Two milestones for the battered New York dining industry this coming week. Tuesday, March 16, will be a year since the state halted indoor dining due to the pandemic. And on Friday, March 19, restaurants will be able to increase their indoor dining capacity to 50% (it’s currently 35%).
So things are starting to look a bit brighter for those restaurants that managed to survive during the past year. But it’s also a time to look back at the heavy toll of Covid on a sector that’s critical to the city’s economy and culture. The other day the New York Post noted that the East Village has been hit harder than any other neighborhood, with at least 55 establishments permanently closing since the pandemic began.
The Lower East Side and Chinatown haven’t had an easy time, either. According to the Infatuation website, the two neighborhoods combined have lost 32 restaurants.
Lower East Side casualties include popular established places like Gaia Italian Cafe, An Choi, Petisco Vegano and Mezetto; the nightlife institution Max Fish, Nitecap, Mission Chinese, the Fat Radish and Speedy Romeo. In Chinatown, where the economic impact of coronavirus was felt earlier than any other Manhattan neighborhood, longtime spots such as Amazing 66, Hop Shing and 88 Lan Zhou faded away. The list hasn’t yet been updated to inclue Jing Fong, the biggest loss of all.
The Post talked with East Village restaurant operators who explained that the neighborhood was especially vulnerable due to its large transient population, residents in their 20s and 30s who frequented alcohol-centric establishments and were the first to flee the city. Some of those same forces, of course, have been at play on the Lower East Side. There’s speculation that neighborhoods like the East Village and the Lower East Side will bounce back quickly. Restaurants have continued to open throughout the pandemic. On the other hand, there are only 5 new liquor license applications on Community Board 3’s agenda in March. Pre-pandemic, it wouldn’t be unusual to see quadruple that number, or more.