During the pandemic, no part of the economy has taken a harder hit than restaurants. A high-casualty, customarily thin-margin industry in the best of times, eateries were devastated by the nationwide lockdowns. Making things worse for many were the unreasonably slow steps to reopen taken in parts of the country.
Unbelievably, the worst offender was New York City. This is shocking because the Big Apple has long been the center for outstanding, stunningly creative restaurants. Pre-Covid, the industry employed more than 300,000 people in New York. The prospect of fine dining was a critical attraction for tourists, whose visits were a key part of the city’s economy.
Yet New York’s nasty and indescribably incompetent mayor, Bill de Blasio, took sadistic delight in unjustifiably delaying any meaningful reopening of traditional restaurants. He made it known that he thought fine dining was an unnecessary luxury for the “rich.” Only under intense pressure did His Dishonor allow sidewalk and roadway dining (permits now at 10,000-plus). Governor Andrew Cuomo eventually bypassed the mayor and permitted indoor dining—but only at a pitiful 25% capacity.
That so many of these places are still breathing is a tribute to the innovative, never-say-die grit of their proprietors and teams. The pictures here reflect the festive, bustling nighttime atmosphere of the new sidewalk structures. How well restaurants will fare in winter weather is questionable.
This year we have taken our 2019 All-Stars, a list put together by our team of discerning tasters—Forbes’ chief content officer, Randall Lane; Forbes contributor Richard Nalley; and preeminent media maven and special helper for this year’s section Monie Begley; as well as brothers Bob, Kip and Tim—and run those that are open (at reduced capacity or for delivery and takeout) in green type, those temporarily closed in yellow and those permanently lost in red.
We urge you to buy gift certificates during this holiday season from some of your favorite places. Patrons can also call their favorite spots to see if they still have relief funds for employees, many of whom have not been rehired. Danny Meyer’s USHG HUGS (ushgnyc.com/ushghugs) is still functioning. Patrons can also send contributions to Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants (ROAR), which is working with the Robin Hood Foundation (roarnewyork.org).
With vaccines coming, this wonderful industry may begin reverting at last to its deliciously exciting former self.