27 May 2009

Frankie & Johnny's Neighbors Destroyed for Nothing

The New York Times has printed a nice tribute to Frankie & Johnnie's, the Times Square steakhouse and former speakeasy that recently survived a hit on its life.

It's a lovely read. But it also contains a shocking bit of news. Frankie & Johnnie's landlord is the Shubert Organization. For years before Frankie & Johnnie's neighboring restaurants—Barrymore's, Sam's, Puleo's, all great theatre folk hangouts—were torn down, the public could learn little about the plans for the area. That a tower was going up on Eighth between 45th and 46th we knew. Beyond that, nothing. The Shuberts were mum. Then, earlier this year, we learned that Frankie & Johnnie's would survive the wrecking ball and had been given a new lease. Again, there was no explanation from the mighty Shuberts.

It took the Times to dig the facts out:

The deal that would have demolished its four-story structure to make way for a block-long office tower on Eighth Avenue between 45th and 46th Streets fell through. The restaurant still stands, next to a yawning empty lot whose former occupants were not as lucky.

Robert E. Wankel, co-chief executive officer of the Shubert Organization, which is Frankie & Johnnie’s landlord and also owns 17 Broadway theaters, told me: “Frankie & Johnnie’s will survive. The office building didn’t.”

So Barrymore's, Sam's and the others—they bit the dust for nothing. Such wanton carelessness, such disregard for the area's history, the needs of its theatre professionals (the ruined restaurants were favorites of working-class theatre types). And not even destroyed for the sake of a new shiny tower, but the promise of a tower, which will now never be. Instead we get a big dirt hole in the middle of the theatre district.

And what kills me is they would have torn down 80-year-old Frankie & Johnnie's, too, if the Boom had lasted just a few months more.

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