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For years, Brian Hogan has celebrated his December birthday at the Houston Street restaurant Emilio’s Ballato, where his friends gathered in the inviting space lined with photos and wine bottles. This year, that cozy room, like all others in the city, was off-limits to diners, and rather than take his party onto the street in winter weather, the 56-year-old finance CEO who lives in Midtown decided to seek a warmer venue. He booked a table in Greenwich, Connecticut at the Homestead Inn.
“It was such a great vibe; we felt like we were in someone’s beautiful home,” said Hogan. “The place was decorated for Christmas and the couple next to me at the bar had also traveled from New York.”
Hogan says he is now making a habit of heading to Greenwich for business lunches at places such as L’Escale. “I don’t want to bring clients somewhere they will eat outside and freeze,” he said. “Two or three times this week I got a car, and we made it in about 45 minutes. It keeps my relationships going without having to do Zoom calls. People feel normal and really love it.”
Since indoor dining was shut down in the five boroughs starting Dec. 14, New York City residents have been crossing the border to enjoy a meal or celebrate the holidays in a more sheltered, but still relatively safe, environment. They’re jumping on the PATH to Jersey City or Hoboken — or taking a drive to Long Island, Westchester or Connecticut — to dodge the dining lockdown.
Some, like Natraj Srinivasan, a 35-year-old software engineer who lives in Midtown, are visiting more far-flung satellite locations of their favorite city spots. “I’ve been a regular customer at Brick Lane on the Lower East Side, and now it opened in Jersey,” said Srinivasan, who recently enjoyed his holiday dinner at the Jersey City location of Brick Lane Curry House.
“I don’t think indoor dining is a main cause for the spread of COVID, so I don’t believe it’s necessary to limit more than the 25 or 50% capacity. It’s very hard to eat outside, and it takes me the same time to get to Jersey City as to many places downtown.”
‘I don’t want to bring clients somewhere they will eat outside and freeze’
Similarly, when 36-year-old Michael Assante, who works in finance and lives in Windsor Terrace, got together with his family for a holiday meal, they decided to venture to Goosefeather, Dale Talde’s restaurant in Tarrytown.
“He used to have a place near me in Park Slope so it was nice to enjoy his food again and have a brief escape from the restrictions,” Assante said. “The town was bustling and the restaurant did a temperature check and limited seating to 25% capacity, so we felt safe.’’
For others, the lockdown has created an opportunity to venture outside of their normal orbit.
“My husband and I went out every Friday for date night and we kept a list of restaurants we wanted to visit,” said Gabrielle Difusco, a 26-year-old attorney who lives in the Financial District. “I’m definitely not someone who enjoys cold weather, so we started trying places in Jersey City and Hoboken. We found Ani Ramen House and a place called Porta with a wood-burning oven. The towns are fun, the PATH is the price of a subway ride and we can be there from downtown in under 15 minutes.”
David Burke, who is feeling the swing toward New Jersey dining, will be closing his restaurant on East 62nd Street for the winter months, but his six places across the river are busier than ever.
“Since the shutdown, at least 30% of the clientele at my Fort Lee restaurant is from Manhattan,” reported the chef. “This Sunday, we tripled our brunch business and we saw a big spike in bookings for Christmas.”
Burke says that customers are taking the ferry from Midtown to Weehawken, just a short Uber to his restaurant Son Cubano in West New York, and Orchard Park, his new restaurant in New Brunswick, is drawing diners from nearby Staten Island. To encourage the flow, he made an offer on Instagram to pay the toll for customers coming from the city, or take 10% off their check.
Restaurants on Long Island, such as Greek spots Kyma and Limani in Roslyn, which have Manhattan outposts and are about 10 miles from the Queens border, have also been attracting New Yorkers.
“We had a lot of bookings for Christmas and we are suddenly seeing New York phone numbers,” said Franco Sukaj, partner and GM of Limani.
Cinthya Montenegro, a 35-year-old mortgage broker who lives in Hell’s Kitchen, is now heading to that area for dinner twice a week.
“I go out to dinner a lot and the city restaurants have been very strict about following protocol, so why are they knocking them down?” she said. “I feel so bad for the employees with families to support; it’s excessive and frustrating. The last time I ate out in New York the guy next to me was wrapped in a blanket and the food got cold in three minutes.”
Montenegro and her small group have decided to drive east to Kyma every Thursday.
“I love Kyma in New York, and they have heaters, but if I’m going to spend money on a great dinner, I really want to relax and not wear a coat,” she said. “The only thing is that we still have to leave by the 10 p.m. curfew, and because a lot of my friends have started coming out here, it’s getting hard to find a table!”
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