Gentrification Eats Its Own

In 2003, a furious reader left this comment on Lockhart Steele’s brief review (“one special place”) of Wylie Dufresne’s new Lower East Side restaurant, wd~50:

Enough with this place.

I’ve lived around the corner from Clinton Street since 1997 and the restaurant-row infusion has done little for me. The only place I’ve *ever* eaten at on the entire block is the Clinton Bakery Company. The rest of those places are for uptowners. It’s always comical to walk by Clinton Fresh Food and see all the WASPs and preppies stuffing their faces in there. How they even find Clinton street on a map is beyond me.

Beyond the fact that I can’t afford to eat at any of these restaurants, since Clinton Fresh Food has opened, the following has occured. My dry cleaner has gone out of business, the original Alias restaurant has gone out of business (best chicken on the block), and a million useless boutiques have opened.

I’m all for trendy neighborhoods, but how about a few useful businesses? A newstand, perhaps? A quality pizza slice place below Houston on our side of Essex?

The hype over this one restaurant is so ridiculous, it’s really nauseating.

Another wrote:

i grew up near clinton street, still live down there, and i cannot have said it better: the sight of the uptown preppies taking cabs to dine out “downtown” where it’s “hip” is hilarious. but, i don’t agree that the restaurants are only for those uptowners– it’s just that fewer of the current locals can (or will) pay 30 bucks for foam on their plates.

Today, Clinton St. Baking Company is in virtually every guide book that bothers to send people east of the WTC site; the line on an unremarkable weekday morning runs down the block, which is why the restaurant is expanding into the space next door. Meanwhile, Dufresne, longtime LES cheerleader and/or forward commander of its early-2000s gentrification, has announced that wd~50, now one of the most famous restaurants in the world, is closing. A developer is planning a “39,000-square-foot apartment complex,” which is at least made of brick, but which will make keeping the restaurant open impossible. “We don’t quite know yet where we’re going,” Dufresne told the Times.

It helps, I’ve decided, to imagine New York residential development as an alien movie. The new towers are certainly Not Of This Earth; their glass facades sulk a little too far back from the street and their roof decks rise just a little too high. Everybody is aware of them but most refuse to acknowledge them directly; there are tenants, instantly, but nobody quite knows who they are (they are friendly but do not talk much). The forces that align to install these bio-prisms are far more powerful than anything around them, like interference from another physical universe. Nothing survives their approach: Not pure retail, not gas stations, not celebrity chefs. What will happen to them, eventually? What will they do? Will they… activate? Will there be a rumble and a launch, after The Condos have collected the data they were installed to gather? Or will something more fearsome come along before they’re finished? It usually does. This movie, of course, is a sequel.

wd~50’s last dinner service will be in November.

Photo by John Penny.