The shuttered, former home of Bill’s Townhouse Restaurant — and of Bill’s Gay ’90s for many more years before that — is coming back to life backed by a powerful Manhattan dining impresario, Realty Check has learned.
The lease at 57 E. 54th St. was signed days ago by Christian Pascal, a co-owner of celebrity-magnet Hunt & Fish Club. It illustrates a burgeoning trend: ambitious eateries opening in large, long-dark venues previously home to other eating establishments.
Pascal’s new place, on the chic block that’s also home to Cellini and Nerai, is likely to be called Bill’s Supper Club.
Meridian Retail Leasing’s James Famularo, who represented the owners of 57 E. 54th St., said they got “close to” the listed asking price of $40,000 a month for 8,000 square feet on three floors.
Although some of the so-called “second generation” opening plans, such as Fasano’s spectacular launch this week in the former Four Seasons space at 280 Park Ave., were set in motion pre-pandemic, there’s no doubt that the huge opening tide signifies confidence in the city’s future.
The blizzard of Manhattan restaurant signings includes:
Italian favorite Valbella at the old Da Dong space on West 42nd Street in 3 Bryant Park; La Brasserie on the former Les Halles site at 411 Park Avenue So.; and, as we first reported last week, global brand BeefBar at 105 Hudson St., site of the original Nobu.
Also opening this week: Pebble Bar, from an all-star team of downtown nightlife investors. The three-level bar and lounge is at the Rockefeller Center site of celebrated, long-ago saloon Hurley’s.
Among earlier recent deals: Kyu Asian Barbecue is coming to the former Gato at 324 Lafayette St., sushi giant Fushimi to the former Hakkasan at 311 W. 43d St. and T-Bar to 116 E. 60th St., previously an Asian steakhouse.
Famularo, who also negotiated the Fushimi lease, cited “strong demand” in Brooklyn and Queens as well as in Manhattan. His team has signed more than 400 restaurant leases since March 2020.
He attributed it partly to Small Business Administration and Paycheck Protection Program loans and to government grants “waiting to be deployed together in the marketplace.”
The new restaurants share impressive size and ambition. Fasano is the first US restaurant from Italian founder Gero Fasano’s Brazil-based hospitality company. It adapts the elegant Four Seasons design by architect Isay Weinfeld, who also collaborated with Fasano on their South American properties.
Valbella’s grand opening this week at 3 Bryant Park marks the largest relocation from one address in Manhattan to another. Its new venue inside a glass box portion of the skyscraper is as visible from the street as its old space was hidden behind a plaza at 11 E. 53rd St.
Valbella owner David Ghatan said it’s 18,000 square feet compared to 4,500 at the old location. He and a partner started “looking at it before the pandemic,” he said. It was “an opportunity for us to open a larger Valbella” with sushi and caviar bars on the outdoor terraces as well as high-end Italian cuisine.
The new Valbella has 18,000 square feet compared to only 4,500 on East 53rd Street. It all had to be built from scratch for a “big number,” Ghatan said, because the Da Dong space was a wreck when it closed in January 2020.
CBRE retail leasing powerhouse Spencer Levy, who previously handled restaurant leases for Gabriel Kreuther and for several South Street Seaport venues, wasn’t involved in the current crop.
But he said of the market, “The inventory [of restaurant-suitable spaces] is getting scooped up quickly.”
The pandemic left innumerable storefronts vacant. But large, empty Duane Reades and Gaps lack venting, plumbing and other mechanical necessities needed for kitchen service. So restaurateurs search for vacant spaces with the right bones.
Levy said that in-place infrastructure helps to mitigate high lease and opening costs. “If you can take over existing infrastructure, your ROI can happen faster,” he said, referring to return on investment.
He noted that the Four Seasons operators invested nearly $40 million inside 280 Park Ave. before they closed the place after less than two years. “So even if Fasano has to put in $5 million, it isn’t $40 million,” Levy said.
All the owners believe in the future despite under-populated office buildings and lingering Covid-19 fears. Valbella’s Ghatan said: “New York is never going to die. It’s going to come back and we want to be part of it.”