by Rebekah Polster (@BekInBklyn)
There are many superstitions in the restaurant world: throwing salt over the shoulder to avoid the evil eye; lighting an apron on fire to make sure it never happens again; bringing a rabbi, a priest and a witch doctor to bless a space (no, it’s true, but it does sound like a bad joke). Yet, there are some restaurants that are just doomed from the beginning and sadly, there is no explanation as to why. And what is even more infuriating? No amount of good reviews or great PR can save it.
One address in particular is close to my heart: 230 Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn is, for all intents and purposes, doomed. But, before we get into that, let me paint a picture: The neighborhood is a hot-bed for well-to-do Gen-X parents who like to eat and shop. Walking along Fifth or Seventh Avenues, you’ll find restaurants, children stores, boutiques and a lot of realty storefronts (us New Yorkers love our real estate). On the side streets, you’ll find picturesque brownstones filled with people who treat brunch as though it were a religious experience.
The restaurants in the neighborhood are fantastic, from award-winning chefs to your mom and pop local hangout. Needless to say, the people of The Slope love their food. One restaurant that is a great example of rave reviews is Al Di La (248 Fifth Avenue), which has been around since 1999; a fantastic restaurant that has received amazing praise since first opening, including more than a couple from the former New York Times critic, Frank Bruni, who, subsequently, became a pariah in the neighborhood after making it a hot destination for many outsiders.
Now, back to the doom… On the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue at President Street lies a shell of an existence. In the past ten years, 230 Fifth Avenue has been home to eight different restaurants—a true testament to the ever-changing New York.
Interestingly enough, this space is surrounded by great and not-so-great restaurants that all seem to stay in business. What is it about this corner in particular that makes it bad luck? In 2002, it was host to the ill-fated Bibi’s, a gimmicky, random mix of Japanese, Thai, American and Italian cuisine that made a mean duck salad. The space closed for six months and reopened as Night & Day, a cabaret-style bar/restaurant that opened and closed before you could read the menu, then revamped and opened yet again with a new design and a new bar. Yet soon after they re-opened, they re-closed. The space became Biscuit, a larger, dressier version of a no-frills South Carolina BBQ joint. This new version was gimmicky with high prices and the next one came in as Smoke House. Then Lookout Hill. Then Playa. And on and on. In 2009, the address managed to catch the eye of CNNMoney, including the address in its article of the top five deadly spots, as well as a few other local blog posts. Not really a good PR move, but I guess bad press is better than no press, right?
Most recently it was a tasty Spanish-influenced restaurant that, shockingly, stayed open for a couple of years. In April, the 230 Fifth Avenue re-opened to house Dizzy’s, a local diner that hails from South Park Slope. While they remodeled the space and raised the prices on the menu, it’s the same diner food, just… gimmicky.
What is so fascinating about all of these restaurants that moved into 230 Fifth Avenue is that they all had public relations behind them. They each reached out to the community, creating special neighborhood drinks or menu items, inviting locals for karaoke night, or game night or cabaret night, even a singles night. And these were well-publicized in local magazines and newspapers. The restaurants even received some decent to good to great reviews from notable New York City publications.
So was the PR just not good enough? For ALL of these restaurants? How do you qualify that question and then cross the street to Mezcals, a tacky Mexican restaurant with OK food that has been around for over ten years?
For now, the restaurant gods have smiled upon 230 Fifth Avenue and the space seems safe with the current tenant of Dizzy’s – they’ve thrown some great PR into it and there have been a lot of articles and reviews up on the restaurant. The Yupsters and baby carriages are parked out front and there are plenty of people lined up to overpay for their burger. When my neighbor smiled and says, you think it’ll last? I can only respond, we’ll see.
I want to believe that good public relations can save or help rectify most situations. I know there are some cases where there is no way public relations can save certain situations. But this is a restaurant! This is an address! Can nothing last here for at least five years? I’ll even take three years! When I see first-hand the devastation (yes, I went there) that has come to this space at 230 Fifth Avenue, it’s infuriating and makes me wonder as a PR professional, could I have saved that restaurant? Could a good round of consumer events and press samples have saved the space?
Considering I don’t work in restaurant PR, I guess I’ll never know.