One of the oldest theme restaurants in the city (1999) has closed and as many would say, not soon enough. The humongous 600 seat, 33,000 square foot eatery survived two bankruptcies and hosted thousands upon thousands of tourists.
They once denied Shaquille O’Neal entrance because he wasn’t properly dressed to enter the premises, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt with tennis shoes. To which he replied “Are You Serious?” Yep it was that kind of place, whatever “that” was.
So in our despair over the loss of this popular restaurant we got to thinking about what other theme places have bit the dust. It’s not hard to imagine the former Elaine’s as a theme restaurant, albeit a theme restaurant for the elite and politically connected. After it closed soon after the death of its owner Elaine Kaufman, the restaurant known for its “scene” and not its food couldn’t survive and has been sold to be turned into a hip supper spot. Undoubtably it will attract celebrities. Sound familiar?
The theme-ist of the theme restaurants must have been Tavern On The Green. We’re actually sorry that this one is gone. It was so unembarrassingly over the top that it transcended any kitsch. It was the second highest grossing restaurant in the country when it closed on January 1, 2010. $36 million in sales annually, much of that going into the city’s coffers, yet the city completely botched up the leasing of the space. The details of that are probably worth a blog in itself but suffice to say, greed, arrogance, stupidity, bureaucracy and probably the rest of the sins went into it.
Finally here’s one that’s pretty obscure. Not sure how many people actually remember this chain. Kind of a Planet Hollywood for the sports crowd but the All Star Cafe with its multitude of screens was in Times Square until the evening of September 26, 2000 when it was abruptly shut down in the middle of an Olympic boxing match. Sometimes you walk past out-of-business diners and restaurants and you look in the window at this Hopper-esque tableau of half-eaten plates of food and half-empty coffee cups, well that’s what it was like. Almost like the customers were abducted and sent to Mars 2112, but they were just asked to leave.
Richard Levine and Frances Roberts, of Levine Roberts Photography, are a husband and wife team of photographers covering politics, environmental issues, the economy, business, and social and cultural issues in the Big Apple. See more photos from their collection on Newscom.
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