The Next Chapter for an East Side Eatery
Susy Glick dishes on The Writing Room, the new restaurant she owns with her husband, opening at the old Elaine's spot
Although it was once thought that the door to the legendary Elaine's was closed forever, it has reopened with a new restaurant in its place that is sure to write its own story. Susy Glick and her husband Michael opened The Writing Room in the same spot - 1703 2nd Avenue, between 88th and 89th Streets - and hope to maintain the roots of that iconic restaurant, which was a haven for celebrities, especially writers, from the '60s to '80s. Besides choosing a fitting name, vintage photos from the famous eatery adorn the walls, and there's a library filled with books written by the likes of Norman Mailer, George Plimpton and Joseph Heller, who were once regulars. Following the death of owner Elaine Kaufman in 2010, the restaurant closed in 2011 after 48 years of creating memorable - and sometimes notorious - dining experiences. The Glicks, who already owned Parlor Steakhouse nearby, fell in love with the idea of rebuilding the location, having been patrons at Elaine's themselves. Experienced restaurateurs who met through the food business, the couple took on the project, committed to preserving the mystique of the landmark. And customers are noticing their efforts. Even though they've only been in business since mid-December, they've already welcomed many well-wishers, coming in to sample their "Americana" menu and regale them with stories of the previous restaurant's heyday. "It means a lot to us for them to receive us so kindly," Glick said.
Did you and your husband always want to own restaurants together?
We met as managers at a restaurant. Then we decided to go into business for ourselves because we knew this is what we wanted to do and we were pretty great at it. Michael went to Cornell Hotel and Restaurant school, and I've been in the restaurant business my whole life. We already owned Parlor Steakhouse, one avenue up, on 3rd and 90th Street. Our first ownership venture was a bar and lounge called BB&R on 2nd Avenue.
Why did you start with a bar and lounge?
We decided to start on a bit of a smaller scale. We didn't want to just jump the gun and open something big right away. And we wanted to gauge the neighborhood. When we saw the space on 3rd Avenue, we fell in love with it and said, "If that fails, we'll take it over," kind of kidding, but not. And it actually worked out.
Had you eaten at Elaine's?
Oh yes. My father used to take me there when I was a teen and young adult. Also, when Michael and I opened BB&R, it was across the street from Elaine's, and we would go there during construction. After painting for a whole day, we'd be exhausted and go there to relax and have dinner. We would up being regulars, going once or twice a week.
So you knew Elaine?
We met her. She seemed very nice to us. It was towards the end, so she was a little bit older. It wasn't in the heyday.
How do you honor Elaine's in The Writing Room?
Being in a space like this, we know the history and feel blessed to be here. We wanted to make sure we paid homage, so we definitely kept a literary theme, hence the new name. Also, we have certain pictures purchased from Jessica Burstein that were taken in Elaine's throughout its history. We also have literary-themed photos that adorn all the walls in the main dining room.
You also decorated with a lot of books, right?
The entire room is lined with bookshelves filled with books. Our designer was Lindsey Bonime from Studio Bohen. She's actually Michael's cousin and a very talented restaurant designer. We created a room that wasn't there, it was just an alley. It was enclosed to make an additional dining room and private event space in the future. We put this gorgeous black-and-white tile that hints to old New York.
Do customers come in with stories of Elaine's?
Yes. Many of Elaine's regulars come in - sometimes on a daily basis - and share stories. They make us feel really great because they tell us it feels really great in here and we've done a great job.
What's one story that stands out?
One customer, David Black, actually had his wedding at Elaine's. He came in and showed us the wedding photo of him and his wife, and they are just the loveliest people. That was really special because they actually got married in the space and it's so special to them and they wanted to share their story with us.
How can you describe your menu?
The menu is American. We were inspired by regionally-driven items, places we've been, places we're from, and things that stick out in our memory from our family. We don't like to say comfort food, because it's not. It's Americana cuisine, like meatloaf, fried chicken, and eventually, Yankee pot roast. Things that inspire a comfortable feeling, are delicious, and remind you of home.
How did you hire your chef?
Lucas Billheimer was our opening chef at Parlor and he's our executive chef at our restaurants now and any that we will be opening. He's super talented and also one of the best people you'll ever meet. Super down-to-earth, from Colorado, so he's a humble Midwest guy. He loves to chat up the guests and come out of the kitchen. He's not one of those chefs who hides in the kitchen behind his food.
What are the positive and negative aspects of owning a restaurant with your husband?
That's a good one. [Laughs] Positives, let's see. You understand what each other's going through because the restaurant business is like no other. It's the complete opposite of everyone else regarding schedules and lifestyle. A negative is that you're together sometimes 24/7, which could be a great thing or a negative thing, it really depends on what's going on in the house at the time.
What are the benefits of having a restaurant on the Upper East Side?
A great thing about the neighborhood is that we get a lot of repeat guests who become our friends. Many of our guests live on the Upper East Side, mostly on Park and Lex. And they go out two, three, four, or all nights of the week. Some of them are regulars at Parlor and they drive our business. Some of them come every night of the week. Some are bar regulars. At our bars, it's more like a dining experience, not like a sports bar. So people come by themselves to eat at the bar and there are other people around them and the staff is so friendly. So it's really like you're at someone's home having a nice dinner. We have friends who we call family, having dinner with us every night. Some of our friends we met through the restaurant. They were guests at first and now they're our great friends. We've spent quality time with them. You walk in here, you might become our best friend. Who knows? [Laughs]
Follow Susy: @Queensusy and her restaurant: @WritingRoomNYC on Twitter.
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