Friday, May 20, 2011

The Empire Strikes Back!

A lot of business shake-ups in Chelsea this week. No sooner did I notice that the Viceroy had (finally) gone under did Michael walk by the "late" Empire Diner to find it up and running again, albeit without its Empire State Building on the roof. (You may recall it closed exactly a year ago after a new lease could not be worked out with the owner.) Apparently it's still in the midst of its new incarnation -- to be called The Highliner, a reference to its proximity to the famed Highline Park. Plan to have lunch there soon to investigate, but it's certainly a sight for sore-about-all-the-changes eyes.

Meanwhile, noticed that Mary Ann's on 8th Avenue (at 16th Street) was closed yesterday during peak dinner hours. There was no sign -- so it's hard to say if they had a flood in the basement or if this is really the end -- but it would be kind of unfortunate if it really is closing as it's one of the few halfway decent spots along the crowded gay-friendly avenue, where restaurateurs don't bother trying to be good because they know they'll get customers based on location alone. (UPDATE: Turns out Mary Ann's is closed by the Board of Health!)

The closing of the Viceroy was no real surprise to locals. Even at peak times, the place was usually more than half empty. A source inside told me the place has been bleeding cash for years and that management had taken to slipping rail alcohol into top-shelf drinks as a cost-saving measure (that's a great way to build loyalty). But I saw some people meeting inside Viceroy this week -- rather than people packing up -- which leads me to believe there may be an effort under way to reopen the long-standing neighborhood restaurant.

And finally, after much speculation as to who the mystery buyer was of the Hotel Chelsea, The Wall Street Journal reported that it was not Ian Schrager, Aby Rosen or Andre Balazs, but the far less flamboyant Joseph Chetrit, a New York real-estate investor who previously upgraded the Empire Hotel. It sounds like he plans to fix up the joint, but not do anything too drastic, like convert it to condos or kick out all of the permanent residents. This should come as a big relief to everyone who loves the famed hotel, myself included. Read Craig Karmin's report HERE.

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