recent article on the opening of Minton's that compares the historic spot's revival to the internationally recognized Brooklyn food scene just had us concerned with one major misstep. Part of the dining experience is equally divided into quality of food, service and overall ambiance. When Brooklyn comparisons are being made nowadays, owners talk about artisanal food trends but leave out the other major point that has put Brooklyn on the map.
Brooklyn a decade ago was much like Harlem in appearance but reinvented itself to look like the more trendy neighborhoods of downtown Manhattan that the young and fashionable could not afford anymore. Old shops with drop ceilings, fluorescent lights, clinical drywalls and linoleum floors were replaced by new finishes that looked like they were as old as the building they resided in. This to the well traveled crowd looked like the historic boutiques and eateries in Europe but was the New York City version.
Restauranteur Keith McNally really invented the downtown look which eventually became the Brooklyn aesthetic. Odeon, Lucky Strike, Balthazar, Pravda or Pastis (to name a few) set the pace for what the new New York dining space would like in the new century. This in turn was more a vintage look that fit well with the historic architecture of the big city.
So how does this all apply to Harlem? The challenge now is that Harlem has a lot of historical spots but somehow the majority of interiors are still lagging behind. If Harlem is to compete with the new Brooklyn, then uptown businesses need to look at the entire picture. Some of our designer friends call that midtown hotel interior look "hospitality decor." We all went to those types establishments over a decade ago but the dining scene has become more informal and more accessible since then.
If Harlem is to be more like downtown Manhattan or Brooklyn, there really has to be a major movement to move away from 90s hospitality aesthetics and move into more historically contextual design. Food and service definitely have to hit the mark also but many folks will not step into a restaurant because the eatery has an outdated appearance.