Volume 19 Issue 49 | April 20 - 26, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Late night crowd at Gold St for the opening, April 14.

Sushi & omelettes at 3 a.m.

By Josh Rogers

The 13-year effort to turn Wall St. into a 24-7 neighborhood reached a milestone Saturday when an all-night restaurant opened in the Financial District.

Reporting live from Downtown Saturday night around 8:30 p.m., the streets were still quiet although not as deserted as in years past, the stores and fast food spots along Nassau St. were closed and many nearby subway entrances were locked shut, but there at Gold and Platt Sts. a bluish-purple neon light shined from a new restaurant that has no plans to ever lock its doors.

Inside the 24-hour eatery, Gold St, it was crowded – mostly with 20-somethings, many of whom recently moved into former office towers converted to apartments. There were also parents with young children, and others in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

“We were so excited to see a place for children and families,” Jenny Vandekieft, 36, said as she waited for a table with her husband and their two children, 5 years and 20 months old. “We saw the stack of high chairs and said let’s go.”

It’s been tough the last six months since they moved from family-friendly Battery Park City east to the Financial District, she said. She and her husband plan to order late dinners often, particularly when he comes home after 10 from his job in hotel management. Take-out service will begin Saturday.

Sitting a few tables over from the Vandekiefts was Jackson Murley, 23, who was happy with a place downstairs to take visiting friends. “It’s great to have a restaurant in my own building, especially 24 hours for when I’m coming home 4, 5 or 6 in the morning,” he said in between bites of his burger and fries and sips of Belgian beer.

Murley, an economic consultant who lives at 2 Gold St., and his two friends, one visiting from Washington D.C., were planning to go out drinking farther uptown after dinner.

The restaurant is part diner, part Asian fusion. The mood lighting, sushi bar and drinking bar contrast with traditional diner décor — Formica tables, booths and black and white photos of diners. As for diner staples, burgers and fries (well received by Murley and friends) go for $8 and three-egg breakfasts served anytime are $7.50. Sushi rolls range from $5 - $14. The children’s menu includes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot dogs and grilled cheese all for $4 or less.

“It’s not really a diner,” said owner Harry Poulakakos. “We’re calling it a diner.”

Poulakakos and his son Peter now own nine restaurants and cafes in the Financial District. Despite their Greek ancestry, this is the only one that comes close to a diner.

Harry’s at Hanover Square, the famed Wall St. watering hole with its well-regarded wine cellar, closed a few years ago and reopened as Harry’s Café. The family owns several other places in the Stone Street Historic District including Bayard’s, Ulysses bar and Financier pastry café.

Peter said so far they have had about a half dozen people working the late shift and they have no thought of cutting back if they get few customers after midnight. “We’ll continue no matter what,” he said. “We won’t back down ever.”

He said they’d sooner close the restaurant for good than close it for the night. People told them they were crazy to keep Ulysses open until 4 a.m. and he and his father have no regrets, Peter said.

How many customers does Harry expect after midnight? “A lot,” he said. “People come home at 2, 3 in the morning and they have nowhere to eat.” There are also brokers, attorneys and others who work round the clock Downtown who likely will be ordering when delivery begins.

The Poulakakoses are being prudent with the after hours staff. A hostess said “it all depends on how the business goes. Right now we have two overnighters,” presumably excluding the kitchen staff.

The concerted effort to attract large numbers of residents to Wall St. dates at least as far back as 1994, when first-year Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced a Downtown incentive plan to put a dent in the soaring commercial vacancy rates by converting some outdated offices to apartments. After 9/11, federal money was used to attract and retain residents and tax-free Liberty Bonds were used to build even more apartments. Lower Manhattan continues to be the city’s fastest-growing section.

Back at Gold St Saturday, service was slow as might be expected on a busy opening night. Diners seemed happy with their food including this writer and companion (meatloaf, grilled salmon). Patrick Vaccariello, chef at Harry’s Café and Harry’s Steak, is in charge of the menu. A few days later, Peter said everyone is still ironing out the kinks.

Call it growing pains.

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