Opening a restaurant in New York City ranks right up there among the world's most difficult jobs: You have to deal with endless streams of red tape, near-constant cash-flow problems, contractors, critics, egos, and a city full of very fickle diners. New York might have 24,000 restaurants, but plenty of ideas go bust long before the front doors open. The grander the scale of the project, the more fun it is to speculate about what could have been. In that spirit, we've put together a list of ten projects that, had they opened, would have changed New York's culinary landscape some for the better, some for the worse (unless you're a fan of huge theme restaurants in Times Square). Here are ten of the biggest projects, in terms of scale, scope, or ambition, that came thisclose to happening in NYC.
David Copperfield's Magic Underground
The Concept: Work on this 30,000-square-foot, 430-seat restaurant — which was to feature disappearing diners and levitating banquettes at the corner of 49th and Broadway — started in 1996. David Rockwell designed it, Joe Baum and David Emil consulted, and Waldy Malouf was in the kitchen. A "death saw" would cut one lucky diner in half every 30 minutes. Copperfield called it "an interactive entertainment experience from which you won't want to escape.'' What Went Wrong: The only thing the project made disappear was $34 million, as costs rose and infighting among the principals magically transformed into lawsuits. The site is now a Sbarro.
Alinea New York
The Concept: In 2008, Alinea partners Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas came very, very close to opening a New York restaurant that shared some of Alinea's DNA (though the duo says the new restaurant wouldn't have actually been named Alinea). "We had opened Alinea, I had just beaten cancer, now what?" Achatz says. "So we looked at twelve spaces." Achatz tells us he and Kokonas loved one space on Broome that was "beautiful — there was an enormous skylight in what would have been the kitchen. Natural light, in the kitchen, in New York City ." What Went Wrong: Second thoughts. Achtaz says he and Kokonas had "the resources, support, money, and the desire to do it," but realized that "if the NY Alinea is better than the one in Chicago, then the Chicago Alinea loses. If Chicago is better, then New York says to us, 'Told you you couldn’t do it!' And if it’s the same, then both places lose. We didn't want to open a throwaway restaurant."
The N.R.A. Sports Grille
The Concept: A restaurant for the National Rifle Association, announced in 2000. Patrons would have been able to play first-person shooter games in one area of the planned 55,000-square-foot complex, stock up on hunting gear in another section, and sup on "a wild game menu and fresh mineral waters from around the world" in a third. What Went Wrong: Senator Schumer condemned the idea, loudly and publicly, while the City Council said no and passed a resolution condemning the idea. Even still, then-Times critic Biff Grimes "reviewed" it.
Andy Warhol's Andy-Mat
The Concept: The first 115-seat location of Warhol's imagined fast-food empire (he wanted 200 locations) almost opened at 933 Madison in 1977. It was to be "the restaurant for the lonely person," the artist once said. "You get your food and then take your tray into a booth and watch television." The menu included dishes like Irish stew, which would be cooked off-site and frozen, reheated to order, and delivered to diners via pneumatic tubes. What Went Wrong: Investors apparently lost interest and parted ways.
Abe Stark Skating Rink
The Concept: When former Brooklyn Borough President Abe Stark put his name on a new municipal skating rink at the Coney Island boardwalk in 1969, the parks department also built a swanky second-floor restaurant on the site that was reportedly used just twice. In theory, it's still there today, its 50 furnished tables untouched. What Went Wrong: Mismanagement. "The Abe Stark Arena is a tribute to the neglect of Coney Island," Brooklyn Daily columnist Lou Powsner wrote last year.
The Concept: Back in 1995, Marvel Comics teamed up with Planet Hollywood to create a superhero-themed restaurant in the converted Times Square Theater space on West 42nd. Think: Spider-Man and Thor serving chicken fingers and hot dogs to tourists. What Went Wrong: Both Marvel and Planet Hollywood overexpanded too fast, and the plans ripped apart faster than Hulk's purple trunks — though a location in Universal Studios Hollywood opened in 1998 and lasted a little more than a year.
Jordan's Lobster Palace
The Concept: In the mid-eighties, Sheepshead Bay lobster patriarch Bill Jordan got a $3.5 million loan to expand his seafood shack into an enormous, 10,000-square-foot palace at the edge of Harkness Avenue. What Went Wrong: The loan-issuing bank was part of the S&L Crisis; Jordan's Lobster Dock went into foreclosure; and Jordan's son eventually made a movie about the ordeal.
David Bouley's Russian Tea Room
The Concept: In 1995, Bouley (pictured here in 1991) and famed restaurateur Warner LeRoy announced they were joining forces to add clout and wealth to each other's projects. LeRoy bankrolled a major Bouley project and it was announced that the chef would helm the revamped Russian Tea Room. Bouley even spent a month in Russia immersing himself in the culture and the food, preparing for the part. What Went Wrong: Bad blood. Shortly after the Tea Room shuttered in 1996, LeRoy took Bouley to court, allegedly for not sharing profits from one of the Tribeca chef's restaurants.
Charlie Trotter at the Time Warner Center
The Concept: In 2003, it was announced that Charlie Trotter was teaming up with designer Michael Graves to open a seafood restaurant in the Time Warner Center. One of Chicago's greatest chefs opens alongside Thomas Keller's Per Se and Jean Georges Vongerichten's ill-fated V steakhouse. The project was to have a main dining room, bar and lounge, and also a "reinterpreted" oyster bar. What Went Wrong: Costs (and probably egos) ballooned, and Trotter pulled the plug in 2005. The chef told the Times, "With construction overruns, the budget was up to, like, 13.5 million bucks."
Charlie Trotter at One Madison
The Concept: Charlie couldn't stay away from New York. In 2007 it was announced that he'd open a signature restaurant in the ground floor of One Madison Park, just a stone's throw from Eleven Madison Park. What Went Wrong: Multiple lawsuits choked all aspects of development. "Charles is still very interested in a New York presence, and preferably to continue to go down that path at One Madison Park," the chef's wife and spokesperson Rochelle Smith Trotter told the Sun-Times in 2010. But it was never meant to be, and now that the chef is closing his Chicago flagship, it’s safe to assume New York will never get a Trotter restaurant to call its own.
Most Viewed Stories
Ghastly Tales: 14 Kitchen Horror Stories That Will Keep You Up at Night
wd~50 Made More Than $100,000 in 10 Minutes Today
Shake Shack’s Crinkle Fries Make Their Official, Triumphant Return Today
Why Technology Hasn’t Really Made It Any Easier to Reserve Restaurant Tables
12 Great Marathon-Related Food and Drink Deals
Soho Sandwich Shop Alidoro Opening Midtown Location on ThursdayAll openings »
Grand Banks Will Cap Off Its First Season With $5 CocktailsAll closings »
Search by name
Or, search by
Stories Elsewhere You Might Like
Make This Delicious Muddled Cocktail While Jack Daniel’s Rested Rye is Still Available
A Halloween Feast For Adults Only
powered by PubExchange
Latest News on Grub StreetIt Took a Year for These Farmers to Grow Every Ingredient They Needed for a Ham-and-Cheese Sandwich
"It took us a year, day and night, and 35,000 euro, and we only got 350 sandwiches in the end."21 Incredible Bowls of Noodles You’re Missing Right Now at the Tokyo Ramen Show
They're serving forty kinds of shio, miso, tonkotsu, and shoyu overall.Colorado Parents Freak Out Over the Idea of Pot-Laced Halloween Candy
Local advocacy groups are worried that people might hand kids Buddafingers instead of Butterfingers.12 Great Marathon-Related Food and Drink Deals
A dozen offers you can take advantage of, whether you're running or just watching.Nestlé Will ‘Hire’ Thousands of Robots to Sell Its Coffee
It should work well, the company explains, because they understand "70 to 80 percent of spontaneous conversations."wd~50 Made More Than $100,000 in 10 Minutes Today
Talk about going out with a bang.SodaStream Will Close Its Controversial West Bank Factory
It also wants in on the sparkling-water-making business.There’s a Good Chance the Shrimp You’re Buying Is Mislabeled
Put down the scampi, everyone.Shake Shack’s Crinkle Fries Make Their Official, Triumphant Return Today
Welcome back, old friends.Why Technology Hasn’t Really Made It Any Easier to Reserve Restaurant Tables
What's the point of all these new apps and services if it's still a hassle to eat where you want, when you want?
There's at least 25 percent less high-quality sticky rice this year.This Pop-up Cocktails Book Is Actually the Classiest Drinks Menu of All Time
Only 1,000 copies have been made, and you can take one home for $80 when you're done drinking.Here’s How to Win VIP Tickets to New York Taste
The 16th annual event goes down on November 10.Chipotle Sued for Forcing Employees to Work Overtime Without Pay
The company cuts costs with an "unwritten policy" of wage theft, workers claim.Morgenstern’s Collaborates With Cool Chefs on New Ice-Cream Flavors
Jeepney, Estela, Navy, and Bun-ker are all on board.This New Mind of a Chef Trailer Looks Totally Engrossing
The second half of season three premieres November 1.Ghastly Tales: 14 Kitchen Horror Stories That Will Keep You Up at Night
Blood! Bone marrow! And lots of hot oil!Fireball Reassures World That Their Product Isn’t Actually Cinnamon-Flavored Poison
Fans should "continue to enjoy their favorite product as they always have."NBA Team Unleashes 8-Pound, $70 Burger on Its Unsuspecting Fans
The Hugo's Boss Burger may be the most over-the-top concession yet.England Can’t Stop Putting Penises on Its Food
Never mind the bollocks, indeed.
Bandit doesn't like a thirsty owner.Here Come the Guy Fieri Halloween Costumes
Be the mayor of Flavortown for just $10.First Look at Pok Pok Phat Thai’s New Brooklyn Home
Plus: new menu items.Grand Banks Will Cap Off Its First Season With $5 Cocktails
The oysters may be all gone, but the bottles of wine will cost $20.13 Spectacular Squash Dishes You’ll Want to Eat Right Now
It's edible-gourd season.Cronut King Dominique Ansel Defends His Croissants
In fact, he doesn't seem too concerned at all with the haters.The Music Industry Wants to Ban Music at Restaurants That Don’t Pay Royalties
One Long Island establishment is facing a fine of $150,000.Empire Brewing’s Response to Lucasfilm’s Trademark Claim Is Fantastic
The short video addressed to the 'Star Wars' maker is nothing short of a blockbuster.Soho Sandwich Shop Alidoro Opening Midtown Location on Thursday
The menu will be supplemented with tea, coffee, and salads, not to mention breakfast and a new namesake prosciutto sandwich.Dunkin’ Donuts’ Korean ‘Cronut’ Finally Invades America Next Week
The chain claims it had been working on this, you know, long before Dominique Ansel became a household name.
Les Jardins de la Duchesse will open on the Lower East Side any day now.A Deli Employee Got Fired for Allegedly Taking Pictures of a Breastfeeding Mom
"I got sweaty, I was so mad, but I didn't know how to confront him."A Café Took ‘African’ Off Its Sign After Too Many People Asked About Ebola
The owner says that customers won't even shake her hand anymore.The Growing Cult of the Black-Gloved Chef
"I got them because I think they look badass."What to Eat at Upland, the ‘California-Inspired’ Knockout Opening Tomorrow
Pasta, pizza, and bone-in aged steak.The Mayor Ate Where the Ebola Patient Did to Prove That’s Not How You Get Ebola
Chicken and meatball, pork with mushroom, vegetarian with pesto, and absolutely no Ebola.15 Chocolate Desserts That Might Actually Improve Your Memory
Science proves it — but even if they don't, they're still delicious.First Look at Semilla, Williamsburg’s Newest Chef’s Counter
High-end, vegetable-centric fare in the former Lake Trout space.Momofuku Ko Klosed Last Night
David Chang's relocating the restaurant to Extra Place.City Bakery’s Maury Rubin Trashes Dominique Ansel’s ‘Lousy’ Croissants
"Most people don’t know anything about good pastry anymore," he says.
Even if the space isn't much to look at.Wylie Dufresne Commemorating Final Two Weeks of wd~50 With Ticketed Blowout Feasts
Wylie Dufresne's pioneering restaurant is going out with a crazy modernist bang, or course, and not at all with a whimper.Girl Who Was Burned by Hot Denny's Coffee Will Get $500K
The waitress who put the cup on the table's edge was negligent.Entire Family Gets Paralyzed After Feasting on Deadly Pufferfish by Mistake
Fugu is apparently as dangerous as everyone says, and doesn't have to be served raw and in Japan by a careless sushi chef to mess you up.Grub Street’s Restaurant Power Rankings: Tacos, Tarte Tatin, and More
Find out where to eat in Grub Street's weekly ranking of the city's most-buzzed-about restaurants.5 Awesome Outtakes From Alan Cumming’s Grub Street Diet Shoot
He's a very good sport.People Upset With ‘Illegal Pete’s’ Burrito Shop for Obvious Reasons
"This is a place that's going to instill violence in our community," critics say.This Restaurateur Tracked Down and Stalked a Yelper
"Straight up though if I ever see you near one of my places of business, we are going to have a discussion."Kristen Wiig and Fabrizio Moretti Dine at Locanda Verde; Leonardo DiCaprio Opts for Omar’s
This week's Celebrity Settings.Belgian Chocolate Company ISIS Decides It's Time to Change Its Name (Again)
They found a replacement that has less of a jihadist ring to it.