“We’re getting rid of everything,” said Jay Shaffer, owner of the recently opened (and more recently closed) Flatiron Joe’s pub.
On Tuesday morning, the former bar and grill on West 21st Street had morphed into an auction house: “Last call!” declared auctioneer Herb Mauthner, as onlookers gathered around the bar. “Sold for six hundred!”
On sale: Nearly 100 cherry-wood chairs, five flat-screen televisions, four heat lamps, three security cameras, two basket fryers, a double-door refrigerator, and an unspecified quantity of pots, pans, plates, bowls, glasses, wine and liquor—literally, everything including the kitchen sink. (At least two sinks, in fact, according to an advertisement.)
Even the whole 30-foot-long wrap-around wooden bar must go!
Only last month, Mr. Shaffer was boasting to The Observer about all the stuff that he had acquired upon taking over the approximately 2,400-square-foot restaurant space from Texas-based chef Tim Love, whose debut Manhattan steakhouse, Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, succumbed to scathing reviews and shuttered last March after just four months.
Mr. Shaffer got the lease, as well as the rights to Mr. Love’s trademark (not that he ever intended to ever use it): “Lonesome Suck-Ass Dove,” he jokingly referred to the failed eatery.
He also got all the machinery, fixtures and other equipment that Mr. Love left behind, including several animal-skin rugs that once garishly garnished the sidewalk out front “like a rustler’s riff on a red carpet,” in the words of New York Times food critic Frank Bruni, who compared the trampled, soggy hides to “roadkill after a rainstorm.”
Little did Mr. Shaffer suspect at the time that he may have also inherited Mr. Love’s bad luck.
“Oh, I got fucked,” Mr. Shaffer told The Observer this week.
Five days after signing the lease, he said, landlord Dennis Diamond informed him that the whole six-story building at 29 West 21st Street was about to be sold. Yet, armed with several years left on his lease, Mr. Shaffer moved forward with opening Flatiron Joe’s in late June.
In August, the new ownership, Gaveco Real Estate, which, according to city records, paid $8.6 million for the building, told him that the company was “contemplating renovations” to the structure, built around 1910.
A month later, he was further informed that the new landlord intended to add another five floors of condos onto the mostly vacant apartment building, a process that would require work from the ground up.
“They were going to enclose me in metal for two years,” Mr. Shaffer said. “And then they were going to take the basement out so they could do plumbing and electrical work. And then they were going to take out the first floor and do plumbing and electrical work. For all intents and purposes, I was going out of business no matter what.”
On Oct. 6, Mr. Shaffer bitterly shut down his short-lived watering hole. Still in its infancy, the venue had yet to even roll out its full lunch and dinner menu.
The bar’s abrupt demise shocked Mr. Shaffer’s regular customers. “What happened down the street?” asked one puzzled patron at Mr. Shaffer’s neighboring West 21st Street eatery, Shaffer City Oyster Bar & Grill, on Monday night. “I go away for a few weeks and ‘Poof!’”
The sudden shuttering should have come as no surprise, though, given the recent track record at that address. Prior even to Lonesome Dove, another three tenants had reportedly come and gone over the course of just two years; the most recent of those, an Indian restaurant called Turmeric, lasted barely a month.
As if doomed by association, another venue two doors down, hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs’ flagship restaurant Justin’s, announced in late September that it, too, was ceasing operations after 10 years. A statement from Mr. Combs’ publicist cited as reasons both “the size and location” as no longer befitting the brand.
THE RECENT CLOSURES come just as the surrounding Flatiron District seemed to be on the verge of becoming the city’s next great nightlife destination. Noting the proliferation of restaurants and nightclubs along West 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd streets (as well as an uptick in crime and underage drinking), a New York Post article in April dubbed the region “the new clubland,” heir apparent to embattled West Chelsea.
Yet here, smack in the middle of it all, is a hospitality-industry black hole, swallowing aspiring hot spots left and right, as increasing residential development threatens to push out the party scene far faster than in the densely liquor-licensed area due west.
“I don’t think the building’s cursed or anything,” said John Ciraulo of Massey Knakal Realty Services, who brokered the Aug. 6 sale of the former Lonesome Dove location. “There have been a few unfortunate tenants.”
Mr. Ciraulo chalked up the string of ground-level failures to the trials of the restaurant industry, in general, as well as to the location, in particular—mid-block between Fifth and Sixth avenues. Any successful enterprise amid this no-man’s land would need a great deal of buzz. “It’s got to be a destination,” he said.
Mr. Shaffer had hoped that Flatiron Joe’s could become that beacon of booze. Amid all the area’s chichi eateries and velvet-roped venues, a stripped-down, no-frills tavern seemed just the trick. “The bar would’ve been a winner,” he said.
He called it Flatiron Joe’s in honor of the common folk. “That’s Joe,” he said, pointing to a large mural depicting a muscular construction worker that adorned the bar’s eastern brick wall: “BUILDING AMERICA ONE BEER AT A TIME,” it said.
The tavern served sliders and cheap suds. It had a pool table in the back. The jukebox was stocked with songs for the masses, including a CD called “Mullets Rock!” featuring the hits of Foreigner and Cheap Trick, among other sonic relics from the hair-band era.
Guns ‘n’ Roses’ 1987 anthem “Welcome to the Jungle” blared in the background, as patrons watched Monday Night Football on several big screens on the night of Sept. 15.
“Say hello to the new guy!” Mr. Shaffer had encouraged his charges, as this reporter bellied up to the bar.
One month later, the former friendly host huffed around the premises wearing a grimace, as his whole inventory was hawked off for chump change.
“Just watching it die,” he told The Observer. “I’ve never had one die before.”
“It’s cursed now,” he said of the location.