Volume 16 • Issue 32 | January 9 - 15, 2004

Crown jewel of a restaurant closes in Tribeca

By Albert Amateau

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

El Teddy’s doors were locked on Thursday, the day after owner Christopher Chesnutt served the restaurant’s last margarita.

Aficionados of El Teddy’s potent margaritas heaved a desperate sigh this week at the news that Wednesday Jan. 7 was the last time they would find their favorite tipple at the little Tribeca building with the 2,500-pound replica of the Statue of Liberty’s crown on the roof.

“Ooogh, we’ll have to recreate El Teddy’s at a party somewhere this week,” groaned Michael Fortenbaugh, commodore of the Manhattan Sailing Club in Battery Park City. “I’ve been going there since 1988 – they made margaritas with the highest quality tequila,” he said. “We were there with 80 people for a holiday party a month ago.”

Nevertheless, Christopher Chesnutt, who opened El Teddy’s 15 years ago on the site of what had been Teddy’s Steak House and later El Interncional, said on Thursday that he closed because business, which had been bad since before Sept. 11, 2001, was worse than ever.

Chesnutt said he did not know what would become of the building with the giant Liberty crown replica that had become a neighborhood icon. The quirky front of the two story building at 219 W. Broadway at Franklin St. appeared for nearly a decade on the opening credits of “Saturday Night Live.”

Steven Elghanayan, owner of the building, was not available at press time on Thursday.

To the disappointment of many who loved the off-beat look of El Teddy’s, Elghanayan won approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission in October, 2001 to demolish El Teddy’s and replace it with a seven-story residential building designed to fit in with the 19th century look of the Tribeca East Historic District.

Elghanayan, principal in Epic LLC, a development firm, bought the building in 2000 from the previous owner, Salvatore Cucinatta, for about $3 million. But he did not build the El Teddy replacement because of the shrinking economy made worse by the World Trade Center attack. In 2002, Chesnutt negotiated a new 10-years lease with the owner but even El Teddy’s high-quality margaritas could not lure enough patrons to sustain the business.

“It’s a piece of history. I had it and that’s it,” said Chesnutt of El Teddy’s. “I’m glad to have been the owner/custodian of the building, but I don’t get paid as a custodian. It’s a business. I think the building should always be part of the streetscape, but if nobody comes it’s not viable,” he said.

El Teddy’s served only 10 dinners on Saturday, Jan. 2, Chesnutt said. “As a street level retail neighborhood, Tribeca is dead,” he went on. “Of course there are exceptions, if you have a place like Odeon where limousines pile up,” he said, referring to the trendy restaurant three blocks south on W. Broadway.

Chesnutt owns a restaurant in the Village on W. 10th St. east of Sixth Ave., which he said is prospering, and is considering opening another Mexican restaurant in Williamsburg. “It won’t have a Statue of Liberty crown. It won’t be another El Teddy’s, there can’t be,” he said.

The two buildings at 217-219 W. Broadway near Franklin St. that became Teddy’s were built in 1915, on anonymous designs. One of the buildings is said to have been used as a speakeasy in the 1920s and later became Teddy’s Steak House, frequented by Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack and believed to have underworld investors.

The two adjacent structures were cobbled together in the early 1950s and in 1985 the artist, Antonio Miralda, redesigned it, with a black and white freeform design on the facade and the Liberty crown at the top, for El Internacional, a tapas bar and restaurant. Chesnutt leased the premises in 1988 and added a colorful Art Nouveau steel and glass canopy in 1992.



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