With all due respect to Ago, the widely panned Italian eatery in Robert De Niro’s Greenwich Hotel, Delicatessen at 54 Prince Street was undeniably the city’s most loathed new restaurant in 2008.
Critics hated it. Neighbors hated it even more.
“A lot of people don’t like change and, you know, I totally get that,” said proprietor Mark Thomas Amadei, who opened the fashionable, nearly 2,000-square-foot faux deli, located on the site of an historic Nolita coffee shop, with a splashy star-studded opening party this past July.
Famed photographer Terry Richardson, who shot the menu covers, and fashion designer Charlotte Ronson, who created the staff uniforms, were there. Even TV’s sexy Top Chef judge Padma Lakshmi showed up to check out the venue’s modern spin on classic comfort foods, including cheeseburger spring rolls, Reuben fritters and an Ovaltine parfait.
A month later, residents of the adjacent apartment building at 265 Lafayette Street apparently had enough of the big noisy crowds the trendy new venue was attracting.
“I know not everyone is happy with Delicatessen but, please stop urinating on the glass roof. I have to buy a new a/c because you did not aim correctly! Thank you!” wrote one anonymous neighbor on a sign posted in the apartment building’s hallway and later reprinted in the pages of the New York Post.
“I don’t think it was done as a statement,” Mr. Amadei said. “I mean, peeing on your neighbor’s air-conditioner as a statement? I guess it inadvertently hit someone’s air-conditioner on the way down. … I don’t know. It hasn’t happened since. So I’d like to think that was sort of a fluke.”
The next liquid incident, which took place in October, would seem a lot more flagrant. “We had some VIPs in the restaurant, some record-industry people,” recalled Mr. Amadei. “Their party kept on growing and growing and growing. And the restaurant was very crowded, so there was no place to put them. They were inside, but they were kind of spilling outside. And they were making a lot of noise.”
Suddenly, revelers socializing outside the restaurant were drenched from the apartments above. “I don’t know if they used buckets or pots, or if it was even water in them (I shudder to think otherwise), but it was a big sheet of something liquid and soaked at least four or five tables worth of patrons,” an eyewitness later told Eater.com.
“Yeah, that was an interesting moment,” sighed Mr. Amadei, who compensated the soaked customers by comping their meals and adding a round of free drinks. He declined to press charges against the splashers.
“I’ve heard of people throwing things in the past,” said Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, who has protested and litigated against plenty of the area’s sprawling eating and drinking establishments over the years. (“I can’t tell you what I’ve done,” Mr. Sweeney said, laughing, but vaguely mentioned a few prior isolated incidents.) “But the urine and, later, the water,” he said, “is unprecedented.”
Adding insult to irrigation, the soggy venue was repeatedly robbed in November.
MR. AMADEI, 35, is used to the abuse. A senior vice president at Sotheby’s International Realty, he has moonlighted as an operating partner in a number of Manhattan restaurants since the age of 21.
“When I opened Cafeteria ten and a half years ago, everyone said we were going to close,” Mr. Amadei said, referring to the modish 24-hour diner at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 17th Street in Chelsea. “When we applied for our sidewalk cafe permit, I think we had something like 40 people show up and protest. We had horrible reviews. New York magazine gave us a bad review, and I thought it was the end of the world. I had one of my managers tell me, ‘Just so you know, I don’t think this place is going to last.’