While many of the city’s bars and restaurants have sprung back to life– causing Mayor de Blasio to complain of “troubling overcrowding” on Monday– the state of drinking and dining in the Financial District is proof that it’s going to be a while before business gets back to normal.
Even with the possibility of outdoor dining, some FiDi establishments are still hesitant to reopen for customers. The two-story Irish bar Dead Rabbit—repeatedly named World’s Best Bar— closed its doors on March 16—one day before its biggest day of the year, St. Patrick’s Day– and has remained closed ever since.
The bar relies heavily on clients coming from the Wall Street and Battery Park area, as well as tourists. With offices still closed and tourists not looking to visit anytime soon, Dead Rabbit won’t reopen until after Labor Day, when business typically picks up after the slower summer months. “I think being in the Financial District makes our situation a little more unique than being maybe uptown, the Village or the Lower East Side [where] there’s a little bit more foot traffic,” said Jillian Vose, the bar’s beverage director and managing director.
Since mid-March, foot traffic in the Financial District has sharply decreased, and there has been no sign of recovery as workers are still staying at home, according to a June 2020 report by location data company Unacast. Looking at mobility traffic of residents, locals, workers and out-of-town tourists, the report finds that visitation, such as use of public areas and parks, from all of these groups except for residents has remained near zero, despite the gradual reopening of the city.
Dead Rabbit has been using this time to consider its options, wait for more guidance from the city, and devise a longer term plan to reopen. “We are probably going to be doing to-go cocktails for longer than just [the] pandemic,” Vose said, adding that she hopes to keep serving them “hopefully a year and a half to two years while the government allows us to make it part of our business.” In September, the bar will add delivery to its revenue stream.
While Dead Rabbit plans its return, longtime neighborhood fixtures China Chalet and Paris Cafe have shuttered permanently. A Chinese restaurant by day and scenester party spot by night, 45-year-old China Chalet was “one of the many businesses affected by the national lockdown,” the owner told WWD after rumors of its closure caused an outpouring of nostalgia on social media. The 147-year-old Paris Cafe, one of downtown’s oldest bars, announced its closure in May, via a Facebook post: “Through no fault of anyone but the outbreak of this virus we are unable to forge a way forward that makes economic sense,” the post read. “We had no option but to close our doors.” Both establishments had survived previous disasters that took a financial toll on the neighborhood, including 9/11, the Great Recession of 2007-2009, and Superstorm Sandy.
Around the corner from the Paris Cafe, on Beekman Street, the neighborhood bar Fresh Salt was closed until outdoor dining was allowed. “Even when they offered that you could reopen as an essential business selling food, I just didn’t feel safe and comfortable sending people on the train every day, come to work,” explained owner Sara WIlliams. “We stayed closed until mid-June, and applied for the PPP loan and other SBA loans.”
For the time being, Fresh Salt has limited hours on weekdays; it’s open from 4pm to 11pm, compared to the normal 11am to 4am. “Obviously that affects our sales, and we’re at a reduced capacity because people can only be outside and at the tables,” said Williams. “We’re down by like at least 50 to 60 percent.” While outdoor dining isn’t bringing in a lot of revenue, Williams said she would like the roadway dining order to be extended past its current expiration date of September 8. “I think they should continue it through October to keep people outside as long as possible, weather permitting,” she added.
Other bars in the area have also arranged their own outdoor seating, but Tellis Liberatos, the owner of Cedar Local, said it still wouldn’t be enough. “The weather in New York in the summertime is not really that friendly,” he said. “It’s hot, humid and rainy, so it’s not the best comfortable situation for people to sit outside, as opposed to being inside with AC in a nice bar.” Liberatos added that the customer experience wouldn’t be the same without the ambience and music inside the bar.
To stay afloat, Cedar Local has opened up for delivery. Although the bar’s food and drinks weren’t originally formulated for delivery, Liberatos has adapted by pre-batching cocktails and reducing prices to accommodate the reduced quality. Big bites that used to be around $16 are now $10 each, and most small bites are $4. “I’m just trying to look at both sides of the spectrum, on my end and also the customers, to make sure that, you know, they’re getting a value for the burger that’s not the same as it would have been with dining in.”
Even when the city has managed to flatten the curve, Financial District bars are reopening with a lot of caution. “Now we’re looking at New York [that] has really done a good job of keeping the numbers very low,” said Vose. “The last thing that we want to do is be part of the problem of a spike.”