Joe Forlini for more information.
The decades-old Italian restaurant permanently closed on March 31 — an event shrouded in mystery for longtime fans. At the time, co-owner Joe Forlini told Eater that he thought he’d have a few more weeks left in the space before the new owners took over. However, after Eater published the story at the end of March, the restaurant abruptly shut down and would not elaborate on the change in plans. Subsequent reporting revealed that date of the closure coincided with a health department shut down.
Another question still up in the air: It is not clear whether the iconic Forlini’s interiors — including its murals and pink banquettes — will remain intact with the forthcoming restaurant. Forlini’s auctioned off it entire art collection after closing down, and it’s unclear how much of the environment remained untouched in the move out. The new menu was described by WhatNowNewYork as a “Mexican Japanese fusion” spot with dishes like birria ramen — a far cry from some speculative suggestions that a hospitality team like Major Food Group, known for its big-swinging, glitzy Italian American takes, might be at the helm. Here’s hoping it’s still a long life ahead for those pink banquettes.