Wall Street Journal

Upper West Side’s New Look is Mixed Bag

November 8, 2013

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You can find a bank branch in a blink of an eye in the upper 70s in Manhattan, but when it comes to getting a decent bite to eat, it’s another story.

“I don’t mind paying a bit more for food if I know it will consistently be good,” said Ed Levine, a longtime area resident and the founder of the food website Serious Eats. “It’s been slim pickings around here for years.”

Which is perhaps why RedFarm, a high-end Chinese restaurant has been a hit since it was opened in October by chef Joe Ng and restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld. On a recent Thursday afternoon, the restaurant, on the ground floor of the NYLO New York City hotel, was mobbed with neighborhood mothers, businessmen in suits and many others waiting patiently for tables.

“If we can continue this level of business during lunch that wouldn’t have been here otherwise, maybe it is a good indication that the neighborhood could use us,” Mr. Schoenfeld said.

Many longtime Upper West Siders lament the changes that have come in the aughts, which some say have made the area look like a suburban mall. That said, taking a closer look at some of the new activity on the corner of 77th Street and Broadway might give a glimmer of hope that creative businesses like RedFarm can also thrive in the neighborhood.

Increasingly on their way out are the mom-and-pop stores like Big Nick’s, a beloved burger-and-pizza dive that was open around the clock but closed in July after a 51-year run. “We cannot handle an increase from $42,000 to $60,000++ a month for 1,000 square feet,” a sign posted in the eatery at the time said.

Big Nick’s was on the ground floor of the Hotel Belleclaire, a city landmark that was designed by architect Emery Roth in 1903. The hotel currently is seeking approval from the local community board to redesign the street-level retail spaces for a high-end French patisserie and other new tenants, and eventually build a rooftop restaurant, noted Shimmie Horn, one of the hotel’s owners.

“We’d like to modernize the hotel based on Emery Roth’s vision, and bring back some class,” he said.

Theodore Lashinsky, a longtime area resident, said he welcomed new restaurants and bakeries. “At least those services add something to the neighborhood,” he said.

Many newer residents like the added commercial activity, said Lisa Lippman, a broker from Brown Harris Stevens, adding that the area has plenty of prospective real-estate buyers but not enough inventory.

“I think Broadway has become more chic—it is convenient, has nice stores…and it is really elegant” with its middle greenery strip.

Indeed, for upscale shoppers, there is a Barneys and L’Occitane En Provence and food stores like Citarella, Zabar’s and Fairway Market. The Duane Reade on 76th Street has a growler beer-fillup service.

The Larstrand is a new luxury rental building developed by Friedland Properties and scheduled to fully open in the spring. Rents for studios through three-bedroom apartments range from $3,125 to $23,000 a month and there will be a CVS drugstore and a Marshall’s clothing store opening in the building’s retail space.

There have been many empty-nesters from the suburbs who have looked into the building, and they are seeking more retail on Broadway so they don’t have to leave the neighborhood to shop, according to Chiho Machado, director of on-site leasing at Rose Associates, which is overseeing renting for the building.

The clientele at the NYLO New York City, in a renovated building across the street from the Larstrand also have indicated they don’t necessarily want to leave the area for entertainment, said Michael Dwyer, director of sales and marketing for the hotel. The hotel’s bar and lounge area will soon have live jazz three or four times a week and parts of the lobby can be booked for private parties in an effort to lure area residents to the hotel.

“There are plenty of bars around here, but not where you can get a proper cocktail,” he said. “I would love to see people in the neighborhood stop buy for a drink and listen to live music.”

And the changes will continue. A 18-story condominium tower is set to break ground next year at 206-210 W. 77th St., which will likely house 30 condo units as well as a retail tenant.

In addition, the corner of 80th and Broadway will be developed into a 20-story luxury rental building, which will include more than 31,000 square feet of retail space