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Balthazar re-opens year after pandemic to long lines

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There are some things even jaded New Yorkers will wait in line for in the rain during a pandemic — and one of them apparently is Balthazar.

The sceney soho brasserie founded in 1997 by famed restaurateur Keith McNally began serving oysters and champagne again last week for the first time since the pandemic hit last March.

And despite the rain and stubbornly high COVID-19 infection rates, its opening night on Wednesday attracted a line of people out the door.

Mingled among the guests were Big Apple power brokers like Lucy Sykes Rellie, former fashion director of Marie Claire, publicist Oberon Sinclair, known for making kale famous, and artist couple Hugo Guinness and Elliott Puckette.

And many of them expressed hope that the return of Balthazar —  a favorite for power lunches, birthday celebrations, wedding anniversaries and movie premiers — might herald a return of NYC, which has been crushed by the pandemic.

“It’s so hopeful for New York and for all the people it employs. There is a waitlist to get in,” said Sykes Rellie, who dined that night with this reporter. “It’s not the roaring twenties yet, but this is the light before the disco ball.”  

Keith McNally, left and Eric Ripert
Keith McNally, left and Eric Ripert at Balthazar.
Jennifer Gould

Balthazar, a classic French brasserie reinterpreted for New York and made to look old, was the epitome of Gotham cool when it opened in Soho in 1997. It’s decor — cozy red leather banquettes offset by dramatical large,  antiqued gilded mirrors — remains the same.

The menu has been tweaked around the edges, but still boasts the same scene-stealing raw bar towers and French comfort food like onion soup, moules frites, steak frites and profiteroles for dessert. The lamb and rabbit dishes have been replaced, however, by boeuf aux carottes and Long Island duck breast a l’orange, along with lobster vol au vent puff pastry, asparagus risotto and Tarte Tropezienne.

On opening night, McNally posted a photo of himself at the restaurant’s bar and kept posting over the weekend. It was wild that first night with an energy that was palpable as old friends toured the room fist bumping masked hellos.

“Reopening Balthazar was quite emotional for me,” London-born McNally told Side Dish of the 80 Spring Street restaurant, which has cooked for celebrities like Taylor Swift, Jerry Seinfeld, Cate Blanchett and Goldie Hawn.

“Like the city, I’d been in a very dark place. I’d had a stroke four years ago that left me half paralyzed. A year later, my wife left me. Last April, I got COVID so bad I almost died. In May, I was forced to close two of my restaurants: Augustine and Lucky Strike. In the blink of an eye, I’d lost my health, my wife, and three quarters of my money,” McNally said.

“Balthazar’s reopening was like Lazarus emerging from his grave,” he said.

While many city restaurants reopened last June when new outdoor dining vestibules first took off, Balthazar’s remained dark. McNally didn’t make plans to reopen until Gov. Cuomo raised the indoor dining capacity to 50 percent earlier this month for the first time since the pandemic started.

After rehiring his staff and adjusting the menu, McNally posted his reopening plans on Instagram and his follows flocked, especially the regulars who can call the restaurant’s special phone number to book their tables.

“Balthazar is too large an organization to survive with anything less than 50 percent capacity,” McNally said. The restaurant now offers 110 seats inside and also boasts a new outdoor seating section with 72 seats.

It’s a potential ray of sunshine in an otherwise depressing picture for the city’s once thriving dining scene. More than 5,000 restaurants have shuttered permanently and at least half of the city’s pre-pandemic restaurant workforce of 325,000 people are still out of work, said Andrew Rigie, head of the NYC’s Hospitality Alliance. Prominent closures include the East Village’s Gem Spa and Eddie Huang’s Baohaus and 21 Club.

Many of the people who dined at Balthazar on Wednesday say they are were comfortable eating indoors because they had been vaccinated.

“I’ve been vaccinated, so I felt OK,” said Sinclair in a post-dinner interview.  “Balthazar has brought back the magic,” said the publicist, who learned about the reopening from McNally’s Instagram.

This reporter also returned with her daughter on Saturday afternoon to a full house. McNally was at a nearby table at the front of the house, having brunch with a female friend as staff and diners approached hesitantly to have a word.

It was as if McNally was the Godfather of New York City’s reopening.

One of the diners who popped by McNally’s table was French chef Eric Ripert of three-Michein starred Le Bernardin, which also just reopened. Ripert was dining with his wife, the Douglas Elliman real estate broker Sandra Ripert, and their 17-year-old son.

“You know New York is back when Balthazar has reopened,” Ripert said. “It means a lot to New Yorkers and the industry.”

Ripert later posted a shot of himself at Balthazar, which garnered more than 32,000 likes — his most ever, he told Side Dish.

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Glasses retailer Warby Parker eyeing IPO as soon as this year

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Hipster glasses retailer Warby Parker is eyeing an initial public offering.

The 11-year-old business, which started out as an e-tailer before rolling out some 130 stores across the US, is considering an IPO as early as this year, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

The New York-based company has amassed a huge customer following by offering less expensive prescription glasses. Warby Parker raised $120 million in its most recent funding round giving it a $3 billion valuation, according to the report.

“We’ve always explored various financing opportunities in both the debt and equity markets,” the company said in a statement. “To date, we have successfully and deliberately raised money within the private market on favorable terms and have plenty of cash on our balance sheet. We’ll continue to make strategic decisions in line with our commitment to sustainable growth.”

Founded by college buddies Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal, who met at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Warby Parker has attracted some large investors including the mutual fund company, T. Rowe Price.

It turned it first profit in 2018, Gilboa told The New York Times at the time.

Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal
Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal
Brian Ach/Getty Images

Customers can get prescriptions through their apps on their smartphones and use cameras to pick out frames. The company also has an optical lab in Sloatsburg, NY where it produces lenses.

While Warby Parker is not the least expensive option, it beats Costco in a recent comparison with Costco charging as little a $126 for a pair of prescription glasses compared with Warby Parker’s least expensive pair at $95.

“As consumer walk into a LensCrafters or Sunglass Hut, they see 50 different brands of glasses but don’t realize that all those brands are owned by the same company that owns the store that they’re standing in, that probably owns the vision insurance plan they’r using to pay for those glasses,” Gilboa said in a recent CNBC interview.

“And so, it’s no surprise that a lot of those glasses are marked up 10 to 20 times what they cost to manufacture,” he said.

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Dogecoin hits new high boosted by DogeDay hashtags

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Dogecoin prices hit an all-time high on Tuesday, with a market capitalization above $50 billion, after social media fans used hashtags to fuel a rally in the meme-based cryptocurrency.

An 8,000 percent price surge this year has seen Dogecoin, which was launched as a satirical critique of 2013′s cryptocurrency frenzy, overtake more widely-used cryptocurrencies like Tether to become the fifth-largest coin.

While Dogecoin, whose logo features a Shiba Inu dog at the center of the meme, a represents only a fraction of bitcoin’s $1 trillion value, it can be traded on crypto exchanges and more popular mainstream trading apps.

“The Doge rally represents an interesting convergence,” said Diana Biggs, CEO of crypto start-up Valour, after Dogecoin’s price soared by more than five-fold in the last week to a record 42 cents, according to CoinMarketCap.

“A meme coin created as a joke for early crypto adopters whose community found that kind of thing to be fun, with now a new generation of retail investors for whom memes are a native language,” Biggs added.

Dogecoin fans used the hashtags #DogeDay and #DogeDay420 to post memes, messages and videos on Twitter, Reddit and TikTok, referring to the informal April 20 holiday to celebrate cannabis which is marked by smoke-ins and street parties.

“GIMME THAT DOGECOIN LAMBO!!! #DogeDay” one tweeted, referring to the Lamborghini car popular in crypto culture.

Dogecoin’s rise has come amid a surge in online trading of stocks and crypto by retail investors, stuck at home with extra cash because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has not coincided with a growth in usage of the coin for payments or in commerce.

The same trend has spurred a boom in usage of online trading apps like Robinhood, and also fueled the social-media driven rally in GameStop stock that pitted retail investors against hedge funds earlier this year.

“It’s an extension of the same phenomenon that has led Tesla stock to be valued well beyond fundamentals and more recently to the GME (GameStop) short squeeze,” said Ajit Tripathi, head of institutional business at decentralised finance startup Aave.

Like other cryptocurrencies, Dogecoin’s price is heavily influenced by social media users including Tesla chief Elon Musk, whose tweets on the cryptocurrency in February sent its price soaring over 60 percent.

“If this goes as planned and everybody including Mr. Musk go ahead and just pour money into Doge on April 20th all at once Doge will reach prices that originally were not even conceptual,” a TikTok user said in a video promoting the coin.



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Amazon is opening a beauty salon in London

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Amazon is opening a hair salon in London — its latest odd lurch into new businesses as the pandemic continues to fuel the e-commerce giant’s torrid growth.

The Amazon Salon, unveiled in a Tuesday blog post, will occupy a two-story, 1,500-square-foot space in Spitalfields, a trendy neighborhood in East London that is also home to Amazon’s UK headquarters, which houses about 5,000 employees.

Indeed, the new salon, which will be open seven days a week, initially will only cater to Amazon workers. Members of the public will be able to make bookings in “the coming weeks” by calling, emailing or visiting the salon, the company says.

“This will be an experiential venue where we showcase new products and technology,” Amazon said in a blog post on Tuesday, adding that there are no plans to open other salons.

That will include making Amazon’s Fire tablets available at each station, allowing customers to use augmented reality technology to see what they look like as a platinum blonde, brunette or with highlights, the company said.

The salon is located at Amazon’s UK headquarters, which houses about 5,000 employees.
The salon is located at Amazon’s UK headquarters, which houses about 5,000 employees.
Amazon

The salon will also test new “point-and-learn” technology, where customers can point at a product they are interested in on a display shelf and the relevant information, including brand videos and educational content, will appear on a display screen.

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