“Here’s the truth: When people used to say ‘downtown restaurant,’ I think they meant a place that was quote-unquote edgy and cheap and out of the way and a whole lot of fun,” wrote Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair editor and proprietor of Monkey Bar on East 54th Street, in an email. “Now they mean—with the exception of the Waverly Inn, of course—overpriced and filled with extremely skinny adults dressed like teenagers. The Monkey Bar is the complete antidote to all of that.”
Mr. Carter, whose sophomore restaurant effort opened in March of this year and has attracted an incessant procession of moguls, socialites and celebrities ever since, arguably foresaw and guaranteed the reinvigoration of the longtime social wasteland between 30th and 60th streets.
Subsequently, Michael White’s cavernous Marea opened in May on Central Park South to a three-star review in The Times and a steady stream of notables like Richard Gere, André Balazs and Sumner Redstone. The year-old restaurant Rouge Tomate, opposite Barneys on East 60th Street, has begun hosting after-parties for movie premieres, like a recent one for The Fantastic Mr. Fox, attended by Bill Murray and Meryl Streep. This week, nightlife photographer Patrick McMullan, downtown gallery owner Neil Grayson and chef Devon Gilroy—son of downtown restaurateur Billy—will open East Side Social Club on East 51st and Second Avenue with several other partners. Perhaps the trend was really cemented when David Chang, one of the more famous architects of cramped, casual downtown dining, announced he would open a large French Vietnamese place, Má Pêche, in the old Town space in the Chambers Hotel in January. On West 56th Street.
But midtown’s most-hyped opening might just be the Pierre Hotel’s London import, Le Caprice, which announced its arrival last month with two parties: one hosted by Anna Wintour; the other attended by J. Lo and Naomi Campbell. Socialite (and Ronson matriarch) Ann Dexter-Jones sat at Ms. Wintour’s table at the first party. “Everything is attractive!” she reported of the restaurant, “from the food to the people to the service.” Recalling ’80s mainstays like the 21 Club, she continued: “What I love about going to Le Caprice is that glam has come back. You could dress up again!” Socialite Bettina Zilkha, daughter of financier Ezra Zilkha, also attended Le Caprice’s first opening; she praised its convenience to her Upper East Side home. “It’s actually really difficult during the holidays to travel all the way downtown with the traffic and everything,” Ms. Zilkha told The Observer. “There was a time when no one would have gone to restaurants in Tribeca. And when Warhol was alive, it was cool to be on the Upper East Side! Neighborhoods come in waves.”
And in the new midtown, surf (also turf) is up. “I was having dinner at Monkey Bar recently with my dear friend, the artist Joseph La Piana, and Clive Davis, one of his collectors,” said socialite and Whitney Contemporaries founder Lisa Anastos, adding that the oysters Rockefeller were delicious, and that Carolina Herrera and Calvin Klein sat to her left.
But why is this neighborhood so charming all of a sudden?
“It feels kind of like where your parents would hang out,” suggested Prabal Gurung, a young downtown fashion designer who recently attended a party at Monkey Bar for Demi Moore’s new fragrance. “But it also feels rebellious. It’s like, ‘Shall we?’ ‘Let’s do it!’” After the Monkey Bar party, Mr. Gurung and company found themselves at the Hudson Hotel on West 58th at a party thrown by Interview magazine. The last time he partied at the Hudson: “Oh Jesus … Never?”
That’s the thing, isn’t it: There is something mischievous, a terrific creepiness to being in midtown past 10 p.m., feeling like you could splash in the Seagram Building’s reflecting pool or moon the bored security guards in the empty office buildings. Screw you, bankers!
The district’s boundaries also seem increasingly, deliciously plastic, encompassing everything from the Pierre, on 61st Street and Fifth, to the Ace Hotel, on West 29th Street. On Nov. 18, the Ace (now serving Stumptown Coffee, slurp!) will host model Agyness Deyn, artist Terence Koh, gallerist Vito Schnabel and socialite Arden Wohl at a slumber party for the art organization Creative Time. The NoMad Hotel on West 28th Street, which won’t officially open till 2011, recently hosted a Halloween party attended by Kirsten Dunst, Michael Stipe, Charlotte Ronson and Barneys’ Julie Gilhart.
“The West Village and downtown have gotten sooo cool, now we’re looking for new haunts in edgier parts of the city, which, ironically, is midtown,” said socialite consort Derek Blasberg.