By David Porat
Chelsea Market, which has been rather constant over the last 20-plus years, is changing. About two weeks ago, it was announced that Google, a significant tenant in the building and landlord of 88 8th Avenue, known as the Port Authority Building, along with Pier 57 at the end of 15th Street (which Google also leases), has gone to contract to acquire the building for $2.4 billion. Jamestown currently owns the building and bought it from a company that Irwin Cohen created to develop the property.
I signed a lease with Irwin a bit over 20 years ago and had hoped that my business, Chelsea Market Baskets, would be well established a few decades later. Chelsea Market was not an instant success but it did evolve into a thriving urban center that changed the landscape, not to mention our neighborhood, which now includes the High Line and the Whitney.
Today, Chelsea Market is a different place, with many new tenants and changes. It is a good bit about tourists and eating in versus the direct-from-the-source food center it once was. Jamestown developed the basement to continue to connect with local food shoppers, moving Manhattan Fruit Exchange (newly named Manhattan Fruit Market) downstairs, along with Buon’Italia, an extension of Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, Saxelby Cheesemongers, a few other food folks, and new extravagant public bathrooms. It is taking time for locals to find their way back; they often cannot easily locate the downstairs area.
The main floor, which I opted to continue to be part of, gets a good bit of traffic but not necessarily spenders in the form of to-go purchases. It is more about window shopping and eating in. In the space Chelsea Market Baskets occupied for almost 20 years is now a new restaurant named Le Song, a third business within Chelsea Market by Peter Tondreau, who initially created Bar Suzette in the ‘Arcade.’ He then opened the very successful Very Fresh Noodles and now has a large sit-down restaurant with a downtown aesthetic serving reasonably priced French-inspired food.
Sarabeth has recently undergone a renovation and has more of an eat-in menu. Blackbarn, a diversified business across the concourse in the space once occupied by Manhattan Fruit Exchange, has a beautifully appointed restaurant space in the back of their home décor store. They also have a newly appointed chef and a direct entrance on 16th Street.
Miznon, located in part of the space that was Buon’Italia, is a new, casual Israeli-inspired restaurant and part of a family of about a dozen restaurants by Eyal Shani, a celebrity chef. Other locations include Paris, Vienna, and Melbourne. I can report that a sampling of their food got very enthusiastic nods in the office. Miznon was fresh, different, and not expensive. They offer some items served in pita as well as the celebrated Roast Cauliflower. They seem to be open sporadically but do draw a crowd. The food is a bit similar to the kind offered at Dizengoff, which is another Israeli-inspired casual eatery east of Miznon in Chelsea Market.
I also learned that Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina, the Italian pasta restaurant and brand, will be closing at the end of February. The Lobster Place has changed a bit internally and is more about eating in than taking home good fresh fish. Their Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar next door is a favorite place of mine, along with Los Mariscos, the seafood arm of Los Tacos No. 1, which includes an entrance on 15th Street.
The huge elephant in the room is what will happen when Google takes over. I am hoping for the best. Rents, like in all of Manhattan, are expensive and retail here is struggling. The way people eat is also changing. I am thinking that Google would like to make their east coast home work for everybody, by engaging their employees and community. (That includes a good bit of the world along with lots of businesses which pay their dues in the form of key word advertising and also tenants.) We have had a good relationship with our neighbor and found them to be interested in the community, as well as in good chocolate. That has brought us together in sweet ways a few times. Hopefully, there is more to come.