As the Covid-19 vaccines rolled out in the spring, many New Yorkers anticipated a summer filled with frenzied fun and unmasked debauchery. The overwhelming energy was: we’re off the hook, and it’s time to party.
Restaurant staff and owners braced themselves for an influx of guests, mile-long drink bills, and loud behavior. And, for a brief shining moment, they got it. In June and July, the kind of New Yorkers who treat restaurants like nightlife got the hot vax summer they were promised. The pent-up desire to go out, eat and drink with abandon, and stay outside until all the hours are satisfied. In that fleeting moment of apparent safety – before the Delta variant became such a threat and the masks returned – dining out was a joyful and unburdened experience.
“At first we were overstaffed because we thought we wouldn’t be able to meet demand,” said Max Stampa-Brown, beverage manager at Bandits Bar in the West Village. “We were afraid we wouldn’t be able to keep up. We were looking at each other like, ‘Whoa, this is going to be crazy. It’s going to be much bigger than we imagined.
As the bandits fully reopened for indoor dining in May – forcing guests to show vaccine cards weeks before the city-wide mandate – Mr Stampa-Brown sensed the excitement of the guests mingle with some trepidation. “It was quite nice to see people being this new version of themselves and making mistakes like you’re at the high school prom every night.”
After this initial awkwardness, the party was on.
“With a lack of inhibition and a lack of social decorum comes a feeling of wanting to be too additional as humanly as possible to make up for lost time, ”Stampa-Brown said. He had expected more of a sit-and-eat crowd throughout the summer, but he saw the Bandits become a night-time dance place before his eyes – the bar filled up as the disco ball went down. lit every night at 10 p.m.
Kevol Graham, co-owner of Caribbean restaurant Kokomo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with his wife, Ria Graham, said that being open inside and being allowed to sit at the bar created a friendly environment between strangers, an element of New York cuisine that has been completely wiped out by the pandemic.
“Now that people are allowed to go to the bar, there is more socialization,” Graham said. “People are more comfortable asking at other tables or someone at the bar, ‘Hey, what are you drinking? “”
Caroline Schiff, executive pastry chef at downtown Brooklyn steakhouse Gage & Tollner, has also seen months of anxiety give way to excitement. “During those glorious first weeks, people would put a note in their reservations or talk to their waiter like ‘This is our first meal now that we are fully vaccinated’ and people would go out to celebrate that,” he said. she declared. .
Eric Sze, owner of Taiwanese restaurant 886 on St. Marks Place in Manhattan, was amazed at the energy that materialized when it fully reopened. “People were having parties for no reason,” he said. “A party for 20? What’s the occasion? ‘ ‘Oh, I just miss my friends.’ It was every night, every week, for a solid month and a half.
And these parties did not hold back. “The first day we opened indoor restaurants in the spring, the very first night a six-top sat inside and started making coke on the table in the middle of dinner,” Mr Sze said. “We weren’t even crazy. We said to ourselves, “Welcome! “
Customer checks were also higher than ever. “People were spending money like never before,” Sze said. The mood was, he said, “I’m ordering too much food, I want everything on the menu, and a sake bomb to start.” “
Mrs Schiff accepted. “Almost all the tables are like: a raw sea bass, bread, a starter, a main course and a dessert. It’s a truly indulgent, exciting, and festive way to eat.
The change was most obvious to Ms Schiff at the Gage & Tollner pastry station. The $ 24 baked alaskan for two, once described by New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells as a “brown spot the size of a well-fed domestic cat,” has been an even bigger hit than their team had hoped. “I’ve never sold a dessert like this before,” Ms. Schiff said. “It shocked us all. Whatever we planned for dessert sales, it almost doubled. It was crazy. “
Indeed, large format desserts have become a theme on the menus this summer. There was a sundae for two at the Francie Brewery in Williamsburg, which opened briefly before the pandemic and then closed until February 2021. At South Street Seaport’s new Momofuku Ssam Bar, guests were encouraged to share very large bowls of bingsu. Carne Mare, also at South Street Seaport, added a baked spumoni for two to the menu this summer. There was another baked alaska for two, at Nat’s on Bank in the West Village. And at the Tokyo Record Bar in Greenwich Village, a massive sake-soaked kakigori was served for the whole table to share.
Ms Schiff has also noticed that the demand for gluten-free and dairy-free dishes has declined. “I’ve worked in a lot of restaurants where you get lots of tickets for allergies or dietary restrictions,” she said. “For baking, it’s generally gluten-free or dairy-free. I would say it’s down 85 percent.
She hadn’t counted on such a frenzy of bread. “I sell Parker House rolls almost every night here,” Ms. Schiff said. “I’ve enlarged this lot about four times now because we sell every night. It wasn’t that long ago that there were a lot of people in New York who didn’t want to eat bread.
She attributed it to the insane, invigorating energy that this summer has brought to New Yorkers. “Obviously there is a percentage of the population that is allergic and intolerant to gluten, and they’re always going to eat that way, but I think people are like, ‘I want bread.’
Now, as summer draws to a close and the Delta variant is still on the rise, the party is drawing to a close. “By the start of the summer, our ticket average went from $ 25 to $ 40 per person,” Sze said. “Now he’s coming back to what he was before,” he said. “I feel like people have started to go back to their old ways.”
Optimism still reigns and customers still come to restaurants and often dine inside, but it has become clear that the Covid rebound will be longer than expected. Mr. Stampa-Brown noticed that the pre-vaccine malaise was returning to the Bandits. “We have people coming in, and they’re fully vaccinated, and they’re still standing at the bar with a mask on,” he said.
“There is definitely fear, there is a possibility that something bad will happen again, and we could go into another lockdown,” he said. “And people think, ‘I’m going to do it while I can take it. There’s a chance we could go back in time, and that time we had was wasted.