Still, some impresarios of the new midtown denied they were in midtown at all. “We’re on Fifth and 61st; are we not slightly out of midtown?” inquired Richard Caring, owner of Le Caprice, calling from London. O.K., fine, north midtown. Le Caprice’s intimate space features shiny black-and-white surfaces, a piano player and a long bar stacked—on one recent evening—with blondes of a certain age. Mr. Caring admitted that downtowners’ migration to his restaurant has not been entirely organic. “It’s an ongoing process of being able to mix a room, where you orchestrate the room so you don’t have too many, for argument’s sake, suits on one side, or on the other side too young a crowd.”
The proprietors of would-be midtown destinations understand that while attracting uptowners to the East 50s may be relatively easy, downtowners can be a harder sell. Rouge Tomate, trying to create buzz last fall, blanketed certain swaths of Chelsea with fliers advertising its vegetarian-friendly fare. The Rose Club at the Plaza—the Plaza!—has enlisted Tommy Hilfiger’s nephew to perform with his jazz band on Wednesdays.
But many downtowners say such efforts are unnecessary, because they’re more than happy to escape a scene that in recent years has become a Disneyfied version of itself—overrun with waddling Sex and the City tourists inhaling Magnolia cupcakes—in favor of something that suddenly feels, for all of its shrines to capitalistic endeavor, more authentic; more grown-up.
“I guess in today’s culture, a bar has to be quiet enough for you to be able to text the person across the table from you,” said Mr. Grayson, part owner of the East Side Social Club. “That and bottle service killed the conversation. For me, I miss that. I miss the idea of a place that is not only a restaurant and a bar but a social think tank.”
Moreover: “Downtown is supercrowded,” said designer and Washington Square Park denizen Devi Kroell, who makes bags in exotic skins and is a favorite of Sienna Miller and Rihanna. “It seems to have become that mass destination where most people hang out. A lot of designers have opened stores in the West Village and meatpacking district, but I don’t think downtown is that cool anymore. Madison Avenue is just more civilized. It’s like a quaint little village.” Ms. Kroell recently opened her first New York store on Madison Avenue at 63rd Street. (Again, north midtown.)
Mr. McMullan agreed, telling The Observer he was thrilled to discover how many friends actually lived in midtown when he started telling them about his new venture, the East Side Social Club. He attributed its sudden relevance to that reliable trend arbiter, Mad Men. (Also, “it’s been kept decently clean by the mayor.”)
“We all have this subliminal New York–midtowny sense of that style, the style of the buildings in that time,” he said. “That’s why I think people feel a certain comfort in midtown. It seems like there will always be a cab. You can always walk, because you know the area, more or less.” (Whereas Tribeca and the West Village require quick fingers on the MapQuest iPhone app.) Mr. McMullan said he often walks home after jobs in midtown so he can look up and admire the city’s sheer scale.
Indeed, on a recent night, The Observer, instead of competing with swarms of tipsy N.Y.U. girls in their ill-fitting shoes and depressingly deflated ringlets, simply walked out of Casa Lever and onto deserted Park Avenue and hailed one of many available cabs. It felt good.
Meanwhile, the future of downtown, with its ornery community boards and whiplash-inducing trend cycle, remains uncertain: “There is a good chance it’s going to reopen and there is a good chance it’s not going to reopen,” said Paul Sevigny of his dearly departed Beatrice. He added that he would never do anything in midtown.