Fake Old New York City as the "New" New York City

The New York Times Styles section today takes on the issue of, well, reinventing the Old New York. With restaurants like Keith McNally's Minetta Tavern, the Graydon Carter-owned Monkey Bar and Waverly Inn, and most interestingly, The Lion, a restaurant owned by former MSNBC anchor and Abrams Media owner Dan Abrams, as well as Men's Health editor Dave Zinczenko, The Lion. The problem is: they're more of the bullshit same-old.

For example, this:

Graydon Carter, a partner in the Monkey Bar and the Waverly Inn, sees these restaurants as antidotes to the Jimmy Choo-and-Cosmopolitans culture spawned by "Sex and the City," bulwarks against what he called discotheques with food. "Gentrification over the past quarter-century has killed so many old dinner spots," Mr. Carter said in an e-mail message. "I think it's important to give people an alternative to the chic place-of-the-moment look so prevalent with new ones."

This somehow goes without mentioning that:

(A) Monkey Bar, Minetta Tavern, The Lion, and Waverly Inn are simply the same "chic place-of-the-moment" places with a different look. Carter's alma mater, The New York Observer, may have spawned that crowed by giving rise to the original Sex and the City column, but it was Carter's magazine, Vanity Fair, that catered to the crowd and gave rise to them.

(B) That exact same "Jimmy Choo-and-Cosmopolitans" crowd are the people going to these places.

and (C) Old New York wouldn't have made their staffs sign gag orders. It was just an unspoken rule: You keep your mouth shut. In the New Old New York, ensured confidentiality is a thing of the moment. Via Grub Street, this is what happens when two people -- one of whom is directly involved in reporting on some of the people's business who may or may not attend his restaurant -- open up shop:

The Waverly Inn chef who opened the Lion to the public this week ... has asked his workers -- from waiters to dishwashers -- to sign gag orders. ... "We wouldn't want a titan of industry who might have an extra glass of wine to be embarrassed."

Mind you, one of The Lion's partners is Dan Abrams, who owns a small digital media outlet that reports on some of these titans of industry. And putting the threat of termination above the heads of those who might run into a conversation about that industry essentially creates a figurative rat trap for these secrets (and the "good faith" culture of leaks in New York). All of which goes without saying that any of these restaurateurs are more than willing to abuse these restaurants to court exclusives, like the time Carter sat Sarah Palin's granddaughter's father, Levi Johnston, front-and-center at Monkey Bar, which preceded his big Vanity Fair piece about his relationship with the Palins.

And all of that said? There are still actually good places that are Old New York, that you don't have you to break yourself to get into, where the food isn't good, and likely isn't presented to you by, well, these guys, either: Old Town Bar, Corner Bistro, Stoned Crow, Fanelli's, et al. They are out there. We've unfortunately let a few of these places (Florent) close. But they're the kind of places you don't need a reservation -- or to be famous, or cater to the bureaucratic whims of assholes -- to get a taste of what old New York used to be like, instead of those trying to molest some feigned nostalgia of it for their own self-serving needs.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]


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