Think You There Was or Might Be Such a Grill as This I Dreamt Of?
Ever since it opened last summer, I have eschewed the American Grill for being a totally weird eyesore. First, the name. The American Grill? For a Greek diner in the middle of the Ukranian East Village? Second, the lie. It proclaimed, on its red white and blue awnings, that it was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, when it in fact closes at various times, usually around 11 pm. Third, the space. It was sprawling, overdecorated, the antithesis of bohemian.
Then I married a Yankees fan. Whenever we passed by the eyesore and a game happened to be on, my husband glued himself to the glass wall like a bug attracted to light, to see the score on the TV behind the empty bar. One night, the Yankees were playing the Red Sox. We stood outside my building, wishing there was a place we could eat and watch the game. We gazed absently across the street and his eyes fell upon a flickering beacon that I had long since ceased to see, American Grill's unwatched TV.
"You wanna try it?"
"Not really…" But Standings, the sports bar under my building, was a Red Sox bar, so that was out. And Bounce, on 2nd Avenue and 6th Street, was full of frat boys, and that could not be tolerated on a weeknight.
We entered the oversized space tentatively and huddled at the bar, where we ordered beers and spinach pie. And then something strange happened: husband Joe, usually reticent to the point of seeming not to possess vocal chords, decided to talk the waitress. Perhaps it was because she was around our age and seemed lonesome -- she had thanked us for sitting at the bar and keeping her company, then complimented his long hair.
"We're married," he announced out of nowhere. He put his arm around me and smiled and nodded like a bobblehead doll. I squirmed.
"You guys are the cute couple!" she said, beaming at us. Oh God. I studied the menu. "You guys give me faith!" Now we'd have to develop a rapport, I thought, and give her a bigger tip, and be forced talk to her whether we felt like it or not. I was a little bit annoyed, and I made Joe chug the remainder of my second beer as soon as the game ended. I would not come back.
"The waitress liked us," Joe said to me before we fell asleep that night. "And the spinach pie was great." Yeah, yeah, yeah.
The next day, our apartment's wireless internet wasn't functioning, probably because we hadn't paid the Con Ed bill. My roommate had work to do that couldn't wait until we were able to steal our neighbors' intermittent signal. She was going across the street to get a cup of tea and use the internet. "I'll be at American Grill if you want to join me."
Recently unemployed and not yet accustomed to it, I appreciated company in the daytime. But did I want to spend this beautiful spring morning on my second day of freedom in that dimly lit suburban monster of a diner? No. Well, no. Well… I packed my laptop and paperback Proust into my backpack and, passing by, stuck my face against the glass and shaded my eyes to see inside. My roommate was the only person in there.
It annoys me to no end when people say college is the best time of your life. It seems like such a loser thing to say. Nevertheless, it's true. This roommate has been my roommate for eight years, since freshman year of college. This restaurant, it reminded me of the upstairs of a deli in New Haven where I'd camp out all night with my packets of reading and munch on food I never paid for. Altogether, the scene absolutely recalled my collegiate days. I plugged in my laptop, ordered coffee for me and another tea for her, and cracked my book.
My American Grill time became part of my unemployed routine. I'd go sit at the empty bar and order a coffee, do my "work" – typing away toward whatever long-term goal I had set for myself that morning, which was different from yesterday and would be different the next morning – leave two bucks, and feel like I'd accomplished something. It was still not my absolute first choice. This morning, for instance, I tried a café on St. Marks Place, discovered they did not have WiFi, and returned to my trusty default.
It was closed, which would not in itself have been alarming, since it is so weird a place, but it was really closed, its awnings taken down, shades drawn over windows and a sign in the doorway that said, Asian Cuisine coming soon. The future restaurateurs were inside, looking around. What happened here? I asked them, having known full well since the day it opened that the American Grill would not last. What I never foresaw was that I'd feel so sad about it, as if a second-string friend had told me they were moving to China for two years, maybe longer if they liked it.
"We changing food," an Asian woman told me. "It used to be Grill, now it Asian food. We open next week!"
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